In preparing to lead the Coming Home retreat in November with my partner Karyn Bristol, I’ve been waking up in the early morning to reread one of my all-time favorite books: Sabbath by Wayne Muller. My copy is dog-eared and yellowed with many highlights, notes in the margins, the corners turned down. Every time I pick it up and read even a paragraph or two from its musty pages, my breath deepens and the tight places in my chest relax.I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this weekend retreat. It has a very different ... [Continue Reading]
It’s been so many years since I’ve taken a summer vacation that I can’t remember the last time I took one. Why now, you might wonder. Why now, when my kids are almost launched—Eli heading off to college in August and Lizzy rounding the bend into 10th grade—am I finally taking a whole summer off? Why didn’t I do it when my kids were younger, when they really needed me? Why did I keep working? Keep writing? Keep producing? Keep teaching? Because I thought I had to. Because I was a breadwinner. Because I was afraid to stop. I didn’t know how to say no.
But now I must. I must say it loudly and repeatedly. I must keep saying it to myself and to everyone around me, but most especially to myself. Something in my midlife, sandwich generation, ... [Continue Reading]
I have always loved to sing. Some of my earliest memories are of both my parents singing to me, and later, full-hearted singing on family car trips, learning my parents’ vast repertoire of old folk songs, while making up crazy verses to “The Deacon Went Down in the Cellar to Pray.” My dad was an instrumental music teacher and ran his own music studio: Davis Studios of Music and Dance. Stacks of band instruments—trumpets, accordions, flutes, trombones, clarinets, a saxophone, and even a tuba—sat under the Baby Grand in our living room. Music was everywhere.
My parents forced me to take piano lessons, but I hated to practice. After a few years, I quit. Unfortunately, I continued to be a musical dilettante. I played French Horn for a year in Junior High; then I quit ... [Continue Reading]
I prostrated on the orange shag carpet, my face pressed into the long, polyester fibers. I responded to Mahatma Fakiranand, an Indian man with a shaved head and a face like a skull. “Yes,” I said in answer to his question. “I would cut my head off for Guru Maharaj Ji.”
I was fifteen. I had cut 10th grade and walked a mile to the Elberon train station. Caught the train to East Brunswick, New Jersey. Walked however many blocks it was to the premie house. How did I find it? I don’t remember. This was decades before smart phones and GPS, Mapquest and Google Earth. But somehow, I got there. I snuck out of the house, pretended to go to school. And I got on that train, determined to become a devotee of the living Satguru.
When I was on retreat last week, Bob Stahl introduced us to a Pali word, “samwayka.” It’s one of those words that exist in other languages to illustrate a concept that doesn’t exist in the English language. The Inuit, for instance, have 28 words for snow. There is the Yiddish phrase “shlemiel” which can be loosely translated as a clumsy, inept person, the kind of person who always spills his soup. There is the shlimazel, a person with constant bad luck, otherwise known as the one who always has soup spilled on him. Bob explained to us that the Pali word, “samwayka” means, “realizing that there is death,” a realization that leads to a sense of spiritual urgency. That term really resonated with me. “Samwayka” is what we, cancer survivors, have experienced. We realize there is death. We ... [Continue Reading]
I have grown to love silence; I used to fear it.
I used to be afraid of myself. I was afraid to look in the mirror, to really look myself in the eye. I was afraid of what I would see there, some craziness, some demon, some terrible, awful, unbearable truth about the evil inside of me. As a young girl, I was obsessed with the movie The Bad Seed. And so when I walked past mirrors or ran a quick brush through my wavy, dirty blond hair, I would do it without really seeing. Without really looking. Because if I did, the bad seed in me would show itself and take possession of the good girl, carefully layered and lacquered against my outside.
Before my first silent retreat five years ago, I was grown, an adult, but still afraid. I was afraid ... [Continue Reading]
Alive, energetic, happy, hopeful. And then the world caved in and I hunkered down in my corner as best I could, laced up my boxing gloves and prepared to take on the world. But I was still a child and no amount of armor or helmets or big gloves could protect me. I sat alone on the bench girding myself for the next fight. Alone, alone, out in the rain, cold and alone. I walked through life doing my best to pretend I was human like everyone else, but always chilled to the bone with loneliness. I was a lone operator even though I pretended with the best of them.
I was not afraid. I jumped off every new cliff, taking risks, spreading my wings and moving again and again into the unknown. And then many years in a cage. Cage of shoulds. Cage ... [Continue Reading]
The class rosters I have not brought up to date. The brochure I have not printed. The bed I have not made. The clothes I have not folded and put away. The cancer memoir I have not begun. The toenails I did not clip. The education I never received and will never receive. The emails I have never read. The copies of The Sun that sit on my bedside table and ask to be read. (I have never read a single one. I read novels instead). The ring on the bathtub, the refrigerator that has not been cleaned in half a year. The office I used to work in, the one behind my house, the beautiful office with the Mexican tile floor and the wood stove for heat, the one with termites and no insulation, a high peaked ceiling and my father's old bed up above to nap in. The windows all around ... [Continue Reading]
Looking through my notebook, I found this piece I wrote last November, after Ellen Bass and I spoke at an event celebrating the publication of the 20th anniversary edition of our book, The Courage to Heal. I was struck by the sense of harmony I had at the moment I wrote it. I don't have that sense of equilibrium anymore...
Sometimes, like right now, I feel happy. This happiness has nothing to do with any event in my life. If is as if I am sitting in a place of equilibrium inside myself. I imagine a hammock stretched from the tip of my head to my toes and myself lounging on it easily. There is no tension in my body that wants ... [Continue Reading]