On Meditation (Where Vulnerability & Rootedness Coexist)

Open Palms

Photo MO 2019

First, we try things because we are curious. 

Eager to learn.
Eager to touch.
Each to feel.
Since our eyes first opened from the womb.
———-
I loved to walk in snowy stillness in the woods.
To look into specks of light shining from dark sky without speaking.
To lie in grassy meadows.
Surely, meditation was like that, right?
Only a stirring pot of edginess swirled around my veins and entered my head.
I wanted to run.
Or at least push it off until tomorrow
When what I really need to do was  s t a y .

When did planned stillness become the alarm bell for
every pushed away thought, desire to squirm,
to return to my old task-oriented habits?
Perhaps to evade change.
Or because I wasn’t ready to open up my insides,
because I knew there was stuff inside that I already thought I was working through well enough in my daily life.

It appeared that the silence of meditation wore a cloak,
bearing a name tag that I couldn’t quite make out.
I leaned into the beats coming from my chest
and slowly discovered that its presence was not as foreboding
as I once thought.
This presence had a moniker,
and I likened the ring of its name to Uncertainty.
Uncertainty was uncomfortable to be around.
Uncertainty made me want to grip my hands into a fist,
to stand my ground, to prove myself.
But Uncertainty didn’t speak; it just sat beside me
and made sure the candles stayed lit,
befriending my heart.

Over the years, I desired more than two minutes
a night of this quiet silence,
this curious being that whispered of another way of being alive.
So I dared to spend more time with it.
It guided me through changing life seasons,
in cities familiar,
in countries whose languages I cannot speak,
in times of grief,
in times of immense joy for the very breath rising and falling,
rising, and falling.

And so I learned that dances in the dark with Uncertainty’s shadows will forever be a part of my evolution.
That what can start out as a loud cacophony can turn into the last reverberating string as quiet enters in.
But more than anything, this thing started to whisper to me.
“Open your palms. Soften your countenance.
Breathe in. Breathe out.”

Life—and therefore, change— persisted.
My palms slowly uncurled
wider
as my heart rate slowed.

And slowly I could look out the window,
or from my tent,
or from the black of my closed eyelids and return to being.

B e i n g.

Breathing.
With an open palm.
The quintessential aspect of my practice.
In the beginning, I said I could live with my heart on my sleeve.
But I didn’t live firm and authentic, day in and day out, in tune with my values, a deep internalized knowing that I could be accepted as loved in my truths and curiosities.
Not good enough?
I didn’t think I actually believed that.
But when I peeled back the layers, that’s the negative thought that explains the people pleasing, my avoidance of conflict, the imposed limits of my fullest freedom.
Because when you believe wholeheartedly that you- that everyone- is worthy of love, belonging, connection, and enough, you don’t need to self protect- the most fragile form of “protection” that robs us of growth.

To open your palms to the cognizance that a better way might be possible
than the thoughts, actions, and behaviors in which you currently exhibit—
that our fixed ideas will need fine tuning periodically, or drastically at first—
that my circumstances and the people around me all need freedom and grace,
even if that means I will experience loss or heartbreak, yes, especially then—
that is open palmed vulnerability.

But when I rest these open palms,
I am resting them on rooted sitbones.
A rooted core.
A heart and mind whose intention is to live life curious,
A pilgrim walking into the long arc of Uncertainty
Because I choose to set my gaze on love, justice, connection, that essence that I think holds us all together, though we all know it by many names, so I just go back to love.

When I go awry, those around me, and that gentle spirit which kept me coming back, show me where I can love better,
own up to my shit,
and that makes life much deeper.

So I sit here,
with open palms and a rooted core,
trying to be completely open
to this precarious existence.
In breath.
In gratitude.
In meditation.

Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

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The Night Gunshots Interrupted the Birds’ Song

 

MO 2015

MO 2015

It’s my favorite space in the house- the top story bathroom which has a small, rectangular window perfect for catching evening sunsets or for smiling at the moon while brushing your teeth. During the fall, I’ve spent hours taking sunset pictures, all the while my soul coming closer and closer to the present moment until I am in an entranced, gentle place filled with color, wonder, and no words.

Tonight I was having one of those yearnings as I looked outside the window. I opened it wide, feeling slightly warm March air press lightly against my face. I scanned the trees to find the birds, whose brown feathers matched the still bare trees, blending in, yet standing out because of that infectious song. Their lively chatters echoed my souls’ celebrations of this last week of winter, knowing not just by the dates on the calendar, but by their choirs that spring is indeed coming.

I grabbed my camera and began snapping some sunset shots. There were two birds singing shoulder to shoulder, true love birds perhaps. I wanted them to move just one branch over to get that perfect shot of the birds’ silhouettes against the backdrop of a cascading orange and red sky. Just move over. I begged internally. Come on, move a little to the left. Slightly annoyed at a missed opportunity for a “perfect” shot, a still small voice whispered in. “Just watch. Just enjoy this as it is. Stop trying to make everything so perfect. Embrace this as it is, not how you wish it would be.” With that I closed my eyes, to solely focus on the delight of the birds’ song. I lingered in this space for a good 20 minutes before wandering back to my room that connects to this bathroom. I left the window open to keep enjoying the birds while I worked out. The night darkness came over, chirps turning from a mellifluous sonnet to an evening lullaby.

And then I heard three loud bangs, a pause, and a few more bangs. Could that have been…? No. It wasn’t, I reasoned. I lived in an under-resourced area of Baltimore for a year, in which there were a couple shootings around the block that I was fortunate enough not to have been home for. All the bangs I did hear in that neighborhood ended up being kids playing with firecrackers, something that’s fun to do, apparently, even when it’s not July 4th. But there are few kids in my current neighborhood, and the ones I have seen are toddlers, plus the seldom one or two six-year-olds.

A swarm of police and an online crime alert confirmed my fear. Helicopters circled overhead. My roommates and I looked out the window to find several police cars a block and half up the street, in clear view from this top story window. We gave each other tight hugs, talked about our own privilege, talked about longings for peace and justice, talked about the neighborhood in which we live, met with its quirks and joys, marked by outsiders and many insiders as “up and coming,” a seemingly trite phrase that has some grain of truth if one considers “coming” to mean gentrification.

Within the next hour, the police cars became fewer in number. I can still hear the “bang, bang, bang,” noise sharply in my head. I look out the window one last time, wondering at what point the birds had stopped singing. I supposed they could have gone to sleep before the gun shots could disrupt their song. But even now as I type this, I can still hear an insomniac bird making noise, as if to have some company in his or her sleeplessness.

All of this feels so disparate. How did the view from the window go from lingering in the beauty to facing the reality of violence? It’s so hard to acknowledge that this same experience happened in one night. They seem so incongruous, the latter incident being one of disbelief- did all of that really just happen?

Yes, it did. We live in a world in which it is possible to hear the song of birds and cacophony of gun shots in a single night. We live in a world with incredible shades of red and pink and purple nearly every evening. And we live in a world in which damaging floods and hurricanes can come from that same sky. I live in a body with hands that long to hold another’s, limbs that long to wrap themselves around someone, a smile with an upper lip that shows a lot of gumline. And I live in a body that yelled, “Are you fucking kidding me?” to a driver yesterday who got too close to me while I was biking. A body with a brain that thought demeaning, judgmental thoughts towards someone today. A body that once accidentally drove through a red light and hit another human being, the “How could you!?” narrative reverberating not from outside sources, but internally.

So much darkness.
So much light.
So much life.
And so much of this life is that space between the darkness and light. Finding hope in despair, beauty in the presence of pain, something sacred in the midst of the banality. So much of life is seeing it and feeling it all, and still gazing your head upwards, feeling love for your Maker in the midst of walking away from a particular way of practicing this love. 

Tonight as I lay my head, I’m grateful for this Maker that I’ve come to know as God. Grateful for the light, room in my hands to accept both of these incongruous experiences. Grateful that there is something beyond the darkness, a story whose ending pages read of love over hate, joy beyond suffering, of discovering there is room for all of us in this story, that no one is or will be left out or left behind.

And for now, I’m in that space between. The one that has the synonyms and antonyms in the same sentences, and tonight, even the same breaths, encouraged to “just hold on to the way it is tonight and learn to love through the darkness and the light.”