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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These Plastic Little Veils

Sometimes the way that we do things
Spins circuitously like chipped horses
on brass carousels

Hiding, quieting, yet moving
It’s Like being covered in plastic little veils
Silencing even our shadows
Yet still shadows dance with the light
And swords can turn to ploughshares
if you learn to meld them right

But I won’t wear
These plastic little veils
No I won’t wear these plastic little veils

I tried to stand in your waters
But I always found myself sinking
The view from the shore
Stands still drenched in thick beauty

But I won’t stand here at the edge of not yet
When my soul just aches to dive in
I’ll go way out there
I’ll go Way out there
I’m way out here

They warned of falling off too far
But there is magnetic connection
That spark between water, earth, and sky

And sometimes the only way to find the other side
Is to try
‘Cause there’s a way to leave
Without leaving it all behind

There wouldn’t be a need for lighthouses
If we all stayed anchored to the shore
There is no science and progress
Without posing new questions
So I’ll raise my voice a little louder
And look you in the eye

And I won’t wear
These paper little veils
And I won’t wear these paper little veils

I’ll meet you out here in yellow
And ditch satin white lace
I’ll greet you barefoot in fields of sunshine
No aisles, No false pretenses
Rhetoric has died
All that’s left are a few, simple words embossed in beauty
Sewn together from the heart
Everyone will listen to the sound
of rushing water through mountain cracks
And dance with the fireflies and crickets
We’ll sail away in hot air balloons
And travel the sky

So raise a hand for unorthodoxy
Create peace out of madness
Ask the obedient ridiculous questions
And take off plastic little veils

I won’t sing
Unless I can scream
And I don’t speak
Unless I can shout

‘Cause I won’t wear these plastic little veils
No I won’t wear these plastic little veils

We can love uncovered
Let every word come out

We all will have something to learn
When we lay down our righteousness
And turn in plastic little veils

Image

The ‘Stay Away, Come Close’ Paradox and How it Looks Something Like Letting Love In.

I was in the front seat of my friend’s car earlier today, wrapped up in one of those conversations where you don’t realize that you’ve been sitting there, in the dark, car in park, for an hour, together contemplating all of the idiosyncrasies of life. We mused about our relationships and the “come close, stay faraway” phenomenon that some people find themselves regrettably emulating at some point in their lives. Maybe you know that I’m talking about. That dynamic where you’re close with someone, and long to be even closer. So you let them in. And it’s beautiful. But there’s a part of you that’s scared, so scared, so you send “step back” signals.
I think there’s this component of our humanness that desperately craves closeness, intimacy, to be known, loved, and accepted, and for everything to be alright— even amazing, like waving your hands in the air, screaming, hair blown back by velocity on amusement park rides— that crashes into the part of ourselves that fights pain, fights changes, fights hurt and loss and namely, wants to protect ourselves from everything and anything scary, unknown, and potentially pain-inducing.
Have you ever witnessed that “come close, stay faraway” factor?

Bruce Springsteen ponders it in “Secret Garden.”

She’ll lead you down a path
There’ll be tenderness in the air
She’ll let you come just far enough
So you know she’s really there
She’ll look at you and smile
And her eyes will say
She’s got a secret garden
Where everything you want
Where everything you need
Will always stay
A million miles away.

Similarly, Goo Goo Dolls begs for the soul of another to open the door of their heart with love in “Let Love In:”
You’re the only one I ever believed in
The answer that could never be found
The moment you decided to let love in
Now I’m banging on the door of an angel
The end of fear is where we begin
The moment we decided to let love in.

U2 seemed to have similar sentiments in their 1993 hit “Stay (Faraway, So Close).” Bono created the song for the movie “Faraway, So Close,” sharing that “the film was about angels who want to be human and who want to be on Earth. But to do so they have to become mortal. That was a great image to play with – the impossibility of wanting something like this, and then the cost of having it.”1 I mirror that with the “stay close, don’t get too close” theme of love costing something: crossing into the unknown and in doing so, facing your own vulnerability. And that’s a scary thing.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

I think we’re all a little bit scared of letting one another in. Into all those little cracks and crevices of our soul that are properly seated in the classroom, hands clasped, praying not be called upon. Don’t get me wrong, boundaries have merit. We can’t let everything, or everyone, into our souls. Some influences aren’t the ones we need to grow. Some things in this world will defile and break down our souls. Like a peephole on a door, it’s healthy to choose your influences and who you will surround yourself with.
I just wonder about the times in which we pushed something or someone out when we should have brought them in.
I wonder how many times we missed out on love- any love- agape, romantic, friendship- because we were too scared of having our heart opened, exposed, fully letting in the light of another.
I wonder how many conversations we’ve accumulated in which we settled for safe by responding to “how are you?” with trite replies of “good” when every part of us knows we’re not good. So we quickly progress to stale topics, like the weather, all the while depriving our souls of deepness and wonder and intimacy.
I wonder how many of us will reach some ripe old age with questions about our families left unanswered because we were too afraid to ask about the skeletons in our closets or the dirty laundry or the elephants in the room or the mess that feels too knotty until, in our bravest moments, we gather the courage to unknot the tangles to realize that when we put the pieces back together again, it can be even more beautiful than when we first started.

So our souls fight to trust Him/Her and we take a chance here, go for a risk there, holding God’s hand, perhaps, I wonder, content with splashing around in the baby pool because even with swimmies, we’re too scared to try the big pool and so we’re splashing and getting our toes wet, all the while hearing the joyful, playful shouts of friends or strangers dunking each other in the big pool, diving and doing handstands and checking out the ocean… and while every thing in our soul shouts, “you’re big enough,” “you’re brave enough,” “go play,” “go try,” “there’s room out there for you too,” we resist it and lament in our kiddie pools, smiling when the jets pour in just a little more water for our ankles to become wet.

What are we so afraid of? Of getting hurt? Of getting let down? Sometimes, for me at least, yes. But what makes me think my feeble “stop sign” hand is what will protect me from the precarious position of human life and emotion? I’m beginning, more and more, to think that every time I hold out my hand to guard, to protect, to control the outcome or not get hurt or not experience pain or change, or actively contribute to my growth moving from the known into the unknown, I have to start to wonder if I’m doing more harm than good. Do we want to look back on life and realize that all of our guarded moments never actually protected us at all? Can we accept that living with your heart on your sleeve may get you hurt, but it’s the only way to truly live, to truly feel, to truly heal, to truly “be real” with another human being?

I know we’ve tasted the opposite, too. You know that soul-to-soul connection with that friend, with that lover, with that mentor? Where it’s you and them and the two of you realize there’s so much more going on here than we can fathom. And that by opening ourselves up to the truth, our questions, the things we’ve been wondering, we are greeted not in word or whisper but by a taste of the soul,  as if our hearts are whispering to each other, “See, isn’t this beautiful?”

I had one of those connections the other day with my dad. We were biking and I was talking to him about stuff from childhood, asking questions I never thought to ask, and learning things I never knew about our family. This is the beautiful connection that happens when we cross over and enter into each other’s stories, but not the finished part, rather the unexpurgated story that’s raw and real and human.

I don’t know what all this letting love in and being vulnerable stuff looks like, and I’m tempted to cast this whole thing off as being overly emotional as I once again stay up too late, writing this, pondering life and spirituality and the rings upon rings of circled skin that compose my fingerprint. But I think we’re onto something. Onto something with the whole letting-love-in-thing… starting with letting God’s love in and as that takes a hold of our heart over and over again, like the daily tide washing over the shore, we’ll discover the beauty and the holy ground that’s only possible when we, too, recognize that
the only way to see again
                            is to let love in.

Have you ever found yourself in the “Stay Away, Come Close” phenomenon? What was that experience like? How do these experiences intertwine spiritually, emotionally, in our relationships, in our friendships?

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stay_(Faraway,_So_Close!)