How Not to Become a Zen Master

“That’s right. Blame it on Zen,” my neighbor, Grace, says.

With Zen, I just don’t hold onto names or nouns anymore was what I was thinking, aloud it seems.

Grace is a Zen master not because she is 90 but because she is contemplative in all ways. She was born to it. And she attends tai chi twice a week. Her whole life is a practice. She would never label herself a Zen master.

We were in the middle of a project that began simply enough but soon involved another neighbor. Specifically, I opened a package that was not mine.

The package was one of four I was expecting but as you can see, there are five packages. The shocking pink garment stunned but it was the thank you card that intrigued–one American meme of gratitude after another, the length of a paragraph.

I read the card aloud to Grace.

“Which company?”

“Doesn’t say.”

All these packages were dumped in the mailroom of our apartment complex on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. They were there for the taking and so I did.

It was not until I straightened the cardboard boxes Grace had so beautifully broken down with her seriously sharp knife that I saw the name on the box of great gratitude was not mine.

And now I was writing a card of explanation to a woman whose name I kept forgetting. Grace selected the blank note card, rejecting the polar bear in favor of the fir of a mountain. Appropriate for any occasion.

“Well, when you decide to get dressed, I’ll take you.” Grace was sitting on my leather loveseat, waiting, with her small knife lying next to her.

She wasn’t taking me anywhere in a red polo shirt so large and so long it was more skirt than shirt, nearly covering my khaki shorts. The logo read Elder Affairs.

I finish writing the card and read it to Grace. “That’s classy,” she says.

“I want her to know what I did in case she’s not there when we return the package.” And with that, I pick up the flat cardboard box that is not addressed to me.

“You’re not going to tape that back up, are you?”

“Trust me, Grace. Perception is everything. I’m admitting my guilt but I’m returning a taped package.”

Just another of the many ways I avoid becoming a Zen master. I was born to it.

KMHuberImage; St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge; Florida; USA

And so, we began our journey to Grace’s car. I with my three-wheeled walker and the re-wrapped package tightly cornered into my walker’s lower bag, and Grace with her walking stick in one hand and under her other arm, four cardboard boxes now flat.

Grace decided who took what. She is Sicilian. We do things her way.

We drove halfway across the apartment complex before I told Grace, “I forgot the card.” We look at one another and then, Grace turns the car around.

Again, we drive across the apartment complex and we score the nearest accessible parking spot, the one near the elevator. As we ride to the second floor, I try to channel Grace, but I am who I am. Still, my focus remains mountain.

I tell the woman what happened, as it happened, all the while holding her package. She does not take it from me.

“Do you know how many people would not even bother to do this?”

I wasn’t clear. She doesn’t realize I opened her package. I should not have taped up the box.

As I look into the kind face of the woman accepting her package, I am determined not to burst into her life but I tell her my story, again, with profuse apologies and my concern about the boxes being left unattended.

“You’re an angel,” she says. I assure her I am not and introduce Grace who smiles and stays silent. We leave.

As we drive back, Grace says, “You know, I think she would have difficulty getting to the mail room.”

“I’m no angel.”

Grace laughs.

On this day I have Grace, and for that, there are not enough expressions of gratitude in any form.

Of Arugula, Alarms, and Available Lenses

Mostly, I meet the energy of the day. What other lens is available? It’s not always what I want, the energy or the view, so sometimes, I look elsewhere.

These are the moments I am the center of the universe, as if I were a match for the energy of any day. Sometimes, the reminders that I am not are fierce.

Like my apartment filling with smoke or my garbage disposal clogged with arugula, sprouts, and spinach gone sour. Who wants to be present then?

I ignore the mundane at my peril. I set myself up.

KMHuberImage; Wood Stork Fishing

The “smoke” in my apartment is a slight exaggeration, more like opening the freezer on a summer’s day. So, vapors. Enough to set off the smoke alarm, which did get my attention. Some of it, anyway.

I opened my front door, certain it was the fire alarm for the building. No one else was in the corridor.

“I wonder if anyone else hears this,” I say, realizing I am the culprit, as my smoke alarm continues to go off. Quickly, I shut my front door.

It is true the vapors were only in my living room, not in the bedroom where I work. There was nothing to notice other than the faint aroma coming from a small saucepan cooking pasta (gluten-free because I must not because I want).

And I had set a timer for the pasta. It had not gone off, just the smoke alarm. Nor was the pasta burned. There were drippings in the burner pan, obviously oil from?? Fresh so perhaps from the morning’s baking. Cleanup was quick.

No memory for moments I am not present, and sometimes, absentia becomes a boomerang. Something starts, and I am unaware, ignoring the energy I am. Mind elsewhere makes for thoughtlessness, fertile ground for boomerangs.

Such as arugula, sprouts, and spinach meshing with a green scrubber in the garbage disposal. Rarely, any of my food meets the garbage disposal but again, awareness.

This time, arugula getting shoved to the back of the refrigerator, along with the sprouts. In my mind they were still fresh–I had plans for them–alas, that was not the energy of the day. The handful of spinach was sour.

Nor was I particularly present as I shoved the greens into the garbage disposal. Promptly, the sink filled with swirling, green water, a whirlpool. What was to clog? Arugula, apparently.

I have battled with this garbage disposal so my kitchen has its own plunger. Such force in suction, the clinging and the letting go. So it was to be with the arugula, finally separating from the green scrubber, indisposed but not yet disposed, only drained.

In some past moment, the green scrubber found its way down the garbage disposal. What choice for the arugula except to wrap itself round the scrubber? The disposal was doing what it does. Same for the plunger.

Not sentient beings, those things, but all at my whim, like the energy I bring into the space of every day. Will I look through the lens available or stare elsewhere in longing? And when I look away, what change will I effect?

No doubt, it will find me.

KMHuber Image; St. Mark's Refuge, FL; mirror

Shoving My Snark Elsewhere

There was a time I whittled my wits for social media, a kind of  “computer warrior” as a friend calls them. I sought battles that may have not been there. Seizing on one word or phrase and letting go of context.

Snark. You know the drill. I wasn’t any good at it. Zen showed me how bad I was. Embarrassing, actually.

I haven’t given up on social media. Just the opposite. Rather than preparing for battle, I just take a stand when or if it is necessary. Awareness is my armor and suits me better than snark ever did.

I’m wondering if worldwide connection is changing battle and its field. Connection is changing everything else. There is no absence of compassion but in its lack evil lurks, more patient than any of us might credit.

Awareness reveals evil as easily as compassion and in comparison, evil withers, kind of like snark, unable to stand the long light of day. Scrutiny. Either way, we are revealed; our hearts clench and open in response.

We’re seeking the security of the steadfast but awareness is shaky ground, ever shifting. And that is tiring. So why not throw some shade. Maybe give up for a while. Nothing seems to last because nothing does.

I think social media makes that clearer than any doctrine. All of life is an experience, one after another, the coming to and going from any one moment–all on shaky ground.

We’re like tectonic plates, and sometimes there’s an earthquake. And still, there is existence in spite of it all. In that, I am in awe.

So why not, as Pema Chödrön says, “be generous with your joy.”* Why not, indeed. Joy does so much with so little. Sort of like snark in that regard but joy is never-ending. Snark is more of a single position and like evil it evaporates for there is always more joy, and it comes from unusual places.

Just this past week I received a mint plant whose roots were all but bursting from the top and bottom of its plastic pot. Some strands had found their way through air holes. Life searching to stay.

I have not “shared” my apartment since feline EmmaRose left. There are fewer and fewer insects but I celebrate those who pass through. “We are always in relationship” Pema Chödrön once remarked regarding the insect in the room.

And now, it is a mint plant with rust on its leaves and a few shoots struggling for life.

I asked neighbor Grace for her expert assistance. What she teaches me about flora and fauna is such a gift. Within 24 hours, we visited the nursery where Grace once worked to select the proper potting soil, drainage rocks, pot, and tray.

It was a celebration of Grace and her years tending the native plants and the friendships of her life. She gave me the complete tour, including the goldfish pond.

When was the last time I knew such joy in the morning amid native species that somehow make room for me and my kind. Only they know why.

And that is what we brought home to the mint. With the care that comes with years of living, Grace aerated the soil around the squared roots, opening up more life, as we provided the breath of carbon dioxide.

Offering life for life. It’s existence, this joy.

*The idea of being generous with joy is from Pema Chödrön’s The Compassion Book: Teachings for Awakening the Heart, page IX.

 

Sail More, Land Less

Life ajumble, presented in pieces disordered, or at least in an array I have yet to understand. It’s up to me to find what I need. Availability is not the issue. It’s awareness, a matter of rearranging, turning round each piece.

How else perspective, for none of the sides are the same.

I find this in writing as well. Not every story fits a frame, a structure, and some pieces remain snippets but none are without worth. There is no lack unless I write it.

All of this is to say I’m back among my pirates, again. It’s a big story, beyond an essay and larger than a novella. It’s a novel, I am not a novelist, and that doesn’t matter.

So, why go there?

No story is ever wasted, not on me, anyway. What else is life other than stories and questions about stories, which often result in yet more stories. It’s how we live.

A trip to a pirate ship rearranges the pieces of my mind, it’s a new view, but not for long as whether it’s 1865 or 2018, the mandala of human nature is only so varied and quite repetitive.

A dip into the past puts me in the present in a way I never am. The questions I bring from 2018 are outmoded in 1865. How can that be?

The irony of life ajumble, finding new perspective in the past for the present. Maybe that is knowing history. I doubt that it matters how I find more relevance in 1865 than in 2018.

It is like reaching into the future to find my limitations, my biases, and yes, my prejudices, all of which are alive and well on a pirate ship, as I write wrongs that seem to know no death.

It is with a fervor I do not live, disappointing but true. Sometimes I have to stay on the pirate ship to accept truths about myself. Lately, I’ve been there a lot, my questions insufficient, but the lives of the pirates lead me to new ones.

They have few possessions and what they treasure is buried on land, where they cannot stay, no matter how they try. Afloat on the seven seas, they are in constant danger of losing their lives but they never do. It is only on terra firma they die. It lies in wait.

Almost obviously, the working title of this pirate story is “Fish on Land,” as they fly any flag that will get them into a port but with boots on the ground, they get lost no matter how good their map or how well thought out their mission. So often, some die trying to return to the safety of the sea.

That’s how it seems so far. I don’t know all of the pirate perspectives yet, not having looked round or even met all the characters but being human is to know that “it’s always something,” especially in fiction, the world must turn and twist.

Life ajumble, so many pieces, each a unique perspective, more stories than a single lifetime affords. It matters not the vessel, just that we sail and maybe, land less.

Zen and the Art of Girl Boners

“Does dirt have calories?” was my introduction to August McLaughlin six years ago. I had written a blog post about binge eating after reading August’s struggle with anorexia and  binge eating. She nearly died.

I have been following her work ever since and along the way, we became friends. She had a great bulldog named Zoe, and beagle Cooper was still with me then.

Those were the days before Girl Boner® the blog, the podcasts, and now, the book, Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment, a movement in the making.

I’ve listened to most of the podcasts on Girl Boner Radio, maybe all, and not just because I learn something every episode no matter the subject. If I need to get my Zen on, I listen to a GB podcast.

Each episode is as diverse as we are. GB celebrates being human, immersing ourselves in the experience that is life, not confined to one gender, one color, one sexual identity. Sexual empowerment.

Sounds Zen to me, for an open mind is the nature of being:

Beneath the mountain, a stream flows
On and on without end.
If one’s Zen mind is like this
Seeing into one’s own nature
Cannot be far off. 

Zen master Hakuin, 1686 – 1769

To know our nature is to know our sexuality, and that is what GB is all about. August and I talk about GB, Zen, and quite often, our gratitude for Pema Chodron. Seems to me our conversation always comes back around to sexuality and our joy in it.

August: It took me years and a lot of struggle to realize that I had shame around my sexuality and the serious ramifications of that. I was in treatment for a severe eating disorder when I had an (a-ha) epiphany that changed my life: I’d had and enjoyed sex, but I wasn’t sexually empowered. I’d barely even talked about sex. The simple notion that our sexuality is a beautiful, natural part of ourselves, simmering below the surface—for those of us who’ve learned we can’t be “good” and sexual beings at the same time—can open us up to richer, fuller lives.

To change is to begin where we are, accepting that change is the constant. What is more difficult than opening doors we keep closed to everyone, including ourselves. What is more basic than our sexuality?

August: I knew when I first launched Girl Boner as a blog series five years ago that it was a journey, but I had no idea where it would lead. I wanted to provide a fun and positive place to celebrate and explore women’s sexuality. At the same time, sadly, we can’t explore female sexuality or LGBTQIA+ sexuality without addressing darker subject matter, such as trauma and abuse.

 I’m really fortunate in that readers responded so personally and quickly and haven’t stopped—same for listeners of Girl Boner Radio. For me, listening has been the most important aspect of building Girl Boner from blog series and community to much more. When we open our hearts and ears, what’s needed and desired becomes super obvious. More important, the same applies to listening to ourselves and our sexual desires.

 And if we cannot look at what is basic in us how do we open ourselves to relationship? I cannot remember a Girl Boner Radio podcast that does not explore the idea of looking within and being okay with who we find.

August: More than anything, I want people to know that they are not broken or flawed. However they experience and express their sexuality is more than okay. It’s beautiful and worthy and embraceable.

 Our sexuality is a gorgeous part of each and every one of us and committing to a path of sexual empowerment invites greater joy, pleasure, and authenticity. We might even have a ton of fun in the process.

And that is what the book, Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment, explores, embracing and experiencing our sexuality with joy and authenticity. It is such a refreshing read and conversational, chock full of stories and research so vital for sexual empowerment. It is not your usual human sexuality book. It is unique, a conversation about sexual empowerment.

And as it turns out, there is even a bit more.

August: I haven’t yet announced it officially, but I have a second book releasing on August 7th as well. (So excited!) It’s called Girl Boner: A Guided Journal for Self Awareness.

 To me, journaling is just as important for inviting pleasure and authentic sexuality into our lives as any sex toy or how-to class. In some ways, expressing ourselves freely, without concern of judgment from others, is the most important step we can take. The main Girl Boner book has journaling prompts throughout. Girl Boner Journal takes this element further, so people can dig even deeper. I’ll share more specifics in my newsletter soon, should anyone wish to sign up.

And if you have not clicked on any of the links included in the post, here they are:

Pre-order Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment (releasing August 7, 2018):

Pre-Order Girl Boner: A Guided Journal for Self Awareness (Releasing August 7, 2018):

Girl Boner Radio

August’s newsletter:

August’s website:

If we learn who we are, we accept our nature, and we’re on our way.

 

Monday Morning 9 AM Social

Grace and I talk a lot about community (or lack thereof) within our apartment complex. There are four buildings, perhaps pockets of community within each, but together, we are factions.

Management sends out a monthly calendar of clubhouse events. Every Monday, there is a 9 a.m. social and has been for as long as Grace and I can remember. Her memory is encyclopedic.

Grace and I share an apartment wall. As she says, “it makes a difference if you know who is on the other side.” So, we decided to find out what a Monday morning social is rather than just surmising.

We meet outside the clubhouse, telling each other how nice we look, and we do. We have brought our own beverages, mine a lime-green insulated cup and hers, a silver thermos, which she raises as she whispers, “community coffee,” a flash of the ironic in her smile.

Ruddy-cheeked and wide-eyed at the world, she is captivating at 90, 20, 50, or 70. Tai chi three days a week. At 66, I am the one with the walker and “black tea,” now conspicuous in its lack of a label for the occasion.

“What does that say about me?” I ask both of us.

We are friends with rhetorical questions, Grace and I; they usually begin or end our conversations. We have little regard for answers, they of the limited run, always replaced by another question.

So on this Monday morning we are open to what we meet in the “kitchen area” of the clubhouse, three women intensely involved in a card game using a star-shaped board with pegs.

Five bid each other “hello,” and three return to their play. Grace and I choose a table in the middle of the room, and I take my walker to a side wall. All other tables are empty.

“Is this it?” Grace asks.

“I think so.”

We had given considerable thought not to arrive early (with Grace, one is never late) but as it turns out, we were on time. We had come to be social, which was not to interrupt the game. Their chatter immediately resumed after “hello” with counting and card shuffling.

Grace and I kept our voices low as we sipped our beverages, telling stories we had left untold during the visits to each other’s apartment, when talking over the phone, or sitting on the wooden bench outside our three-story, white stucco building with red shutters.

It was as if we were meeting for the first time, and that may have had something to do with our age difference.

I look older than my years. Grace is curious but would never ask. That would be rude. Besides, she enjoys putting together pieces of life, moving them around for effect. Until Monday, I had walked around her efforts.

When Grace began, “I am not sure exactly what age span is between us….”

“I am 66 and you are 90.”

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise, and she let her breath out slowly, indicating the span with a spread of her arms, her arthritic hands still dexterous. Was it a bridge too far?

“I’m a historian,” I said, wanting worth I may not have.

She tells me a story of blackouts during World War II, of many nights sitting with her bed-ridden grandfather who said, sometimes, he wanted to die. Teenage Grace telling him he did not.

“My mother asked me to do it and I was glad to do it. I loved my grandfather.”

I don’t know where in New York State that Grace’s family lived but it was closed to an air field. With a bit of pride, she tells me how quickly she learned to identify the different planes and wing spans. Hesitantly, she admits “it was all a bit exciting.”

“It is the way of children, isn’t it?” I say, as if I know, but how else to get through a world war. And I think of Grace’s teenage angst buried in the memory of bombing drills and identifying warplanes.

I don’t know that but I have been reading many World War II war novels (The Women in the Castle) and biographies like Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.I tell Grace about them.

“Well, without the women in the war…” Deftly, she drops in an ellipsis and lets it sit. “They did everything. They kept it going.” She sips the last of her coffee. “And then,” she says, as she opens the palms of her hands to the sky.

“It is time for women to come forward again,” I say. “And I think it is beginning to happen. This time, there is no going back.” I offer this with more conviction than I carry most days.

Grace looks at me for a while before offering “Yes,” with the finality of belief that won’t bend with the wind.

And this week’s Monday morning 9 a.m. social ends, much as it began. The players still playing but now in silence and with a smile, they say “goodbye.”

Like Grace says, it makes a difference to know who’s on the other side.

The Best Feeling Ever

I always wander home, eventually, ever surprised, once again, that no matter where I roam, I am always home. “Wherever you go, there you are.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). The hearth of home. Joy.

Yes, joy. No, really. Joy, in all of its rejoicing, delight, exultation. The best feeling ever. It’s always there. I just don’t realize it. I get lost. Why is that?

When does home become a foreign place? It doesn’t, of course. It is I who become a stranger in a new land, when ideal replaces real. When joy becomes only a brilliant light, unsustainable. Unreal.

Joy is not a momentary flash, all show. Joy is pure prana, the energy of existing. It is home. The trappings and trimmings change but joy seeps through any moment, no matter how dark.

Joy fills the cracks of experience, pulls the pieces together and seals them with grace. That is the hearth of home, no matter how the house might appear. Within are the rooms of a lifetime. The exploration never ends.

Still, I wander from time to time, and it is in impermanence that I wander– when change arrives–I go in search of what is gone but don’t yet accept. It is a fool’s errand but I go anyway.

Once I realize I have been running, I stop. That’s the easy part. It is at home that I am face-to-face with the change that sent me running. At a glance, it is minimal. New disc herniation at the base of my neck, a gnawing stomach in protest of ongoing chemical intake. Low sodium and fluid retention issues, maybe heart involvement.

The leitmotif of autoimmune-spinal cord disease, ever involving all of the body. Any newness wears off as soon as it is discovered. Where is the joy? Nothingness, groundlessness, may warm the cockles of my Zen heart but my humanness cannot help but hold cold.

No, I do not feel joy in this moment. I have to trust it is there, nothing more and nothing less, as I pick up the pieces, restructure my home, shake up one routine after another. Rearrangement, new structure.

It is very like a jigsaw puzzle. I know what the picture looks like. That doesn’t change. It’s the rearrangement of the pieces, the energy of grace, that gives me shape. I sink into my surroundings, the room that I occupy more than any other.

It’s comfortable here, my hearth of home, and every time I return I wonder why I ever left. My electric, adjustable queen-size bed, room enough for notes, naps, food, and stand for my desktop keyboard. The comfort eases the ache of arthritic joints, supports my spine and damaged spinal cord. Sturdy and soft, I am ever grateful for home.

From here, I reach out to the world and it calls back. Connection, the experiences of a lifetime. Easy to shut down but in absence, connection changes. Impermanence is inevitable; it does not pause because I do. Easier to stay connected, experience after experience, no matter what.

All of us have only our kind of love to give but I wonder if we know it’s invaluable, pure joy, light no matter what. Life is not limited to one lens, one look, one way. Maybe that’s what I find most difficult.

I don’t want to sit in the eye of any storm anymore because I know to come through is to be changed. That is the way of life in this dimension. It’s not so much what I lose or who I no longer am. Not anymore. It is change itself. That’s new.

A voice from within welcomes me to aging, which I cannot escape, either. There is a lilt to the voice that I recognize as joy and the grace of experience. They whisper trust, and I do. After all, they are always with me.

The caverns of my mind go dark but not completely. There are cracks in every experience. It is the light that wins, as a friend told me, which is not to say living in the light is ever easy. It’s not, nor is it meant to be.

For most of the last six weeks, friends have kept me busy, some on Words with Friends. Slivers of light, both friends and words. It was not writing but it was words. And a blog post here and there. No thing and no one ever stays but each is an experience, all mine.

KMHuberImage; writing

Each time in my wandering, I wonder if I will continue to write. There will come such a day when I won’t, and it is closer. It surprises me that I accept that so readily but I do. With each illness flare-up, I am less, physically. Winter is hard, even a Florida winter without a “snow event.”

A corneal abrasion in my left eye shut down my sight for a while. Corneal abrasions are common but this one occurred in a mishap at a vision clinic and nothing about this incident stayed in the realm of the usual.

Never one to stray far from the written word, I listened to audiobooks, fiction and non. In reading Fire and Fury, I was reminded of what it is to sit through yet another storm of our collective chaos but unless we immerse ourselves in this experience, we will never move through it. The longer we look away, the harder it will be to face who we are.

And in that, I find my way home, again, replete with new life lens, healed corneal abrasion, and if not new vision at least light enough to string together sentences, keep connections, and find ones anew. Still others yet to discover.

Everywhere I go, there I am.

Thanks to Leonard Huber for the Seattle area traffic images, both light and dark.