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.

 

 

 

By the Light of the Moon

We come to recognize that we lead more than one life, its iterations multifaceted. We are one being–an explosive body of energy–exploring what it is to be alive.

My current life began by the light of the moon, August of 2010, sitting on a single bed, one of three pieces of furniture I had not sold or given away. I shared it with Gumby, an elderly, diabetic beagle. We were surrounded by boxes of books, an ottoman that doubled as a linen chest, an antique rocker from my childhood.

I was not unhappy but I was scared. In fact, I was more content than I remembered being in my then 58 years. The bottom of the abyss can feel that way, a beginning. There is something about starting anew; maybe it’s that beginnings never end.

Yet on that day in August, death was close. I could not or would not see it. In my eyes, Gumby grew younger every day. I did a lot of lying to myself then but not about managing her diabetes.

I was meticulous in giving her insulin and managing her diet. It would not be enough, ultimately, but in that August, I needed her to walk me through the moonlight, and she did–for miles–every day.

Sometimes being surrounded by uncertainty is the way to see through fear. How else to look through the life lens, wide-open. Death is not always believable in its first glimpse. It’s only the last look that stays.

I think that’s because life does go on and in its absence, we have memory, its edges soft–fears faded–we will never live that moment again. We know how it turns out.

So this life I lead now began with a dying beagle whose blindness led both of us into the life I have now.  Gumby only stayed a month after we stopped walking by the light of the moon.

Without her, I cannot know when or how I would have left my other life. It doesn’t seem possible. Certainly, the path would have been different.

Morning after morning, I sat in the dark that comes before dawn–sometimes with moonlight, sometimes not–always staring at a computer screen, waiting for the daily inspirational quote from Oprah Winfrey’s newsletter.

Every quotation seemed to be just what I was feeling. Another sliver of light. I wasn’t looking for answers.  I had learned about answers; they are a dime a dozen. Ephemeral.

St. Mark's Refuge; Gulf of Mexico; KMHuberImage

I wanted to stay curious, to find a way to courage, to face questions I had not yet discovered and when I did, ask them aloud. I was tired of being afraid.

I wanted to be Gumby, starting every morning with a walk, unable to see yet confident in the path. I wanted that kind of trust. Scent memory was her GPS.

It has been years since I glimpsed her face in another animal or had a quick flash of memory that seems so real. For a moment I am with her again, walking for miles, never knowing where we are going but always finding home.

It took me years to trust my GPS.

The more we discover, the more lives we live. Like the moon, they have their phases, waxing and waning. A life can only be dark so long, maybe no longer than an eclipse even when it feels an eternity.

Never fear the path for it is always home.

The Sound of Breath

Lately, the sound of my breath is interrupting my morning meditation. It’s noisy, calling attention to itself. I am not just exhaling. I am “pushing” my breath, hurrying it along.

It is as if I hear the sound of my thoughts and use my breath to expel them–emptying my mind and closing it off.

These thoughts are a part of me, words with images. With each breath, I expel a load. These days, the sound of my breath is gale force, far from mindful.

At every moment where language can’t go, that is your mind.
Bodhidharma

I guess that is where I try to go every morning for an hour or so and then take a bit of that into the rest of my day. It’s tricky, this mindfulness stuff.

I remind myself about the stories of the Buddha realizing what enlightenment means. It is a gift but the experience of it is life changing. It is not floating around in peace in a never-ending story.

Well, it is but getting there is giving up a lot like language, labels and learning to share space with all living things. The activities of daily living don’t magically stop or become unnecessary.

It’s just the perspective that changes. It’s a completely different lens.

Sogyal Rinpoche illustrates with the example of empty jar or vase. There is air inside and outside. What separates is substance, clay in this case.

Our Buddha mind is enclosed within the

walls of our ordinary mind.

But when we become enlightened,

it is as if the vase shatters into pieces. 

 Sogyal Rinpoche, Glimpse of the Day

And then the sound of breath is soundless. Until then, patience is my practice.

Marianne Williamson says “infinite patience yields immediate results.” I don’t disagree. I think there is a glimpse, a moment when there is a favorable shift in the odds. In other words, growing awareness.

No overnight enlightenment for me, and I’m okay with that.

Patience resides in the hard places, where it hurts the most to be, physically or emotionally. To sit with the pain is patience. It takes trust.

The minute the struggle to sit stops, that’s the when the odds shift from suffering to acceptance. The pain may be less or may be more but there is no more holding onto it.

Infinite patience, immediate results.

It is the “unpleasant experience” in which I hear the sound of my breath, forcing words to empty the mind, which is not to say the words will not return.

They do, in Technicolor–full image–even a movie if I allow my memory its way.

My ego has superstar status when I lack compassion, refuse to listen to a point of view so opposite from mine. It is unpleasant, at times frightening, and every time I turn away from “the enemy,” I turn away from myself.

I hide in the jar of my “ordinary” mind, seeking solace but staying separate from my “Buddha” mind. In frustration, I breathe and the words keep coming.

I know of no Zen or Buddhist teacher that does not advise both patience and tolerance as well as interaction with our enemies. Not on a full-time basis but to seek what separates us.

Break through the clay, completely cast it aside.

It’s not about changing anyone into what they are not.  It is about breathing the same air with everyone else, soundlessly.

Safe for Anyone?

Why not be content with a slice of life? Why is a moment not a sufficient feast?

Experience has taught me the moment is all I have, and it is more than enough. Yet, my ego remains suspicious. It believes there is more.

Byron Katie said, “when you want nothing from anyone else, you’re safe for anyone to be with, including yourself.”

Michael A Singer wrote that when we understand the world is merely something of which to be aware, then “the world will let us be who we are.”

In other words, go groundless, as Pema Chödrön calls it. Trust in myself and get comfortable with “getting tossed around with right and wrong.” Sit down in the “seat of self” (Singer).

I do manage to do that, from time to time, and when I do, my view of the world is completely changed. Whether in or out of the meditative state, in these moments I am who I am, and the world responds in kind.

It’s not pure, this awareness, just an evenness of mind. The banquet laid before me is more than I could ever imagine. This state stays until I try to hold onto it. The mere attempt at attachment and it evaporates.

My mind returns to ping-pong between the future and past regarding this and that. It whirs, images blur. What was clear and calm is chaos. And I begin to want, again.

Trusting in groundlessness seems impossible, yet how can I not?

Experience has taught me there is a point of balance in each day, no matter how pervasive the impossible. It is mine to find the fulcrum and respond with adjustments.

I have a greater appreciation of the unique, accepting that no day ever repeats. I’m grateful for that. Somehow, it lessens my fear that I am not enough.

With that confidence, I sit in the seat of self and open my laptop to Facebook for uniqueness in both the moment and in human beings.

We are born to difference, related to the stars by dust.

Some of the best Facebook threads are missed by those who comment without regard for reading. Often, that’s a source of irritation, resulting in much asserting of who is lacking. Soon, the original context is completely lost. So many are found wanting, and some demand it.

Social media context is easily misread yet what better opportunity to practice awareness, to get comfortable with “tossing around right and wrong.” It seems impossible, increasingly.

Sometimes, silence is the point of balance in my social media moments. The seat of self offers observation– allowing me to read—to listen hard for the tone. Selecting an emoji signals that I heard.

Sometimes, that is all I have.

 

Always a Nasty Woman

I scroll screens by night and have been since November 8, 2016. It is how I first learned of the Nasty Women Project.

Arguably, many believe I am and have been a nasty woman all my life–in every sense of the term–I’m not disputing that. 😉 I am also a citizen in a republic whose duty is to be vigilant but I admit to complacency.

I’m on duty now. That’s all I can do anything about.

I contact members of Congress–someday, maybe I’ll be able to attend a town hall meeting—until then, I read newspapers and books like Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s My Own Words and Ron Chernow’s Hamilton.

#TheResistance is not about going back–that world is gone–it is about working through this moment. Yet, the past is not without its information.

Sometime around last Christmas, editor-in-chief Erin Passons put out a submissions call for a book she wanted to publish March 1–an anthology about the effects of November 8, the night the world changed.

I knew I would submit a piece but I had no idea my essay would begin 18 years ago–1998–on the day of Matthew Shepard’s funeral. Then, I was a middle-aged lesbian living in Wyoming. I was angry and too naïve to be afraid. I believed hate would not win but on that day, it did.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church gained worldwide attention for their protest of Matthew Shepard’s funeral. I joined others in holding up my umbrella to block the signs of Matt in hell and God hates fags.

Our umbrellas sagged under the weight of snowflakes. I looked into the eyes of a young man from Westboro and found the hollowness of hate. He had won.

These 18–now 19 years later–I know winning is not when the heart is hollow.

My essay, “Confessions of a Closet Activist,” appears in the Nasty Women Project: Voices from the Resistance, Volume 1. 80 women, 80 stories of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. 100% of the profits go to Planned Parenthood.

In the first two weeks, we raised over $2500 for Planned Parenthood. Our support continues no matter what Congress decides about healthcare, on any week. The attack on Planned Parenthood is a long and familiar one.

For me, it goes as far back as 1976. It is not impossible to be pro-choice and anti-abortion. Human beings are “walking contradictions.” There is no one way for everyone but for everyone there is a way.

Complacency is easier than activism. I’ve always known that but I’ve not always been aware of the privilege I have. As an old, white lesbian, it is considerable.

We all have privilege. It is not something new but an awareness of who we are, how we intersect with everyone else. We live in a republic whose survival means we must participate–always.

The failure of the healthcare bill shows us we are still able to make a difference. We are not yet staring down the hollowness of hate but we are not far from it, either.

Sometimes we see the danger and it kills us—

and sometimes we see the danger and it sets us free.

(“I Saved the World Every Night,” Erin Passons)

I scroll screens by night.

 

The Long View On the Small Stuff

Increasingly, curiosity gets me through difficult moments, especially when equanimity seems impossible or at least incredibly difficult.

I start with the small stuff. Like when I begin my day. That may be at 4 AM or 10 AM. The issue is not the clock but that my day begins. There was a time that if I had not meditated or completed my yoga practice by a certain time, my day was doomed.

Who knows what I missed on all those “doomed” days.

Some time ago, I began practicing “a routine of no routine.” I had no idea what that might mean but I decided to let curiosity lead–no matter what.

Working with the day I have and not the day I planned is as much a discipline as is meditation and yoga. More often than not, I accomplish more. Rescheduling is less necessary. I open myself to different ways of accomplishing a task.

Curiosity gives me that creativity. And it requires my complete presence. It is more than not pouring coffee in my oatmeal. It is appreciating that preparing coffee and oatmeal is each its task.

Staying within the frame of my day—each moment its own scene–keeps me from being daunted by the obstacle that is that day’s path. Mine is not to ignore but to immerse myself in the experience.

It is the small stuff that enlarges my awareness.

I think less and complete more. Even when revelation drops in, I do not attach to it. I notice but I do not engage. Revelation, like every other thought, returns.

There was a time—not long ago–I would have rushed to capture revelation on screen or with a recorder. Who knows what would’ve become of my coffee or the oatmeal.

I was so afraid of losing the brilliance of one thought who knows how many others passed. Each in its time.

So, yes, it’s the small stuff even in days of cold sunshine. For me, these are days when the temperature is low and there is a stiff breeze. There is so much light but it is a cold one.

Physically, it is difficult. I am immediately aware that the roller coaster is mine to ride or not. I can rage or sink into the slough of despond. I aim for somewhere between the two.

Sometimes, I skate on the slough, my mind frozen in attachment. A solitary thought plays over and over as the ego skates freely on the mind that is fatigued. Still, time thaws all thought, no matter how dark.

It is the way of life on this planet, in this physical dimension, that we know darkness. I’m not sure that’s without its purpose. Each day ends in darkness only to dawn again. It is not all light all at once.

For me, a sliver is sufficient. There is just enough joy in it. Like light, not much is needed. As Brene Brown says, “Joy, collected over time, fuels resilience.”

Joy is a peaceful resistance to any action that adds pain and suffering anywhere to anyone including me. When I learn through joy, I cease to struggle (Sarah Ban Breathnach ).

Pema Chödrön says trusting in our “fresh, unbiased nature” is all we need to do.

At the beginning joy is just a feeling

that our own situation is workable.

We stop looking for a

more suitable place to be.

(The Places That Scare You, Chödrön, 2009)

When we work with the reality we have, we find the extraordinary in the ordinary. It takes practice. Start with the small stuff. Trust your gut.