Article

tapestry

I found it.

I found the tapestry that appeared the day before yesterday behind my closed eyes. It is red, it shimmers—and today, it is complete.

On Thursday, when I first saw it, I quivered at the verge of tears the entire day. It was so beautiful, and also contained so much of a story. And the tapestry wasn’t fully finished—it still radiated hope. And it turns out that I am most tender and vulnerable when I still have hope.

Today, it’s complete because every thread of the story has been wrapped up. The job, the baby, the marriage and the lover. The loose ends are tucked away, knotted up—and the whole piece has been sprayed down with a finishing lacquer. Rather than the raw, unfinished liquid light it had on Thursday, this metallic-y tapestry is now solid.

I won’t touch it for fear that I’ll know just how hard it is once it reaches my hands. I prefer to hold the paradox in my mind: that it’s softly rumpled like linen while glinting like knives.

I see it behind my closed eyes still, after separating my love for him from my love for me and letting him go. But it doesn’t elicit tears or tenderness anymore—only closure, certainty and acceptance. And reverence for how my hands and feet and mouth and heart fashioned it, a vehicle for God’s art.

Every design has a purpose.

a red metallic tapestry hanging on a white wall

ab+ga, El Anatsui

Article

faith

So this is what it’s like to be a woman of faith.

I am prostrate before Her, held along with my broken heart. Though momentary, the grief is complete. For a few seconds, I cry. Contorted tears. Onto an Oriental rug and into the air, I spill the contents of my heart.

“Here it is.” She holds up in her hand this one more thing to give up. One more thread in the tapestry of shedding and growing to pull—and pull—to its logical, loose end. I see it, and for a microsecond I hesitate. She flicks her wrist before I can refuse.

After She’s begun the unraveling, there’s nowhere left to go but down. I submit like I’m free falling, taking in both how swiftly and slowly everything moves. There is nothing left to do but savor and learn. I also submit to the reverberating pain because I have faith—because She has faith—that I will survive and emerge improved. And that this is all part of Her plan.

With Her help, I have given up this thing now, ripped it clean off. The cut was quick. I open my eyes to survey the heart contents spilled in the air and on the floor. In this sacred space, I see a constellation of insights and learnings about myself and about the tricky obfuscation of mind. The way that my Dear One honed right in on the blame, self-directed hostility and assumption of failures I carry. And the way he could say it and it bounced off my suddenly deaf ears.

I’ve seen that mind trickery before. Been on the other side of it and circled, circled—poking, coming back and poking while it seemed like the other person had become selectively hard of hearing. Even though they’re speaking to this glowing nub of pain over and over again. And then finally, they hear me: the kernel, the original wounding, the source fracture wound is acknowledged.

And then, tears.

And then, freedom.

I close with gratitude for my own freedom. And for my good karma to have developed such spiritual skills in this lifetime that at the outset I was not surprised that this, too, was to be taken away. And for my Dear One providing unwavering compassion and care. And for my own radiance reflecting off the silver lining of yet another dashed dream.

All of this freedom originating from faith—from a subjugation of myself to faith. To Her.

Article

mother

Grief is not a linear process.

You can go to a Burner pool party and have someone paint your body as an act of counseling and therapy—and wash away months of equanimity with your tears. Painting your battle scars, a deep red gash on your left thigh. A swirl of power on your right. Exposed ribs on your chest to show the world how your heart is raw and your body an open wound to the world. A blue squid-flame at your throat to show the power of your voice and its tether to something not quite human. All of this known and expected—and discussed.

And then he can gift you a little seed on your belly that surprises you both. And it will bring up a knot of grief—and to your surprise, the clarity of conviction that it was real; that there was a spirit in you that you failed to nurture into the world, that you miscarried out of existence.

And for weeks you’ll carry this knowledge of how you blame yourself, how you failed yourself and your family. And how in that failure, you started a whole sequence of decisions that led to the killing of a dream.

Even with all of your practicing positivity bias, the pleasant coolness of the Bay Area air, the beauty of the free life you’ve built and the evidence of harmonious awakeness you see all around you, you will struggle to see beyond your grief. That everything is broken. That only that which is lost matters.

And you’ll walk down the Promenade of the Presidio, lit by the full moon, first breathing heavily and then crying alone. Letting out tears and a seeping sadness with every labored outbreath. Moving your hands over your body, shaking out your arms like you’re trying to shake off a colony of ants that repulse you. The momentary panic of feeling these feelings.

And finally you reflect on someone saying to you, “You have been going real hard.” And how it’s been dawning on you so slowly that you’ve been going so hard and so fast so as not to feel… this. To not feel the grief and blame that have been welling up inside you, surging to be seen.

And it both calls to you and terrifies you to think of stopping. Just, stopping. And seeing what’s there.

And what you hear in the stopping for just this minute is a single word that comes up with a soft but resonant clarity: mother.

Article

a fuller and fuller broken heart

Remember the despair of being a teenager? When I felt alone in the world, different and isolated—especially as the fullness of the world around me started to become so present and vivid that it was impossible to ignore?

When I was a senior in high school, I tried to explain the idea of seeing beauty in all things all around to my English class:

“Even in a bird poop, there’s beauty,” I insisted. Mr. Faison said maybe I was going too far. But I knew what I meant. Its brilliant whiteness, how different that excrement is from another species’ and what that means about the movement of nutrients and the building blocks of life we all share. And the beauty in its plainness—how it reflects endless evolution and lifetimes that have come and gone unnoticed. A whole Mary Oliver poem in a bird poop.

Having been air dropped back into myself after nine years in relationship and marriage, so much is resurfacing from my earlier years: A devotion to my deepening Buddhist/spiritual practice, a drive for physical activity and exploration (climbing, cycling, diving), a call to live in spiritual community and renunciation, and a call to the ocean and islands.

Practice, Step 1: Triage the pain and reduce the trauma. Build concentration through awareness of breathing meditation for at least a few years.

I recognize this intense loneliness and openness from my adolescent years, too. I now know it as the combination of isolation and heart openness that Chogyam Trungpa calls the spiritual warrior’s heart of sadness. In my teens and early 20s, it was so raw that it could only sting. It seeped into my eyes and burned so badly and I couldn’t wipe it away, no matter how frantically I tried. It colored all that I saw and made me desperate.

When I began the relationship that would lead to my marriage, I was just emerging from this time of jumping in front of moving crises. I had begun to meditate seriously and was dropping in, deep and fast. I was even becoming enamored with my skills on the cushion. And then, whoosh! I ran head first into Sweetheart and was off on a different path than the one I had formulated of being a monastic, teaching the Dharma and living close to the land.

A month ago, when I received two invitations to Hawaii within five minutes—one to scuba dive and one to visit a Zen temple—I realized that I’m right back where I was nine years ago. History, as it has a habit of doing, was rhyming if not repeating. And I asked, why?

In that moment, I picked up where I’d left off in “The Power of Myth”, a dialog between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. I walked right into this line about how mystical experiences and psychotic breaks are both similar and different: “The mystic swims in the water the crack-up is drowning in.”

I remember how out of control I felt in the face of my emotions a decade or two ago. If I had continued on that path at that time, maybe I’d have ended up a crack-up. I have seen my share of psychotic breaks and dark nights on the meditator’s path.

I often bring my attention to the feeling of the wind on my skin these days. As if I were swimming and feeling the movement of the water around me, moving my arms gently and feeling my body sway. Closing my eyes and floating. Moving the intense emotions and energy of these times through me and remembering that, as Katherine Woodward says, life is happening through me, not to me.

I raised my arms like this as I came down a hill in the headlands north of San Francisco today, cycling fast and free on the flat stretches and the downhill. Touching the yellow, blooming tips of the wild anise on the roadside with my fingers. And my heart broke open a little wider still, bringing tears to my eyes. The intensity of loneliness, being accompanied by the whole universe, beauty and plainness flowed through me all at once. I listened close and heard a full throated cry—no, a wail—in my heart.

Practice, Step 2: Give the child within what it cries out for through self-directed loving kindness. Nurture that inner child’s resilience and feel the power and love of being the caretaker for another few years.

But instead of being frightened by it, made desperate to do something about it or needing to extend to it nurturing and consolation, I found I could rest there and hold space for it. I hear it echoing and feel it stretching my sternum still.

I‘ve still been turning over and around the concept of courage. When I brought up my ambivalence about being called brave or having courage to a dear and wise friend, she suggested the alternative: I could be checking out. She saw me rising to face what confronted and offered itself to me, instead. Courage, we suggested, could be a way to describe choosing to be awake.

And, indeed, I have a vivid memory of sitting on the edge of the bed as I spoke my desire for separation. I felt the pull to lie down, put my head on my husband’s chest and fall back asleep; to stop facing with eyes wide open what was holding us both back in our marriage. I was startled by how strong the pull was—so overpowering that I could only imagine it being similar to the pull of addiction and thought immediately of the Lotus-eaters.

Practice, Step 3 of ?: Let go and surrender.

The ache is no more intense than it was in my teenaged years. Only now, I have the strength and the context in which to hold it. I have the physical energy and the fatigue of life experience to face it like a mother patiently waiting, arms crossed, for her child to end her tantrum. To face it with a love that is persistent, yet plain.

This is how I bear witness these days to my heart breaking open, to a fearless warrior spirit emerging. This is how I discover a greater universe and a fuller and fuller broken heart.

Article

training for life

Two and a half years ago, I wrote a blogpost entitled “Training for Death”. I started it with this quote:

Under duress, we do not rise to our expectations – we fall to the level of our training.

– Bruce Lee

I thought of this quote again last week, at a women’s circle I go to in Oakland full of extraordinary, tough and jolly women. It came to me after I had disintegrated into tears during a round of check-ins. The topic of the night was “Carry Your Death With You”—a mis-paraphrasing, it turned out, of an interview one of the circle members did with Marina Abramovic.

For me, carrying my death with me wasn’t something I had to think hard about. As I detailed recently, I’ve been carrying around with me the death of a dream of a life I thought I was meant to live. In fact, I haven’t needed to carry it at all—it just keeps showing up in the billboard of a pregnant woman, in my pregnant coworker, in my coupled friends, in the engagement announcements I see daily on social media and in the innumerable small tasks I have to move through to legally dissolve my marriage.

On top of all this, it had been a particularly rough week at work that also held within it a little ego death. So that’s what my check-in in the go-around was about and what led to the tears.

I laid this all out, wrapping within it an update on my divorce, etc. Then I finished. Just as the woman to my left was about to speak, someone interrupted.

“Can I just say thank you? That took a lot of courage to be vulnerable and honest with us, including strangers you’ve never met before. So thank you.”

Many people have commended my courage in being open about what I’m going through right now, and even called me brave to step away from my marriage. And bravery and courage feel like the wrong ways to understand the energy behind my choices—until I think of this teaching from Sifu Bruce Lee.

Under duress, under the stress of major life change and loss, I am falling to the level of my training.

That training has involved more than a decade of seated meditation in which I dig into my heart, opening my flesh with my bare fingers to know what’s inside. To face what scares—what existentially terrifies—me. And to speak authentically and with coherence between what my face, words and body are communicating. This is how I have trained, and therefore now, this is how I live.

To be entirely honest, I feel like I speak these days and hardly know what I am saying. I’m exhausted. Being awake to my pain and processing—and fighting all the myriad ways I try to turn towards distraction or dissociation instead—has plain worn me out.

At this point, I am living in large part out of habit and muscle memory. So thank goodness for my training.

 

Article

my marriage matrix

This is not a post about blue-pilling and red-pilling. a cynical look at marriage as a way that some of us stay asleep or enslaved to consumption, procreation and social control. (Though, that would make for an intriguing post, wouldn’t it?)

Nope, this is pretty straightforward: It’s an explanation of my matrix of the four things I think a marriage (or any committed, lifelong relationship) needs in order to last. I don’t know if you need all four of these things for a marriage to work, or three out of four, or two out of four. But I can tell you from experience that only one won’t get you far.

Now, ‘matrix’ is a little misleading because this isn’t actually a 4×4. But this also isn’t a checklist. I’ve used it as a way to reflect honestly—sometimes brutally—on what elements my marriage had and whether that mix called me to stay in it or dissolve it in both parties’ interests.

Also, ‘marriage matrix’ sounds cool.

my marriage matrix

  1. Do you live well? If you live together well, you delight in each other and are compatible in the day-to-day. There are myriad ways this can work out, but life is comfortable and makes you feel that your relationship is characterized by love and enjoyment. You could probably expound on this one and add requirements like sharing interests and hobbies, knowing and speaking each others’ love languages and having independent relationships and activities of your own and outside of the relationship. Family psychologists Julie and John Gottman have also identified consistently responding to each others’ “emotional bids” as critical to a relationship’s success.
    2. Do you fight well? The Gottmans say they can watch a couple fight for twenty minutes and tell whether they will be together in four years. Conflict is not inherently bad—it’s how you inhabit conflict as a couple and whether you move through conflict in a way that results in deeper intimacy and learning. This kind of productive conflict does not co-exist with what the Gottmans call “The Four Hoursemen”: Defensiveness, Stonewalling, Criticism and Contempt. These behaviors are like a cancer and will rot a marriage from the inside-out. Of them all, it’s good to know Contempt is the best predictor of divorce.
    3. Do you fuck well? No, seriously. Are both of your sexual appetites met in your relationship? Are you both climaxing regularly when you do have sex? Awesome, satisfying sex with a partner you’re deeply connected with will both calm and revitalize your central nervous system, and make you feel connected and like you fucking matter. Even if the sex isn’t mind-blowingly amazing every day, it needs to meet expectations most of the time. And those expectations shouldn’t be tempered expectations based on a pattern of disappointing performance within your relationship (i.e., settling). These expectations should be based on what you know works for you (assuming you have had a variety of experiences and gotten to know your own needs and preferences) and the role that you know sexual or physical pleasure plays in your emotional, psychological and spiritual life. If the sex doesn’t meet expectations, or you experience consistent rebuffing, rejection or the feeling of falling short for or being let down by your partner, you’re in trouble. The opportunity for vulnerability, unity and joy will eventually be replaced by things like doubt, a gnawing hunger to be met and/or resentment.
    4. Do you have a shared vision of the future? This is not a shared vision of the future in the sense of something you both compromised on and think will be best for your family. It’s about who you want to be in the world and the circumstances that will allow you to be that person, outside of your identity as a partner, child or parent. This is about how you and your partner see yourselves and whether these visions sync up. And they should sync up before you redefine yourself as a part of a couple, or vis-a-vis your partner. I have found this to be really tricky. We learn tremendously about ourselves, our triggers and the stories we carry with us but can be let go by being in relationship. And this learning can change our vision of our future selves, where we’ll be and what we’ll want. I struggle significantly with this one because I’m so damn flexible and like to say yes to everything/have a hard time saying no. It’s a challenge to stay focused on what I truly want. For others, it may be a challenge to give your partner the chance to stay clear on their vision, without constantly working on them to adopt your own.

It’s probably feels dangerous or foolhardy to take relationship reflections from a woman in the midst of divorce without a healthy dose of skepticism or judgment. I do know that before going through it myself, I often saw divorce as failure to take marriage “seriously” or as a sign of unwillingness to do the hard work of relationship-ing. I admit to casting judgment on those divorcing, without the ample empathy and trust they deserved. I regret this. And now I know that—as a wise friend recently told me—the only people who truly know what’s going on with a relationship are the people in it.

I hope this helps someone in relationship get to know their relationship better. It’s not a way to just decide if you should stay or go, as it ended up being for me. Ideally, it’s a way to figure out where interventions and dedicated work can be applied to save a relationship, too. I’d love to hear your thoughts.