a shrill, clean ting pulses on the drum of my ear. in response, my body and blood reverberate, their frequency resonating with the vibration of my soul. i float, carried for one more brief moment in the ecstasy of that one note.
I clean up the dishes from dinner, wipe down the counter top. I tell Ken that I’m heading to sleep. I brush my teeth, change out of my clothes, and get into my bed. I think about the next day - it’ll be a busy one. It’s been busy on the ambulance - the pandemic is starting to hit us in Louisville, and we have a lot of elderly who are at risk. I love my job, and know it is important work, especially now. Ken gets into bed awhile later, kisses me and we go to sleep. In the middle of the night, I awake, startled, by thundering noises, it sounds like a train coming through my front door. Someone breaks down the door. What is that? I ask Ken. I hear foot steps. Are we being robbed? Are they going to kill us? Ken grabs his gun, he fires shots at the door. They return fire. I don’t know how many times. Eight of the bullets hit me. I am dead. I find out later, That they were police who Shot and killed me. Police who broke down my door. Police who forced entry into my house In the middle of the night Without showing a warrant, Without reading us our rights. In the middle of the night. In my house. I did not resist a warrant. I did not resist arrest. I was asleep At my home In the middle of the night. At my home In the middle of the night. In memory of Breonna Taylor (1994-2020)
This moment contains the Agony of not knowing what tomorrow will bring, And the certainty that it will be the same. It contains the fear of the dangers of the virus And the knowledge that some have privilege to protect themselves It has within it the gift of slowing down, for some, for myself, And reverence for the teachers It contains the struggle of being an ineffective substitute. This moment contains my rage at those who say abandon your elders, my disgust for CEOs who sacrifice their frontlines for profits. It contains tender gratitude for our never-heroes: Garbage and sanitation, postal workers, grocery store employees. This moment contains my breath and heart beat, It contains my compulsive eating and elusive sleep This moment contains healing for Mother Earth, Cleansing her air and waterways. It contains grief for the comforts we are leaving behind, And terror that we will design the same tomorrow. It is a birth, as well as a death. It is the flowering of seeds planted long ago. The flower is opening, Infinite beauty contained In one unfurling petal. It contains thorns, too, and a sweet, sweet scent. It is a birth, and a death. i will not design the same tomorrow. i will hold the scent and the thorns.
Like most people, the activities of daily life have been completely altered by the arrival of #COVID-19. At times, it feels turbulent, as if I’m inside of a bowling ball, hurtling towards an unknown destination. My mindfulness practice has helped me recognize the moments when I am feeling out of control, overwhelmed, anxious, and also those moments of connection, joy, and stillness.
Through my reflection and meditation, I am discovering an awareness of certain dualities in my daily life. While I cannot claim to have done extensive learning on this concept, what I understand is that there are opposite or contrary ideas that actually coexist in nature. This concept is often represented by the #Yin-Yang symbol from ancient Chinese culture, with Yin representing the receptive, female, dark and Yang representing the active, male, light. These opposing forces not only co-exist, but live in complement and can transform into each other. Over the past few weeks, I have felt a strong recognition that certain prevailing beliefs are now being met with an opposite belief, and somehow coexisting in this moment. I’m curious to hear if anyone else has noticed anything like this?
The first set of opposites relates to the cultural belief about #self-care. Prioritizing one’s self-care is usually thought of as indulgent, selfish, weakness and a detraction from being productive. Now, sequestered in our homes, self-care – which includes illness prevention, personal care, rest, mental health and stress management – is turning out to be a selfless act. I find it surprising and energizing to see an alignment between actions that benefits others while also benefiting ourselves. (I do acknowledge this is not true for our friends and neighbors who are serving in essential roles to keep our society healthy and functioning. But by staying home, we are doing what we can to keep them safer.)
Another set of opposites relates to our #physicallydistancing. It surprises me that in this time, I have felt as close as ever to some of my friends. Friends who live across town or across the country, friends I haven’t connected with in months or years, are connecting through texts, phone calls, #zoomconferencecalls, Instagram or Facebook, gift deliveries… When I think of someone, instead of saying, “oh i should call them sometime…”, I reach out. And in so doing, the relationship seems more palpable. The content of the connections also feels rich – we’re saying to each other the things we may sometimes hold back – deep appreciation and gratitude for each other, and the offer of patience, compassion, a listening ear or practical help… it feels vibrant and has been a gift.
A third opposite is one that challenges my own limiting belief about my capabilities to set boundaries. I was worried that setting boundaries would be impossible given the proximity of the family being together all the time, My kids would say, it’s a regular occurrence for me to resort to yelling (often when I haven’t set up an expectation in advance). Somehow, in these unusual circumstances, I am making it a priority to ask for what I will be needing throughout the day – quiet space for my meetings, time to attend my virtual dance class or meditation. I wouldn’t say it has become a habit yet, but what is surprising is that I feel less guilty about asking for what I need. I know I need to sustain myself and that this is an investment in my health. #boundaries
Have you noticed any opposing beliefs that coexist in your life at this moment?
By many counts i am a Difficult mother. With a tight jawed glare i scold without a word. Loving order and tidiness A chore is always available for you. i do not have stamina for Endless playing, Or the patience for Fantastical stories. i am adept at extracting fun from nearly any adventure. i repeat myself until i, too, become bored of my sage advice. With fears grooved into my brain, my power unseized and dreams unfulfilled, i pass these on as a blueprint for living. i cannot imagine how it would be to be my child. When you laugh unfettered and carefree, i may loosen into a smile, or Shudder and crave an underground cave. Your patterns are familiar, until they become unknowable. We build a routine, until it crumbles. Mothering, for me, encompasses all of these things, and that is why i find it difficult. But, i suppose, without the peaks and valleys of the EKG, we would be pronounced dead. But sometimes, i can’t bear to feel incompetent one single minute more, then i speak the right words, at an appropriate moment, with the right intonation, it is met with understanding, and i loosen into a smile, until ...
Feel the ground underneath your feet, keep your knees soft, says Maria. Hold, but don’t clench, the abdominal muscles. Then twist from the core, rotate shoulders, and strike with the heel of the right hand. Keep the left arm and hand close to the side body. And vocalize!
I strike with my right hand, and let out a satisfying grunt. Huh!
Next, breathe in, swivel the core, and strike with the left. Huh!
We march forward, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and strike: Right! Left! Right! Left!
March back, with feet stomping, and repeat Huh! Huh! Huh! Huh! Four precise strikes, while a rock song with a heavy downbeat plays over the speaker.
I am in a Nia class, a style which draws upon jazz and modern dance, tai chi, yoga, as well as tae kwon doe, and regularly incorporates punches, blocks and kicks into dance routines set to inspiring music.
I sense my brow getting furrowed, and my focus zeroing in on the mental image of someone I am angry with – someone at work who had lied about me and was ruining my reputation. This is one of the worst things someone can do to me. I channel my heated energy at an image of their face, then strike: Right! Left! Huh! Huh! I imagine the strikes land on their stomach. It’s violent, I know, but I figure it is a safer way than most to channel my aggressions.
While we dance, Maria demonstrates a new pattern: She marches forward, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and does two strikes – Right! Left! Then she adds two freestyle moves – freeflowing arms with her hips jiving to the beat and legs loose.
March forward – 2 – 3 – 4. Huh! Huh! Then, I freeze. My body refuses to do freestyle moves. I stand with fists clenched and arms rigid.
March back – 2 – 3 – 4. Huh! Huh! I try again. I manage some herky jerky moves, probably resembling the ‘robot’. I get angry at what Maria is asking me to do – I was in the zone and wanted to stay aggressive.
I could not loosen up my core and arms, in order to pull off any moves other than the strikes.
Next time, I know it’s coming, so I try to prepare. I do my strikes, and then try to loosen up, but my body doesn’t acquiesce. My mind is almost dizzy at the attempt, and can’t find the rhythm in order to time my freestyle…
After one song, we move on from the martial arts movements to other dance steps, and I am relieved.
After class, I wondered, why was this so challenging? I tend to pick up dance moves pretty easily, but this one – firm attacks, interspersed with flowing, loose movements – was a struggle, for both my body, and my mind.
When I feel hurt, threatened or angry, it is difficult for me to come out of that to feel relaxed, joyful, or happy. Once I am physically tense, my body is not able to easily relax. And once I am angry, my mind tells me that if I let go of the emotion, I will be condoning whatever made me upset in the first place.
I reflected that this pattern has shown up over the course of my life in the form of holding grudges.
The most extreme example of this occurred many years ago. After college, my sister and I had moved back home. After a painful and dramatic incident, we did not speak to each other for several months. It started with screaming and crying, and evolved to sidestepping each other with tension and awkwardness. I soon escaped by moving into my own apartment.
This habit seemed to run in my family. My mother had a couple of years when she didn’t speak to her brother. My father didn’t speak to his sisters for a couple of decades.
Thankfully, all of those rifts had been resolved, but I felt there was more to discover.
At the time, I had also noticed that I had a very hard time cooling off after an argument with my then 7-year-old son. Even after he had moved on, and approached me lovingly, I couldn’t fully open to him, because I retained the tension of the interaction in my physical body. Once I was aware of the pattern, it seemed absurd. I made a cognitive resolution to change my behavior, my plan complete with self-flagellation and harsh critique.
Meanwhile, in dance class, I continued to follow Maria’s instruction. In every class, we had strikes, punches, blocks and other martial arts movements integrated into the dance. I would mimic to the best of my ability, focusing on the strike moves, and then releasing to allow organic dance movements. It remained the hardest part of the dance for me to follow.
At times, I found myself taking my strikes, huffing an inhale, and then moving into the flowing dance move. It was a jilted move, and I was behind the beat, but I kept trying. Other times, I was so determined on making the flowing move, that my last strike would be wimpy and unfocused.
After some amount of time (months, or maybe even a year?), one day I noticed that I moved from my strikes, focused and sharp, to my arms flowing, and core swaying gracefully. I couldn’t pinpoint how I had developed the ability, and it didn’t even require the hyperfocus or trying that I had put in before. The ease was just there. I was ecstatic!
Upon later reflection, I wondered whether this physical capability had any impact on my family or social interactions, so I made an intention to notice if there were any changes. One day, during an intense interaction with my kids, my emotions flared up and I yelled. I felt my body and jaw tense up. I told the kids I needed to take a timeout and went to my room and closed the door. After a few minutes, I emerged physically calmer, and emotionally cooler. When my son came to me, I was able to open to his embrace. We then discussed the situation, and I apologized for not communicating calmly.
I have since realized that my physical tension stems from the sympathetic nervous system. My mind and body believe I am in danger and trigger a fight/flight/freeze response. While I had known about this physiological response cognitively, it was only through my body’s practice that I was able to shift the pattern.
I continue to be amazed at how the lessons I learn from my body are improving the quality of my life. I am so very grateful for my body and all that it allows me to discover, endure, and experience. It is one of my most important teachers.
grey light drifts humbly through the window
my ears alert for early morning whispers,
breath quiet and steady
i hear the purposeful whoosh of
heated milk landing in the bottle
my palms blanketed by the warmth
i make my way towards the
bedroom where you sleep, and
hold out the doodh,
all ingredients melted into this
moment of reverent care,
i plucked the guitar string from my essence
the vibrations echoed through the air
finding their way towards your heart
know that it is an offer, only,
you may resonate or be discordant
still, i stand here,
arm stretched and heart open.
i offered simply because my deepest self wanted to.
We may think of choosing a career path like choosing a train to ride.
We arrive at the station when we graduate from college,
We study the train map and schedule, to decide which is the ‘right’ train to get on.
This decision is agonizing, we strive to absorb as much information as possible and figure out ‘where we want to go’.
We decide, then wait on the platform for the train – the one that is destined for greatness – to arrive.
When it arrives, we board it optimistically, feeling certain that the train and tracks will conspire to carry us to the exact destination we selected, at the time that was promised on the schedule.
Our responsibility is to evaluate the train, and then choose to stay on the this one, or to get off and board another.
But a career path is not a train we board to enjoy a ride. Imagine a career path like going hiking.
When we graduate from college, we carry with us a backpack full of book knowledge and street smarts, warm blankets and extra socks.
We approach the uncharted woods, and consider what direction to head in.
To the right is a patch of evergreen trees, to the left a rocky downhill with a rushing river at the base. In the center, is flat land, with a mountain in the distance.
We choose an initial direction, and then take a step, and another and another.
Within each path, there are opportunities to shape your journey.
After walking for a bit, perhaps we come upon a new clearing, a smaller hill, a field of flowers, or a lookout point.
I suggest we pause to reflect and adjust based on our learnings and new visions.
We walk not in straight lines, but in zig zags and pivots, climbing at times and descending at other times.
We walk, hopefully enjoying the path as much as where we’re headed, and preserving our health and energy for what we hope will be a long and fruitful journey.
Tings against the ceramic in
Cadence like a small church bell
Warmth emanates to my hands
Smells of roasted oat and cardboard permeate my nostrils
Ribbons of honey and chamomile bathe my taste buds
The mug is ordinary, green,
A cricket orchestra, a soundtrack to this
i committed to stay in silence,
And should not be writing, but my
Lips curled up in
Joy and i had to
Share it with you.
You do not need fixing, she said,
You are not broken
i believed her for that moment, my
Heart’s vision stretched to encompass every One
Opened towards Love
Compassionate threads in the
Wholeness of Life
A lump, gray, nondescript
But in my vision it is glorious
i lay my simple tool
On the gripping surface
Scrape away one sliver
And a third
The lump changes only imperceptibly
i aim the tool to remove the excesses
Bit by bit
To reveal the form
Enveloped within the clay
There is no short cut to its birth
Each bit removed
One by one
No use to celebrate after each
Or look forward to promised success
There is none
i can only
Be here now.
Then, a feature is unearthed
From what remains
i stop to admire what became clear
Only with the loss of what was unnecessary
i do not own its intricate glory
i am the instrument
i welcome the pause
And raise my tool again