A Lesson on Love, and Antilamentation

Show me love, show me life
Baby show me what it’s all about
Robyn

On the first day of the year in 2014, I learn, once and again, what Love means.

It started with an innocuous hike.

David and I decided we’d spend New Year’s Day exploring Point Reyes, about 30 miles north of San Francisco. In the spirit of easy-like-New-Year’s-Day, we took our time and got to the trail head bright and not-so-early at 3pm (more like 3:15). After getting lost, five steps from the parking lot (“We are such sad city people, Nikki”), we were finally on the right trail at 3:30, stoked to catch the sunset on the beach (we totally meant to get a late start for that!)

We took a 4-mile walk through the woods and onto the wet sand, marveling at the coastline and history of the land (Point Reyes is beautiful, I recommend checking it out if you have the chance).

Then came a mini crisis.

After getting back to the car at dusk, I discovered the 4 ounces of modern magic that is my phone was missing. The shiny new one I just got. Gone missing.

“Where was the last time I had it?” “When did I use it last?” “How could I have lost it?” A flurry of questions came to mind. A mixture of panic, grief, guilt, anxiety, and fear, along with the evening fog and chill, draped over me like a cape.

And guilt, especially guilt, took a strong grip of me. I felt like I had ruined a good day, and it was only the first day of the year. I felt rotten.

“What do we do now?” “What do I do now?” It was dark. The sun had set and temperature had dropped. We were ready to head home for dinner. The optimism that maybe, *just maybe* my phone was somewhere on the trail, and that if I just walked back, I would find it, was mixed with the fear of making my partner upset with me, amplified by my conflict-avoidant tendencies.

We took a deep breath, discussed our states of mind, mental and physical status, and decided to walk back “for ten minutes”, which turned out to be a full walk back to the beach.

“Come on iPhone, please be on the trail,” I silently prayed as I held his hand really tight to warm up our cold digits.

My iPhone, however, couldn’t hear my prayers. It was out of battery, maybe buried somewhere under the sand, or washed out to the Pacific Ocean, or maybe fell into someone’s hands.

“May they find it useful!” we tried to cheer ourselves with whatever altruism we could conjure up when the glimmer of hope faded away at the end of the trail.

On the walk back, we looked up at the wide open space above, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the star-filled sky, and me silently looking for some divine intervention, (because, you know, the missing iPhone *might* fall out of the sky and hit my head at any moment, right?)

“I’m so silly. I’m silly Nikki,” I lamented. “No, you’re human Nikki,” David corrected me, and I could have married him right there and then. I mean, I *am* going to marry him. But I swear I could have grabbed some random stranger on the trail and asked them to witness our vows, except that we were the only ones crazy enough to be out stumbling in the dark (with the deers and foxes).

“We can hold a funeral for your iPhone,” David squeezed my hand tight, then he proceeded to sing to the tunes of the Heart Sutra, which he’d only heard once a couple days before. I busted out laughing, and he winked at me.

We drove back through the long windy roads of Highway 1, surrounded by seashores and rocky cliffs and giant trees. They all seemed to mirror my inner mental landscape.

I realized then, that all these things I do, all the yoga classes, the meditation, the writing, the reflection, the OCD swallowing of books on human neuropsychology and behaviors and communication, everything all boils down to one fragile and fleeting moment of what I do when things don’t go my way, when I feel the pain of loss, fear, hate, sadness, guilt, anger, and disappointment.

More importantly, I realized, that another human’s love and compassion can also teach me what all those books attempt to do, in the flesh, in real time. When all I want to do is go on a self-criticism pity party, another human’s open heart and sense of humor can help me learn to have compassion for myself. And that, to me, is Love in action, full stop.

Love is when another human does a hike twice with you, in the dark, and helps you realize that you need a better device-management pocket system, but won’t let you go into a self-blaming “I’m such an incompetent idiot that I can’t even keep track of a phone” monolog.

Love is when another human helps you see that there’s plenty of room to improve, and yet still holds the space for you to feel ok, to not beat yourself up for all your flawed human ways.

Love is when someone feels your pain with you, but won’t let you dump a basket full of fear, insecurity, guilt, shame, anger, sadness, frustration, etc., in a Vitamix, blend it on high, and down it until you’re nauseous. In doing so, they show you what love looks like, and teach you how to love, starting with yourself.

Last Sunday, in a Dharma talk at Green Gulch, Jeremy Levie spoke about the Four Immeasurables. He read a poem by Dorianne Laux called Antilamentation. It seems so apt right now, so, here’s to 2014, to more compassion—for ourselves and others—, more love, and more poetry. Happy New Year to you.

Antilamentation

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering
any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

And here’s an image of one of the beaches at Point Reyes, courtesy of The Seattle Times, since all the photos I took are somewhere out there in the ether. May you find a good home, iPhone.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes

 

Baby, if you’re going to create

“–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
way”

“Something has always been in the way.” This is the most damning thing to hear when you want to create, and you’ve got excuses. I’ve got excuses.

My story is the same as everyone. I’ve been working a demanding job. I’ve bitten off more than I could chew with my yoga training. I’m building a maximum viable relationship. I’m stumbling in the dark planning a wedding.

None of this takes away this relentless, insidious urge inside to make something beautiful, to write something revealing, to read something juicy.

“One day,” I think, “one day, I won’t have so much to do.”

Then, I’ll sit down with the most perfect 100% organic cotton bound journal with handcrafted recycled paper and inspirational sayings from dead philosophers and restart journaling, only *this time* it’s every day for forever, for real this time.

Then, I’ll take my latest and lightest and thinnest MacBook Air to the trendiest coffee shop and get an exquisite organic fair-trade cup of espresso with foam art made by the barista with a copy of “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?” on the counter, open up Xcode and Photoshop and Coda 4 or 5 or maybe even 6 at that point, and make that one app I’ve been talking about since Ramses took over the Nile Delta.

Then… and then… and only then…

But, as LL Cool J says in Hey Lover, “It’s a fantasy, that won’t come true.”

So, it’s a tender reminder from Charles Bukowski: “air and light and time and space have nothing to do with it, and don’t create anything except maybe a longer life to find new excuses.”

air and light and time and space

“–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
way
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to
create.”

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented,
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for.

© Charles Bukowski

The Female Human Being

“someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only of life and reality: the female human being.

This advance (at first very much against the will of the outdistanced men) will transform the love experience, which is now filled with error, will change it from the ground up, and reshape it into a relationship that is meant to be between one human being and another, no longer one that flows from man to woman.

And this more human love (which will fulfill itself with infinite consideration and gentleness, and kindness and clarity in binding and releasing) will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.” – Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet #7

The luckiest

Floor lamp

Well I’ve been on the road, as you can see with the suitcase on the floor.

Tonight, as I sit here at the bottom of my bed, looking at my nearly-burnt-out floor lamp, laundry unfolded, by my side a half eaten banh mi because I pompously asked for it to “be drowned in Sriracha”, and paid dearly for it, I’m reminded of this poem by Charles Bukowski:

My doom smiles at me

there’s no other way:
8 or ten poems a
night.
in the sink
behind me are dishes
that haven’t been
washed in 2
weeks.
the sheets need
changing
and the bed is
unmade.
half the lights are
burned-out here.
it gets darker
and darker
(I have replacement
bulbs but can’t get them
out of their cardboard
wrapper.) Despite my
dirty shorts in the
bathtub
and the rest of my dirty
laundry on the
bedroom floor,
they haven’t
come for me yet
with their badges and their rules and their
numb ears. oh, them
and their caprice!
like the fox
I run with the hunted and
if I’m not the happiest
man on earth I’m surely the
luckiest man
alive.

Live in the layers

This morning I lazily opened up Dream Work, stumbled on the poem “Stanley Kunitz”, and a flood of memories came rushing in.

Years ago, on a very early morning–before dawn even, it seemed–my brother dropped me off on his way to the airport, and since he was short on time, he let me off where I’d make a short walk to my apartment in Lower Queen Anne by cutting through the Seattle Center and he can continue on out to the highway.

As I walked by an unassuming corner across from the Center House, I saw words etched into big pieces of polished stone, and that’s when I discovered the poem The Layers by Stanley Kunitz.

When I resumed my walk, these lines stayed on my mind,

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

Stanley is a pretty decent (read: crazy good) gardener, it turns out. In “Stanley Kunitz”, Mary Oliver wrote about discovering that “it isn’t magic”, and here she blasted her notion of him strolling about idly among the birds and the bees and the trees.

I see him on his knees,
cutting away the diseased, the superfluous,
coaxing the new,
knowing that the hour of fulfillment
is buried in years of patience–
yet willing to labor like that
on the mortal wheel.

Today, the image forming in my mind is a poet laboring away in his garden, “raking the trimming, stirring up those sheets of fire” patiently pulling weeds among the leaves and vines.

And speaking of gardening and my brother, this reminds me of a time when we saw Candide, laughing our asses off together and silently drove home together, me pondering on the last line of the play. Pangloss was philosophizing about sequences and possibilities of events in life, and Candide simply said, “We must all cultivate our own garden.”

Stanley Kunitz
by Mary Oliver

I used to imagine him
coming from the house, like Merlin
strolling with important gestures
through the garden
where everything grows so thickly,
where birds sing, little snakes lie
on the boughs, thinking of nothing
but their own good lives,
where petals float upward,
their colors exploding,
and trees open their moist
pages of thunder–
it has happened every summer for years.

But now I know more
about the great wheel of growth,
and decay, and rebirth,
and know my vision for a falsehood.
Now I see him coming from the house–
I see him on his knees,
cutting away the diseased, the superfluous,
coaxing the new,
knowing that the hour of fulfillment
is buried in years of patience–
yet willing to labor like that
on the mortal wheel.

Oh, what good it does the heart
to know it isn’t magic!
Like the human child I am
I rush to imitate–
I watch him as he bends
among the leaves and vines
to hook some weed or other;
even when I do not see him,
I think of him there
raking the trimming, stirring up
those sheets of fire
between the smothering weights of earth,
the wild and shapeless air.

The Layers
By Stanley Kunitz
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

Love’s been good to me

Of all the childhood memories I have, some of the happiest ones are from afternoons when my mom would put a cassette in our old black Sony music player while she cooked dinner. I would play around, sometimes do my homework, sometimes hang out and talk to her, and she would explain the songs to me, since I wanted to understand what the lyrics were saying. In exchange, I would change the tape over for her.

We listened to a lot of French songs, and Jacques Brel. At some point, my mom went over the song Ne Me Quitte Pas line by line with me. I don’t remember exactly if that was an inevitable part of my French education (my mom’s a French teacher), or if I was so annoying asking for translation (“But mom, what does it meeean”), that she thought, “You want some conditionnel passé before dinner? Here you go.”

I have this vivid memory of wanting to know exactly what des mots insensé means. I wanted examples of words that are considered insensé. But why is that a crazy word? And how do you invent them? And what’s the meaning of rain coming from countries where it doesn’t rain? Grown-ups say the weirdest things.

Years and years passed. I’ve moved on to find my own afternoon music mix, without needing to change the cassette tape over to the other side.

Recently, I discovered Aaron Freman and his new album, Marvelous Clouds, covering the music and poetry of Rod McKuen. “Who is this Rod McKuen chap?” Turns out, it’s none other than the translator of Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas into the English version, If You Go Away, along with being an Oscar- and Pulitzer-nominated composer/singer/songwriter/poet (total Beat poet slacker, basically).

This connection to Jacques Brel brought back floods and floods of memories, not just from my childhood, but also from my time studying in France, when we had to learn La Valse à Mille Temps, a song with a ridiculously impossible tempo with all sorts of puns and tongue twisters. I’m pretty sure it was both punishment and praise from the French teachers to us unsuspecting foreign exchange kids who would endure the sick torture that is French conjugation.

Back to Rob McKuen, I’ve been really digging Aaron Freeman’s version of Love’s Been Good to Me. (Guitar chords and lyrics if you wanna play along.)

I’ve been a rover
I have walked alone
Hiked a hundred highways
Never found a home

Still in all I’m happy
The reason is, you see
Once in a while along the way
Love’s been good to me

April comes like an idiot

It’s officially spring in Seattle. I can declare this because the tulips are blooming, and we’ve had a streak of three, yes, count them, three whole days of sunshine. My friends are even getting sunburnt, stumbling around my apartment, grinning ear to ear, happily drunk on wine and overexposure to Vitamin D.

“What are some poems and songs about spring?” I asked myself. (And by “myself” I mean Google.) In my hunt, I found this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay really funny.

Spring

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.

It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.

Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

P.S. I’m happy to return to Edna St. Vincent Millay again. This was almost my mantra in college as I ran around trying to do too many things on too little sleep.

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.

Rilke and the Greatness of Death

I have been on a kick, collecting poems about Death, not morbidly, but with a feverish yearning to learn how I can live each moment of every day with more fire in my gut and under my butt.

I fear that if I don’t do this, I will sloth around, wasting time, lamenting and whining like Arjuna before Krishna.

I’ve been through a few losses, small losses. Small as they are (in the sense that no one died a biological death), I feel the intensity of the emotion in my physical body.

It’s as if I’ve been thrown in playpen full of baby tigers and elephants, and even though we’re having fun (and they’re so cute), these animals don’t know how big and powerful they are, so things ache a little when we play around.

One night while going over old podcasts I’ve been procrastinating on, I found a couple nice Rilke poems/quotes.

“The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated,

death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.”

– From A Wild Love For The World, a conversation with Joanna Macy on On Being.

A few happy clicks and reads later (woohoo, the Internets!), I found Sonnets to Orpheus, and how I love the image of singing while climbing, a ringing glass that “shatters as it rings”. It reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

And whoa, I’ve never thought that I live “among the disappearing”, but hell, that’s what we are, transients.

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XIII

Be ahead of all parting, as if it had already happened,
like winter, which even now is passing.

For beneath the winter is a winter so endless
that to survive it at all is a triumph of the heart.

Be forever dead in Eurydice,
and climb back singing.
Climb praising as you return to connection.

Here among the disappearing, in the realm of the transient,
be a ringing glass that shatters as it rings.

Be. And, at the same time, know what it is not to be.
That emptiness inside you allows you to vibrate in resonance with your world. Use it for once.

To all that has run its course,
and to the vast unsayable numbers of beings abounding in Nature,
add yourself gladly, and
cancel the cost.