Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Mother and the Night

By Camincha 

The mother who calls for
her daughter in the
dead of night
will do well to let
her be: bless her to
           release her to
           her own destiny.
You can’t gather the
ocean in the
cup of your hands.
A dove has to fly away
if it’s ever to
return to you.

Camincha is a pen name for a California-based writer.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chapter 62, Sister Mysteries: Hmmmm, Maybe this Should be Chapter One of the Novel?

FUNNY THING ABOUT WRITING A NOVEL. It hardly ever pours out onto paper in sequence. That is, you don't often find a writer starting with Chapter One and then proceeding neatly to Chapter 75 or whatever the conclusion is. I recall in my first novel, Dreaming Maples, the first 50 pages I wrote -- where a young woman nine months pregnant takes a long and risky ride on the back of her boyfriend's motorcyle -- ended up about three-quarters of the way through the book.

So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that here it is Chapter 62 of Sister Mysteries, and I'm finally getting around to writing some very critical material that probably belongs in Chapter One.  This chapter also answers a question that my dear writer friend Peg has been asking for about 18 years: why is the narrator writing this story? What's at stake for the narrator?

Until writing this new chapter, I could never answer that question to Peg's satisfaction. No matter what I wrote, she didn't seem convinced that the narrator, i.e. me, had made it clear why she was the one chosen to tell Renata's tale. Well, so, now I am going to send this chapter to Peg to see what she thinks.

The nice thing about writing a novel on a blog is that it's such a deliciously fluid medium: you can link Chapter 62 with Chapter One and move easily between the two. The reader can skip and skate through the book exactly the way she wants to. 

Still, that doesn't explain the contradictions between the events narrated in this chapter and those described in Chapter One. Clearly, one version of events has to be a lie. The question is, which one?

The author is happy to let the reader decide. 

Dear Señora:

And now, this morning, I find you lying there in your bed, not speaking, staring wide-eyed into the ceiling.

The sun has not yet cracked over the horizon. As soon as I awoke, I crept into the convent kitchen and boiled water for your tea. Walking very softly, I carried the cup up the stairs to your room. Your door is ajar and I knock softly and walk in. Your eyes are open and riveted on the ceiling, and so I know immediately that something is wrong. Your expression is fixed, your face a coffee-colored mask. I set the tea down on the night table and place one hand on your forehead. Warm. I pick up your hand, which lies limp on the sheet. It too is warm, and the skin of the back of your hand is soft but the palm has that dry papery feeling I know so well.

"Señora," I whisper, leaning over to put my lips close to your ear. "Can you hear me?"

Your lips are parted but frozen. You don't move a muscle. Only an occasional blink of your eyes and a faint breath when I put my finger beneath your nose tell me that you are still alive.  I set my ear on your chest and there is a slow and steady beat.  But what has happened to you? Is it a stroke? And if it is, what can I possibly do for you here? What can be done for a stroke victim in 1884?

I drop into the chair beside your bed. The other nuns will be up for morning prayers before long. What will they do? Bring the doctor I suppose. But for what purpose?

I sit here with tears gathering. I sit here thinking that you are nearing your end. We've had such a long history together. I don't want to let you go. And yet, I know better. I know that you came to me for one reason only, and that soon your mission will be accomplished. I just wish you could live forever.

But then I realize, you do live forever. Or at least, your spirit does. You exist beyond the convines of time and place. When you first came to me 18 years ago, I was living through hell.  I had dropped so low that I saw no reason to get out of bed. I thought I would never emerge from that dark grey tunnel of despair. It was such a hellish time. I saw a series of doctors who didn't have much of a clue what to do. One or two of them wanted me to have electroshock treatment, or ECT. And I was petrified. I didn't want to have some machine sending shock waves through my brain, frying it from the inside out.

I remember two things about the morning you came: the snow outside the window was heaped in great mounds. We'd been having wicked winter weather that year, and it most certainly hadn't helped my mood. I remember too, me lying in bed staring into the ceiling, much like you are now. And of all things, I was listening to the flies. Flies in the middle of winter, crazed and buzzing around the light fixtures and against the window glass. Maybe their last desperate gasping to escape.

I remember getting up to pee. And seeing a rather large fly in the window of the bathroom. Quite unexpectedly, I reached over and very gently wedged it against the glass. I set my finger and thumb on one of its wings. There I was, I was actually holding a fly.

I carried it that way to the door that leads out to the balcony of my third floor bedroom. I opened the door and was greeted by a blast of cold air. And then I set the fly free. I watched as he (she?) zoomed off in a giant graceful arc and something shifted in me. How very strange, but somehow that gesture -- freeing the fly -- gave me hope. Put a small smile on my face.

Soon that became my purpose. I would get out of bed at least four or five times a day -- whenever I got up to pee or to eat something -- and I would set free three or four flies. One thing that mystified me, where were these flies coming from at this frigid moment in winter?

But no matter where they came from, they were there. And I got very good at catching them in my hands. Between my fingers. I was delicate but determined. I looked forward to catching them. I looked forward to liberating every fly that I heard buzzing in my bedroom.

When my husband happened to be in the room one morning, he asked me why I insisted on opening the door to release flies. Why, he wondered aloud, did I not just use the fly swatter? He was no lover of flies.

"Because I refuse to kill them," I said simply. But what I didn't say was, this act of freeing flies seemed to give my life some immediate purpose. It was after all, a kind of existential grip that had taken hold of me, that is, life had lost its meaning. I no longer felt that I was steering my life course in a direction that mattered. But here was something that if nothing else, was a satisfying distraction.

If I could do nothing else, I could release a few flies into the universe. Perhaps I couldn't relieve my own misery, but at least I could save these little black-winged creatures from their own misery.

My husband watched cautiously as I released another fly. Then he came up to me and gently folded his arms around me. "Just hold me," he said, his voice low and trembling. I felt so bad. I had become such a burden to my poor husband.  He was so desperately worried about me. He had grown so frightened. But of course he had. For all intents and purposes, he had lost his wife.

I hadn't been out of a nightgown in weeks. I was surviving on a diet of soup and saltines, coffee and oatmeal and an occasional salad or an apple, sliced and smeared with peanut butter.

Worst of all, I had begun to say to my husband with some regularity, "I don't want to live another day." 

I had also taken to praying to the Virgin Mary, asking for help from the divine feminine forces of the universe. Mary had never let me down before. When I had suffered cancer years before, and I was in the thick of misery with the chemo, I would pray to Mary, and something would always happen to relieve my pain. At the worst moments, I would envision myself protected -- tucked beneath her sky blue veil. That image comforted me so much. Now I needed comforting of a different kind. I needed her to help heal my troubled mind.

It wasn't long after I started catching and releasing the flies that you appeared Señora. I remember that morning so clearly. It was a Sunday and the sky was the crisp blue color you only get in the winter. My husband had to fly to DC for a meeting that afternoon and so he had left just after eight a.m. He was nervous at the thought of leaving me alone. "You must promise me you won't do..." and then he'd shake his head. He wouldn't finish the sentence.

"I'll be OK," I said, and then we kissed and he left, his forehead wrinkled in worry.

I had finished my morning coffee. I was waiting for my morning meds -- the ativan, the amphetamines, the noritryptiline -- to kick in.  My neck and back felt really sore, and so I decided to pull myself out of bed to stretch my body a little. I lay on the braided rug on the floor, pulling one knee at a time up to my chest.

The rest of it is like a dream. An amazing and incredible dream. A dream that felt more real than real life.  I lifted my leg a few inches and straightened it out and pointed my toe and suddenly there it was -- a low but persistent sound. Music. It started to grow louder and clearer.  I could hear someone strumming a guitar. I looked over to the radio on my husband's side of the bed. Had I left it on? I know I hadn't. I hated NPR's Weekend Edition program so I would have kept the radio turned off.

But there it was -- guitar music, and it was growing so loud I could feel it right in the room with me. I didn't know it at the time, because I knew virtually nothing about flamenco, but that was a soleares I was hearing. Soleares a form considered the mother of all flamenco. The word solear derived from the Spanish word, "soledad" or sorrow.

I stopped exercising and sat up on the floor, cross-legged. I closed my eyes and just listened to the music for a minute or two. It was quite beautiful.

That's the moment you chose to speak. "Por favor, tu es Señora Ricci, sí?" My eyes flew open and my heart started banging in my chest like some kind of drum.  Behind me, in the rocking chair across the room in the corner, I heard the chair squeak as it rocked forward. Slowly, I swiveled around. You were sitting there, filling up the chair with your portly form. You were dressed in black, and strumming a guitar. My arms and legs started shaking and it's a good thing I wasn't standing because I'm sure I would have lost my urine.

I didn't say a word. I just stared at you, with a million things flying through my head.  The first thing I thought: you were the same color as the flies.  You were completely in black, even your stockings, as if you were in mourning. The only color was the embroidery on your magnificent shawl.

I thought back to the question that the last doctor, the super expensive one in Manhattan had asked recently asked me. "Do you ever see things?"

"See things?" I asked.

"Yes, do you have visions?"

I remember thinking at the time that at least I was that sane. At least I wasn't psychotic, having visions. But now, what was this?

I covered my eyes with my hands, and shook my head back and forth, hoping to make you go away. But you continued strumming. I looked up. You were waiting for me to answer. You smiled and introduced yourself. "Yo soy Señora Maria Corazon de Ramos." You nodded your head once as if to give emphasis to the name.

I knew the word corazón meant heart in English. I wouldn't know until much later that ramos meant tree or branch.

"Wha...what do you want?" I croaked. In English of course. It never occurred to me to try Spanish.

You switched into broken English. "I am here to have your help if you please." It's embarrassing to admit this, Señora, but at first I thought you were offering me help, as in house help. I was just about to answer that I already had a house cleaner, when I realized my mistake. You wanted my help.  SHE WANTED MY HELP? What?

"I ...I don't understand."

You nodded and stopped strumming. The guitar was a beauty by the way. Blonde wood. Just lovely. "Es importante," you began, but then you switched to English again. "Important, very important. You are a writer of stories, yes?"

I shrugged. By this point I was sitting up against the brass bed, my arms hugging my knees, as I was desperately trying to get my arms and legs to stop shaking. But I was still trembling and my mouth felt like it was full of cotton balls. The truthful answer to your question was, "No, I am not writing stories anymore." I had stopped writing just about the time I had started getting depressed. The reason I stopped writing had something to do with the fact that my last novel -- published in 2011 -- had sold so few copies.

My husband had tried time and again to convince me that the key to turning my depression around lay in finding the courage to start writing again. I hadn't found that courage.

"No stories anymore," I whispered. "I don't write anything more." I felt my throat grow thick. I felt tears gathering at the rims of my eyes. All these months, all these doctors, all these meds, and yet I still refused to label myself as, "MENTALLY ILL." But now, here, with this portly Latina woman sitting in front of me, in my fucking bedroom in my fucking rocking chair, how could I possibly resist that label? I was fucking crazy.

"Es important story that I need for you to write."  She reached under her shawl and took out an old journal with a chiseled leather cover.
She opened the journal and in it were a stack of blue pages folded in half and tucked into the front cover.

By now I was feeling like I might need to throw up. I was so desperate for you to disappear. I wanted no part of your story or anything else. "PLEASE," I said, breathlessly. "Please go away," I pleaded. I started to sob. "I have been very very ill," I said, choking on my tears. "I have wanted to take my life. I cannot be cured. No one can help me. No one knows what to do for me and so...I really need you to...you must go."

But of course you didn't budge. You sat there and had such a calm look on your face. I found myself wanting to stare at your face, at its coffee color, at its sculptured flesh, at its slight sheen.

You stood up from the chair and walked over to me. You reached down and took my hand. And slowly you helped me up. I was shaking so badly that I had to let you put your arm around me. Your arm was strong and fleshy. I felt your bosom against my own skinny chest as we walked around the bed. I thought for a moment that you were going to put me back to bed. But instead, you helped me into the rocking chair. And then you made yourself comfortable taking a seat on my unmade bed, facing me.

"Señora Ricci, you need something to help you, yes?"

I snorted, and suddenly my nose was flooding, and I was desperate for tissues. She reached over to the night table for my Kleenex and handed some to me. After I had finished blowing my nose, I sniffled an answer. "I need help, yes I most certainly do." I was about to say, but not from you. Only you continued talking.

"This story" -- and here you held up the leather journal -- "is for me, so so important. Life and death important."

I inhaled. I had absolutely no interest in your story. I had only one thought, that you should disappear, taking your guitar, your flowered shawl, your journal and all those blue pages too.

"I'm sorry, but....you really should go," I whispered. How I wished my husband hadn't had to go out of town. I couldn't even reach him by phone.

"I will go I will. But may I tell you just why I am here? It will only be a moment of your time." I was about to say no but you plowed forward. "I am a poor old woman who made a big big mistake." You said the words "beeg" and "meestake." You stopped talking.  You reached over to the tissue box and took one for yourself and dabbed at your dark eyes. "I let a poor innocent woman die," you said, and now you were starting to cry. "You see, I could have stopped it. The hanging" -- here your face crumpled up -- "would never be happening."

Hanging? What hanging? In spite of my impatience, my desire to see you go, you now had snagged my attention. And something else: seeing a poor old woman sobbing into tissues on my bed had struck up a chord of compassion in me. I was distracted at least for the moment from my own worries.

I waited.

"After Renata got hanged," you continued, "I could not live. I could not sleep or eat. Nothing was inside me but worry and regret.  I prayed. I only prayed. I prayed in daytime, I prayed at night when I am sleeping. I asked the Virgin for help. I told her I would be happy to die myself if she would bring back Renata."

I blinked. Suddenly I was thinking not about how crazy all of this was, but how real you seemed to be.  I couldn't explain it, but I just knew that you were not an illusion. You were a flesh and blood person. You were a poor old soul who needed help.

"Who...who is Renata?" I whispered in a raspy voice.

Señora, at that moment, your face collapsed onto your chest. You raised a hand to either side of your head. And then you just cried and sobbed and said nothing. You looked so pitiful that I found myself getting up out of the rocking chair. I came and sat there right beside you on the bed. I put my arm around your shoulders and squeezed you and tried to comfort you. It helped. At least you stopped convulsing and crying.

"I need you please so so much your help is what the Virgin said I would get."

"What?" I couldn't understand a word you were saying, Señora, as you have never had a knack for English.

You sniffled and wiped your nose. "The Blessed Virgin. In the nighttime she came to me one time. I was awake all night, not sleeping. And then she was there, glowing in golden light. She was so beautiful." Here you smiled and I saw your missing teeth. Your face was glowing and I found myself drawn to it once again. 

"I need you, to write the true story of Renata, and if you do, then the Virgin promised it would all be mended and Renata would be free and not die like she did hanging from that tree. Will you will you please Señora Ricci, will you take this journal of Renata's and just write the story, so the whole world knows that she never killed Antonie?"

"Antonie? But who is he?" I was struggling now. I wanted her to go, but I also wanted to know more, at least enough to satisfy my curiosity.

"Antonie is cousin to Renata," you said simply. "And he also jefe, hmmm..." here you were searching for the word. "The boss. I am keeper of his house."

I reached over to the night table for a drink of water. My head was dizzy. And I wanted something to eat. But curiously, this was the first morning in months that I actually felt like getting out of bed.

"Would you like some coffee?" I said.

You shook your head. "Tea."

And so I put on my blue bathrobe, and you followed me down two flights of stairs to the kitchen, where I made you a cup of tea and kept listening while you pieced together your story.

Such a long, long time ago all of this seems. How quickly the years we've known each other have gone by. And now you lie there Señora and your time is up. Except, you would remind me of something that you said so long ago, that very morning when we first sat together at the oak table in the kitchen, you drinking chamomile tea and me drinking a second cup of coffee. You said "time is always there the same way and at the same time moments on top of each other." I was completely puzzled.  I thought I didn't understand you because of your broken English. And then you said something else that intrigued me. "No one dies for good and doesn't come back another day."

Of course I couldn't possibly understand what you meant.  It has taken me 139 years to understand.

Sister Mysteries is a time travel novel being composed on a set of two blogs (the other blog is Castenata.) It follows the life of a nun, Sister Renata, who in 1883 was falsely accused of murdering her cousin, Antonie.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chapter 61, Sister Mysteries: Renata Stubbornly Refuses to Turn Over the Missing Journal Pages

An hour passed. Señora Ramos fell into a deep sleep -- snoring soundly -- after finishing her cup of tea. I played the three or four flamenco songs I know by heart -- including the beloved bulerias -- and then started working on scales.

Soon enough, though, it occurred to me that Renata had still not returned with the journal pages. I set the guitar against the wall and went out into the hallway. In my imagination, Renata's room was on the first floor, a room that faced the tiled courtyard. As I recall, it was three doors further down the hall from Teresa's room.  I closed Señora's door and descended the staircase, keeping perfectly quiet in my white socks. I made my way through the dining room and the small parlor and into the wing where the nuns' rooms sat, one after another.  By this time, evening prayers were over, and most of the nuns had retired for the night.

I stood in the narrow hallway, where a single candle burned inside a glass dish. The low adobe ceiling was only a few inches above my head. If I was right, the door on my right was Renata's. But what if I had remembered it wrong? I'd disturb one of the other nuns.

I decided I had to take the chance.  I set two knuckles to the wooden door and tapped three times.

No answer.

I knocked again, a little louder this time. Then I positioned my lips into the crack where the door met the frame and I whispered.

"Renata? Please, are you in there?"

Nothing. I was beginning to think I did indeed have the wrong room. I turned around and leaned back on the door and looked up to the ceiling. I was beginning to feel like a very unwelcome visitor. It occurred to me that I could simply stop all of this, and return to my laptop, where I belonged.

At just that moment, the door swung open and I felt myself falling backwards into the room. Renata was stronger than she looked, because the next thing I knew, I was looking into dark eyes. She had caught me!

"I'm so sorry," I stammered. She helped me back to my feet. "I really am not trying to harrass you, Renata, I just want to do what Señora wishes."

"Come in," she said. I entered the tiny convent room, which was even smaller than I had pictured it when I described it in the book. The crucifix loomed large over the narrow bed of straw.

"I would invite you to sit down, but this bed is ..."

"No, no need for that," I said. "I simply need those journal pages. I'll be off as soon as I have them."

"Yes, well, that's exactly the problem.  You see, I am very reluctant to part with those pages. I've heard all that Señora explained, about the supposed miracle and the Virgin rewriting history. I hope you will excuse my skepticism, but I am still not convinced."

My stomach tightened and my face flushed hot. I felt a flood of anxiety rush up and down my arms. Had I really created this character who was so impossibly stubborn? I cleared my throat.

"I understand your skepticism," I began, speakly slowly. "I respect you for that, Renata. I do. But the trouble is, you are really stuck. It's just a matter of time before the authorities find out that you're back here at the convent and they will, as Señora says, lose no time taking you to the gallows. So please, I will get down on my knees and beg you if I have to, just give those pages to me so that the true story can be told and you will go free."

Renata sighed and sat down on the bed. "Maybe I go free. From what I've seen in the courtroom so far, it's going be very difficult to use a few handwritten pages from my journal to convince anyone that my case should be reopened.  God knows how hard it would be to overturn my conviction."

"What you say is true of course Renata, but my God, we've got to try, haven't we?" My voice got louder, prompting Renata to set one finger over her lips, cautioning me to speak more quietly.

At that moment, an idea struck me. I had a lawyer friend back in Spencertown who worked as a public defender. He would be able to fill me in on how new evidence could be introduced after a conviction.  But the one sticking point remained: I couldn't do anything without that new evidence in hand.

"I want to sleep on it," Renata announced, rising from the bed. She was wearing a simple white gown, tied at the neck with a blue satin bow. "It's been a long and tiring day, and I just don't want to make this decision tonight." She paused. "So if you don't mind, I would like to go to back to bed now."

I stood there, amazed. Here Renata was being offered a gift -- a painless way out of her desperate situation -- and yet, she was so nonchalant, as if it didn't matter that the death penalty awaited her. Could she possibly be so indifferent to the danger she faced?

She held the door open for me. I said a soft good night and returned to Señora's room. The old woman was sleeping quietly, so I pulled up her extra blanket and I left. It wasn't until later that I realized I had left Renata's guitar leaning against Señora's wall.

And now that I'm back behind the laptop, I'm altogether amazed by this puzzling situation. What could possibly be holding Renata back from handing over the journal pages? What did she have to lose?

When Señora first approached me so many years ago about writing Renata's story, she brought with her the nun's chiseled leather journal. She also carried a box filled with a stack of thin blue pages, all neatly  written in Antonie's looping hand.

I had only to copy out the entries and set them in the proper order, which I had done, faithfully. I set them up in a blog called "Castenata."

Now, as I sat in my pale yellow study, staring over my laptop at the abstract painting of a sunset that sits over my desk, it occurred to me that I could simply make up the two pages. I have had plenty of experience exercising my fiction writer's mind. And judging by things Renata had written, and a few things Señora insinuated, I had a pretty good inkling of what the pages said.

But wouldn't this violate the whole arrangement I had with Señora? I had after all promised to write the true story, exactly as she delivered it to me.

It was late, I was tired, and so I went to bed. I pasted a post-it on my laptop, reminding myself to phone my friend David, the public defender, to talk to him about the case.

I yawned and closed the laptop. Happy to be back in my own century, where mattresses aren't made of straw.

Little did I know what havoc and insanity would greet me in the morning.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Loving the Most Lovable People on Earth

A few weeks ago, I started a volunteer job a couple days a week with an extraordinary not-for-profit organization in Great Barrington, MA. Called Community Access to the Arts, or CATA, the group provides an array of arts activities -- from painting and writing to dance, yoga and acting, to adults with disabilities. While CATA has been around for twenty years, I only learned about them through an ad they ran at the local movie theatre a year or so ago. I was intrigued. I adore art and music, and of course, writing -- which I've taught for years at the college level -- is like breathing to me.  I really wanted to volunteer. But deep down, I had to admit to myself, I was a little bit nervous. Would I be a good match for this group? Would I have the patience and tolerance to work with people who were in some cases profoundly disabled?

It took one visit to dispel all of my fears. The moment I walked in the door, I was wrapped in a kind of loving glow that exudes from all of those who are involved in CATA. The truth of the matter: I fell totally in love with all of the adults that I met.  There's a delightful young woman who was my partner rolling beads out of paper mache one day; then a couple days later, she and I sat side by side in the writing class composing a story about her clothes. There is another incredibly sweet older woman who remembered my name after only one introduction. And then there's a young woman who cannot speak. But boy oh boy can she laugh. One day when I walked in, she came running up to me and kissed my hand! I could go on and on: there's the woman who delighted everyone when she wrote about being a clothes "fashionista;" there's the man who always writes two stories during writing class. There's so many more people, so many people who just love coming together to enjoy the arts.

The staff and director of CATA are amazing too. The first day I walked into the CATA office, for my get-acquainted interview, I was greeted by Executive Director Sandy Newman, the woman who had the brilliant idea to start the organization 20 years ago. As we shook hands, I noticed her beaming smile: it was a genuinely happy smile. Curiously, though, the next person I shook hands with, Jeff Gagnon, CATA's program and marketing associate, was wearing the same exuberant smile. And so was the next person in the office. And the next. And the next. It's not often that you walk into an office where everybody just happens to smile as if they are truly in love with their jobs.

Last month, CATA won an award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council; the award recognizes groups and individuals in the Commonwealth state that have achieved outstanding accomplishments in the arts, humanities and sciences. CATA won for providing access to the arts. As it stands now, the group provides arts programming to some 500 disabled adults throughout Berkshire County. In the same week the group was recognized, they also had an art show in Lee, MA, featuring the wonderful artwork of many participants. It's inspiring to read about how volunteers pair up with participants -- some of whom cannot move their limbs -- to produce beautiful works of art.

One day as I was leaving CATA (and more often than not, I just don't want to leave!) I spoke to Sandy Newman. I told her that I was thrilled to have discovered this incredibly loving group of individuals. Working at CATA, I said, was a thoroughly affirming and inspiring activity. She smiled and nodded and acknowledged what everyone who works there already knows: that volunteering at CATA gives back way beyond imagination.

"It makes you appreciate every single thing," she said.

And it reminds you that every single person in the world is precious.

Thank you for this, CATA. Thank you to all the adults who participate, and thank you to all the volunteers too. It's been said countless times before, but volunteer work does wonders for the soul.

Friday, February 08, 2013


The snow, fine as salt, is starting to fall, when all of a sudden three visitors appear.

They nibble around the trees and head across the yard and toward the forest.

Monday, February 04, 2013

One Step Deeper into the Breathing Love Meditation

If you tried the Breathing Love meditation I offered a few days ago, you know that the technique relies on bringing your breathing and your heartbeat into some kind of rhythmic connection.

But now, I've discovered a way to heighten the feeling of self-love generated during this meditation. Those of you who are familiar with Sharon Salzberg's extensive work with lovingkindness meditation know that it always starts with you extending love first to yourself, then to a sequence of other individuals in your life, until finally you are sending lovingkindness -- or metta -- to all living beings in the universe.

So this why I've been focusing on the Breathing Love meditation -- because it seems like a natural way of generating self love.

To start, place your right hand underneath your left breast, flat on your chest, so that you can feel your heartbeat. (Preferably place your hand onto your bare skin as it generates more sensation.) Then place your left hand over the right. Notice that with your hands in this position, you are cradling your heart.

Start to breathe in rhythm with your own heart beat. Find a rhythm that feels comfortable to you. My own rhythm is

Breathe in, beat beat,
Breathe out, beat beat,
Breathe in, beat beat,
Breathe out, beat beat

You may find three beats works better between breaths. Or perhaps just one breath. Play around with the breathing until you find a pattern that works for you.

Once you have a steady rhythm going, turn your attention to your cradled heart. Imagine for a moment that you are now cradling a newborn baby. Imagine this baby's tiny head, warm and soft, covered with downy fine hair; imagine how the baby's head would feel in your hand. Imagine the baby's body nestled up against your heart.

Instead of holding a baby, maybe you would rather imagine holding a soft and furry kitten, or a tiny puppy. Imagine how sleek the puppy's fur would feel under your hands. Imagine how reassuring the warm body of the kitten or the puppy would feel against your heart.

Feel the love you have for this very lovable baby, or this very adorable furry kitten or puppy.

And now, holding onto that love, see if you can turn the loving creature you are holding into your own self. Maybe you can picture yourself as a baby. Or maybe you just want to let your adult body fold around that of the baby or the kitten or the puppy that you are embracing in your imagination.

Remember to keep breathing, and feeling your heartbeat. Keep returning the loving breath back into your heart. Let the warm reassuring feelings circulate through your chest.

This meditation may bring a smile to your face. Or maybe you'll end up laughing at the notion that you are cradling your own baby self. That's fine. Just try to stay aware of the sensations of your hands on the skin of your chest, and the reassuring feel of the heartbeat.

Remember, this is an exercise in self-acceptance and self-love. It's your own way of saying to yourself, in a physical and tactile way, "I am a lovable creature just the way I am." With this exercise, you are demonstrating that you can love and accept yourself without doing anything more than breathing and feeling the beating heart that keeps you alive.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Feeding on Light

Maybe because so many winter days are white and overcast,
the dawn of a clear sunny morning brings a thrill.
No matter that the frigid air will bite your skin if you step outside.
No matter that the sun may not last past noon.
It's still a gift to open your eyes to see the pine-treed hillside outside the window
turning gold in long lazy winter rays.

Downstairs, the sun streams across the kitchen, bathing the
cabinets. The same rays cross the threshold into the laundry room and
leave a tiny square of spring green light on the washing machine.
I set my finger into that delightful green spot. It's got promise, that spot.
The fruitbowl, with its orange, green and yellow curves and shadows,
becomes a still life painting.

And in the dining room, the long strips of light spread across the rug beckon to me.
I stretch out flat in one, as if I'm lying in a chaise lounge on the beach.
I stare right into the flood of sunlight coming through the window
and I am delighted to be blinded. I smile. I think Florida, I think emerald waves
and long white beaches. Palm trees and the smell of ocean breezes.
Bathing suits. Flip flops and suntan lotion and the grainy touch of sand.

Maybe because this morning's light is so rare, and I know there is no holding onto it,
(just now the sun slipped behind the clouds and all turned shadow)
Every place my glances happens to land -- on deeply furrowed grey bark, on the white pond, on green pine needles,
I let my gaze dally.
The day becomes a meditation, eyes feeding on light.