Sunday, October 25, 2009

The awareness is so big

“Simply open the heart,” my yoga teacher says. “Let your shoulders slide onto the floor. Let go.”

“Your father fell in the night, very quietly near the stairs,” Mom says. “I never heard a sound. I found him in the morning, just lying out there in the hallway on the floor. 'How long have you been there?' I asked him. ‘About an hour,’ he said. He was inching his way along, down the hallway. 'Let me help you,' I said. But you know how he is. He snapped at me, like he always does. ‘Leave me alone,’ he said. ‘I’m fine.’”

This happened four years ago. But today, because I am writing a memoir, I'm thinking about it.

"The awareness is so big," my yoga teacher says. I lie on my sticky mat with my eyes closed, trying to wrap my mind around the question of just how big the awareness might be. I send my consciousness searching for the edge, the end, the place where the awareness ends and... and this is what I'm having trouble with... something else begins.

"Simply open the heart," she repeats and I wonder, how?

On Twitter, there's a stream. People from all over the world, sit at desks or cafe tables inventing 140-character statements that attempt to answer the question: What are you doing? Their brief messages flow by in bursts: I'm spiritual, they whisper. I'm an activist, a writer, a wellness coach. I eat raw food.

On Twitter, there are greetings, sales pitches, prayer requests.: I skim through these to find the people-or PPL, as we say in the abbreviated language Twitter users must employ-who are playful, fascinated, and engaged; people who are, you know, real.

Often, someone will "tweet" a link: Try this, they urge. Read this, or, Wow!

I click on some of them, when I have the time and they take me places--walking down roads I'd never find on my own, or swirling, as through a worm hole in a science-fiction novel, toward universes that are forming and un-forming faster than my 52-year-old mind can read the maps.

For example, this photo taught me that while I have been opening my heart and also cooking, working and helping my kids get started in college, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has been orbitting through space, sending back images of "high-energy radiation from the remnants of exploded stars, black holes, galaxies and intergalactic gas, among other phenomena."

The awareness is so big.

Six years ago, my editor asked me if I’d like to work on a column about angels.
I had no idea what was going to happen, no idea that by even touching the hem of this work, my life would be shot through with stars. No idea. Yet, in another way, in a very deep part of me, I knew.

Three years later, (which, if you are making a timeline, was about three years ago) I was sleeping in my sister’s old room at my parents’ house when my father got up to go to the bathroom and fell. From the twin bed facing the hallway, I saw how it started, how he tripped, his right foot caught beneath his left, and how his body pivoted to the left as he fell, so that he landed, almost gracefully, on his knees beside the laundry basket, the top of his head resting on a stack of my mother’s freshly folded pink towels.

“Don’t worry about it,” he called as I leapt to help. “I can manage. Go back to bed.”

I knew the rules. My father doesn’t like people to help him. My father likes to do things for himself. I stood beside him, not helping, as he struggled to straighten his back, to lift his head and shift his weight. But he couldn’t do it, couldn’t stand.

“Come on, Dad, let me help you,” I said. He lifted an arm and we used my body to leverage his own. Then, he lurched away.
“I’m fine,” he called over his shoulder, closing the bathroom door.

Have patience, everything will work out. Anyway, sleep well, Carl Jung wrote, once, in a book somewhere. I'm sorry I don't have the exact citation. I'd rather write about awareness, and how big it is, than look that up right now. I know that if anyone would understand this omission, it would be he, (Carl Jung, I mean.)

When Jung was older, after he'd been recognized and celebrated as the father of something new, something important, he began working with a non-physical guide called Philemon, who visited him in dreams. “Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life," he wrote. "Philemon represented a force that was not myself. In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought."

Something like this also happened to me.
The awareness is so big.

The next morning at breakfast, I asked Dad, “Are you falling a lot?”
“What’s a lot?” He shrugged, limping slowly to the table. “It’s part of the game. I fall. I get up.”

The kids came downstairs. We ate our corn flakes. Crunch, crunch.
A few minutes later, Dad broke the silence. “When I fall in the city people always help me up. When I fall at home, it’s not so easy. The other day I tripped on the scatter rug and fell with my cheek in the cat’s food dish.” Max and Katie froze, looked at me: Is it okay to laugh?

But Dad chuckled. “Mookie didn’t like that!” he said, winking at Max.
“Dad,” I tried again. “It sounds like you’re falling a lot…”
“Not a lot,” he said. “But I am falling.”

A week earlier, while climbing from his car, Dad fell on his back in the driveway. Unable to get up, or even to roll onto his side, he lay there for more than two hours. “It was a nice day,” he told me. “A couple of kids from up the block went by. Some cars…”

“No one helped you?”
“No one saw me. I was back behind the car. Actually, it was the garbage men who got me up when they came up the driveway for the trash.”

My sister, Beth, lives in California. When I told her what was going on, she subscribed Dad to the Life Alert system. Now whenever he fell, he could push a button, which he wore on a thick black cord around his neck. This activated a direct connection with a dispatcher who could call for help—the police or a designated neighbor—to stand him back up.

I will write a book. I will call it: Light: The year I opened my eyes. I will call it: Sacred, Pulsing Space. I will call it: The Architecture of the Heart I will explore things like entropy, which is the name for what happens when a system gets stuck and no longer makes effective use of its available energy; and the way that I want so many things that I cannot seem to animate; like going to Paris, writing a book, loving my husband.

My book will give me permission-and a platform-to learn and to talk about healing; about family, about the way the heart works-as a muscle, pumping and pulsing; and an energetic system. I will call my book a memoir, hoping that it will help me to remember, to understand, to see.

I am not like everyone else.I have this special thing I can do: look! I'm doing it now. I am different; with a unique set of skills and talents that make me very very special. Of course, one of the things the awareness has been teaching me is: So is everyone else. Everyone feels this way. Everyone, I understand now, is special, bursting with stars.

About a year after I first started working with angels, after I'd read about five-hundred stories of miraculous rescues, healings, visitations and dreams, I began to feel different: I felt like I was melting, as if the edges that made me ME were softening, and I was blending into something bigger, something that was both absorbing ME and filling me with itself.

With my eyes wide open, I was having the kind of mystical experience some people report after years of meditation-where one becomes liquid and merges with God.

Everything had meaning--everything I saw was a sign: the numbers on license plates, words written on street signs, all seemed encoded with messages just for me. Patterns emerged in the leaves on the ground, piles of acorns, the rhythm of snow falling into puddles at the side of the road.

It's still this way. But now, I no longer think I'm crazy.
You get used to it.

But I do have some questions...
Like the veils, the ones Mystics talk about- the ones that hold us inside our bodies and separate this thing from that; the membranes that individuate bodies, plants, water bugs and comets from the flowing everythingness of All That Is. What I want to know is, how does it all fit together? How does it all work? How does it make the transition--the translation--from wave to particle, from thought to pattern, from cosmic, swirling gas to spiral helix? How, I want to know, does it weave this net of creation, studded with jewels?

Oh, and there's one more thing: Why, if we are designed to be separate, do we long so desperately, not to be? With an awareness this big, there must be a reason. I mean: Is this a design flaw-or is it intentional?

FOUR (Yes, I know. We are going backwards now.)
"One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one's mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one's leisure..." says Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. He is explaining, to Harry Potter, how the Pensieve works. In this scene, Professor Dumbledore demonstrates the method of "siphoning" thoughts, using his magic wand to pull a wispy thread of memory from the side of his own head.

Oh, tell me how big the awareness must be... to hold all of this, these thoughts, my son and daughter, this iced tea in its clear (#1 plastic) cup.

"The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of," wrote the 17th century philosopher-poet, Blaise Pascal. (I think that's who wrote it. I copied the reference from someone on Twitter.)

And anyway,
Here is THREE...
Barnard's Galaxy, " is one of our nearest galactic neighbors." The bubble, "clearly visible in the upper left of this photo," a "cosmic misfit," oddly shaped and smaller than other galaxies," may help "researchers understand how galaxies interact, evolve and occasionally "cannibalize" each other, leaving behind radiant, star-filled scraps."

Star-filled scraps.

My daughter just called. Today, she's making a movie about an beautiful young man who is being pursued by a beautiful young woman through tall grass. She wants me to come now, to drive her to the location--an abandoned Drive-In movie lot, with the equipment she signed out from the storeroom at school. She wants to be there before the actors arrive.

So I have to go. Because even though I'm not finished, I... wait, let me cut to the chase:
I am choosing to stop writing now, to go and pick up my daughter because of my heart.

My children fill me with stars.
I love them beyond reason, beyond the dimensions of any universe of which I can conceive. My children, as nothing else ever has, connect me to an awareness that is so big that it might as well be infinite... for I will never reach its edge.

And even though this next bit, which I am labeling, ZERO, may not make sense to you, it was the scrap of inspiration which led me down the path of this essay, and I don't want you to miss it.

So, here's what I know.

We have to just decide--to get better, to stop worrying, to keep moving, to stand up, pay the check and go.
We have to just, one day, say, “I get it. That’s it. I’m done with complaining, with lying, with not doing my best. We just have to stop.

When we fall down, we get up.

We stop buying into scarcity, to less than what we want, we start to radiate forth into the world the very thing which, until this moment, we’ve envied in others. We become, literally, a "walk in"-a person who was one way and then, a moment later, is something entirely different.

We just stop.

Abraham says that a walk in is a person who has summoned so much energy around an intention--to change, to end something, to live a different way--that s/he can no longer tolerate the contrast between the life they have and the life that their soul knows is available for them.

Abraham says that, in such cases, an event manifests--a deep illness, a car crash, a divorce, a job loss--that is strong and sudden enough to create a massive allowing, a shift in energy, thought and belief that is so strong that the desired change cannot help but come... and come it does, in an overwhelming, all-encompassing shift on every level of the person's life.

More often though, the walk-in experience happens over time, in gradual subtle shifts from depression to normalcy, from normalcy to interest, from interest to fascination, from fascination to hope… little by little, step by step, we move our vibration from being less than we could be toward becoming who and what we truly are.

That's how it's happening for me--with the occasional burst of ... Wow! And a link to fascinate me for a while.

But for now, I will get in the car and drive. I will deliver my star-filled daughter to the debris-strewn lot behind the enormous empty screen where she will crouch in tall grass behind a Bolex camera and shoot a beautiful girl and a beautiful boy--A boy who, by the way, will be wearing a pair of enormous white wings which my husband built out of things that he found by the side of the road--twisted wire, a broken white window shade--and an old feather pillow from our bed.

And that will be enough.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


When I have a migraine I lie on the sofa throwing up in a stainless steel pot and watching TV.

I click around the channels, wanting everything they show me, which, huddled under the sword of this pain, is both fascinating and nauseating. I want the drop waist, wrap dress Jennifer Anniston is wearing; I want the mineral makeup and the four bonus brushes they are selling; I want the pretty nail polish in this Spring’s New Color: Bliss. I want that car--and the size 4 body of the model draped across its hood.

Oh, I know I don’t have to buy things to be happy. Still, I really want the espresso machine that Martha Stewart is showing me.

I love TV. I hate TV.

My head is being pressed between two searing plates of metal—a George Foreman grill! A Panini press! How is it even possible that my eyeballs are both hot and cold at the same time?

Abraham-Hicks teaches that pain is resistance. Energy is trying to move through our bodies and we, afraid of the rush and push and speed of it, resist. This resistance to the very thing we have called forth, creates blockages and, ultimately pain, in the tissues of the body. Abraham says that when pain comes, even though it seems counterintuitive, the best way to ease it is to lean toward it.

I just want to watch TV.

Every half hour it feeds me a new story to suck on: A Balloon Boy. A war somewhere. Barack Obama. And have you noticed how, suddenly, every talk show is “green”? As if the earth hasn’t always been there—reliable old clock—her tides rolling in and then, out, her fields of grain waving in the wind. Its like, suddenly, we’re all saying, “Will you look at that? There’s a planet under my Nikes!”

If I could just have these headaches without the nausea—without this crash, this flood of heat—without tipping, ever so slightly on my axis. I shift the ice pack behind my head and the hard edges of the cubes that haven’t melted press directly into the dent between my head and neck: the fertile crescent of pain where it all seems to begin.

I pick up my book, Blue Highways, in which, William Least Heat Moon is living out of the back end of a truck. He writes, “Following a circle would give a purpose—to come around again—where taking a straight line would not.”

According to Chinese Medicine, I’m at the beginning of my Wisdom Phase—the end of the seventh seven-year cycle of my life. But I don’t feel wise. I feel desperate and panicky. Trapped, a winged thing caught between two panes of glass.

“You have to decide how you want to meet this,” my friend Catherine, who is also my acupuncturist, says.
We are talking about bio-identical hormones. “I’ve heard they can help with migraines, with hot flashes.”

“A natural cycle is coming to an end," she says. "Your body is trying to reorganize itself. Do you want to interfere with that or support it?”

I know the right answer. I know that, according to Chinese medicine, “everything has a front and a back”—that anything we do to the body stimulates a response from the body. Who can say what will happen if I introduce a rush of hormones into my system? Still, if they can make the headaches go away...

“I’ve read that hormone replacement therapy slows the aging process,” I say. “And I really don’t want to get wrinkly.”

I don’t.

I don’t want my breasts to sag (any more than they already are). I don’t want my chin to get soft(er). I don’t like that, lately, I’ve had to ask people to repeat themselves and that, without my reading glasses, I can’t exactly tell what’s on the menu. And frankly, this extra 30 pounds that’s settled on my waist (I’m told it’s an “estrogen belt”) is really pissing me off.

Catherine is saying, “From the perspective of Chinese Medicine, this is a blood deficiency.”
“I’ve always been anemic…”
“This is different. From the Chinese perspective, your liver is starving. Blood volume is the issue.”
“Blood volume?”
“There’s not enough blood in your body.”
“How can that be?" I ask. "How can a person not have enough blood and still be walking around?”
“We can build more,” she says. “With leafy greens, Chinese herbs, and lots of water.”

I buy the kale and a jar of blackstrap molasses. For the next week, I drink so much water I gain five pounds. I get back out there, determined to take a long walk. I imagine my angels following me with a cosmic liposuction device—which, though it won’t build more blood, might help with the cellulite. But, as usual, I don’t get far before I’m caught in a tidal wave of hot flashes and I turn back home.

As a spiritual counselor, what I’m good at, what I’m trained to do is, I look for patterns. I pull apart the threads of a thing—a situation, a relationship, a conflict—looking for meaning. I see the connections between things, the underlying interconnections, the purpose.

I tell my clients, “Begin in childhood. Make a list of your memories—start anywhere. Memories are connected to each other,” I say. “When you get hold of one, another bubbles up right under it.”

I tell my clients, “We want to get the alchemy of your story mind moving—my job is to teach you to see what is hidden beneath the surfaces of things. My job is to teach you to read patterns.”

As a magazine editor, I do the same thing, scanning and scanning for meaning, for trend, for pattern. And then, what I do is, I make lists: Ten ways to beat summer heat! Five belly-warming winter recipes! And here are my Fast, easy ways to satisfy soul hunger!

1) Feed the real need with art, beauty, music
2) Turn off the TV and unplug from the Internet
3) Do yoga, walk outside, breathe…
Oh, blah, blah, blah …

I’ve spent a lifetime studying myself. I know what I need, what to eat, and how to wear my hair. What I don’t know is: How to navigate this little boat of my life to the other shore, where all spiritual paths say I’m waiting to be found.

It seems simple enough. There are workshops, talk shows, and hundreds of books containing maps. But I have this tic, this Tourette's-like “Yes-no” that cycles through my thoughts, blurting, “This way is a very nice way.”

Did he say something, Toto?

“It’s pleasant down that way, too.”

That’s funny. Wasn’t he pointing the other way?

“Of course, some people do go both ways.”

Engineers calculate for “moment”—the point when the stress on a wall or a beam is suddenly too much and the whole house comes tumbling down. “In order to size a structural beam, an engineer or an architect has to know the weight—or load—of what that beam will have to support. After they select a beam—based on their own intuition—they check the beam to see if it will support the load, calculating for sheer forces (how much load the beam will take before it snaps in half), moment forces (the dynamic function between length from its supporting points and weight of the load), deflection (how much the beam is allowed to bend).

“They design against forces of nature and time, against storms that batter the surfaces, eroding materials, peeling paint, against shifting soil and gravity," my husband, an architect, explains. “We also have to accommodate for settling. Over time all houses sink .”

I need to plump my pillows. I click to BBC News. They have this weather map that takes me flying across Europe. Each country puts up a little flag as I soar over it that reports today’s temperature in degrees of centigrade. Click. I hate car commercials. Click. Oprah is talking about some new book. Click. Stupid, stupid news. Click.
There’s nothing on. I need a glass of water.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fire Island

From our wooden bench, we watch the ferries come and go.

The August sun is fierce; doubled by the glare off the water of the bay. “Why can’t our eyes handle light?” Katie asks. “Why do we squint?" With her hand across her forehead like that, like a visor, Katie's eyes seem to glow-frosted green, like beach glass, flecked with gold, each iris outlined in bright purple.

“Too much light burns the retina," I explain.
“That’s not what I mean. "She looks away, across the bay. ”I mean, if there was going to be so much light in the world, light like this—why can’t we handle it? We’re badly designed.”

There's this new thing I do now. I look beyond and between things. I watch the energy oscillate, forming and un-forming. I don't understand yet what I'm seeing. A cloud of light around someone's head and shoulders, a field of matter organizing itself into an object:

I stare at the weather-worn wood planks, supporting the dock; the water, flowing beneath it; the little boat that floats, bobbing up and down, the gentle waves lop, lop, loping against the pier.

My daughter wears white plastic flip flops; her toenails are painted sky blue. A little girl walks by, dragging a navy blue suitcase bearing the insignia of the New York Yankees; its wheels bump, bump, bumping across the wooden-planks of the deck. It’s the last day of summer.

We and I are on ‘vacation simulation’--a ferry ride, ocean swim, lunch at Maguire’s, overlooking the bay--before ferrying back to our car, parked in the "day-tripper" section on the mainland. We've arrived--after dropping Max at college on Long Island, visiting my in-laws-- on a whim, without towels or sunscreen, though Katie just happens to have a bathing suit bottom in her purse. At the Sandpiper, one of the shops on the pier, I purchase a black Anne Cole tank suit almost identical to the one in my dresser drawer at home.

We let the waves lift us; we let the waves set us down.
“Look at that color, there!” I point. Katie turns toward the wave, backlit by the sun, a translucent blue-green. "That's the color of your eyes."

Later, as we walk barefoot on the hot sandy path, I tell her, “I’ll be okay when you leave home.”
“I know,” she nods, looking perplexed, as if she doesn’t quite believe me.

The first time we came to Fire Island, Katie was four; her brother, Max, six. We were there for a wedding--my sister's, held at a rented party house in the Pines. My husband's client, Joe, offered us his beach house for three days.

A tiny gem with sandy floors at the edge of the Atlantic. Joe’s house had three bedrooms, and a bright open kitchen/living area' the deck wrapped the house front to back. On the first day, I stood there all afternoon, staring. It thrilled me, the vast ocean, the sky--so close. I watched a lightning storm sweep in- a curtain of rain hanging from a low-lying dark cloud. It hit suddenly, sweeping the narrow island so briefly that, afterwards, the still-hot sidewalks sizzled steam; wet patches on the dunes just shrunk away.

That night, after the children were snuggled into bed and Matthew had fallen asleep reading, I came out to the kitchen and sat in the dark with the windows open, letting the wind whip through the house, riffling the pages of the magazines on the coffee table, rocking the ceiling fan.

Two years later, when we returned, I stayed on the deck all weekend. I saw Matthew and the children in flashes: Running up the wooden steps to the beach, whirling a Frisbee, grabbing a bike from the shed. I was reading The Time Traveler’s Wife, a book about a man who weaves in and out of the lives of his wife and daughter like a shuttlecock—suddenly appearing and then, without warning, dissolving before their eyes.

“Let’s visit the house,” Katie says now and we turn back.

But afterwards, after we've pushed open the wooden gate; after we've been invited in and offered Vodka Gimlets, cheese and crackers; after we’ve toured the new second floor, added since last we stayed, after we've walked back to town and found this bench beside the bay, Katie falls quiet.

“We shouldn’t have come.”
“It’s never the same when you go back to a place you’ve loved,” I say. “We’re drawn back... but we can never recreate the feeling we had here.”
“That’s true.” She turns toward me, opening like a flower.“But it’s more than that. I don’t like visiting places for a day, I don’t like feeling like a tourist. If I go somewhere, I want to stay for a month, a year. I want to get to know the place with the people who live there.”
“I know. Me too. But this is how we’re doing it this year. This year we did other things with our summer. You went to Boston. Max worked—and went to Montreal. I’m finishing my book. Daddy’s working.”
“I know,” she sighs. “And I loved this summer…”

A seagull hops along the dock, jumps to a boat, jumps back to the dock. “I’d like to put a motor on a rowboat,” Katie says, “Boat culture is definitely missing in our lives,” I nod.
“Boat culture?” she makes a face and we both start laughing.
“I mean, I always wanted to take you and Max on boats. Make that happen for yourself.
“I will, Mommy,” she smiles, patting my thigh. “Stop worrying about my future. I get it.” She pulls my book of short stories from our beach tote and begins to read aloud.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dinner Tonight

The temperature's dropped so quickly this year--and ever since, I've been reaching for my comfort food recipes, uncertain whether raw foods could be warming enough.

But after 6 weeks of eating almost entirely raw, switching back to heavy stews and meat made me feel... well, ick. Though I do need meat to feel well, and get the protein my body needs, I've decided to eat "mostly raw" this winter.

That said, here's my first attempt at preparing a raw autumn meal for me and Matthew. To make it, I borrowed (and modified) a great recipe from my Twitter friend, Susan Powers, at her beautiful Raw Foods site:

Balsamic Portabello Mushrooms, Zucchini "noodles" with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto and Golden Beet Salad

For the Mushrooms
4 large raw Portabello Mushrooms, washed with stems removed
EV Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Sea Salt
Ground black pepper

Slice the mushrooms into long flat strips and set aside. Mix together remaining ingredients and toss together with the mushrooms until evenly coated. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the meal.

For the Golden Beet Salad

2 golden beets, sliced into firm half moons with a sharp knife, or use the slicing attachment of your food processor
1/2 bunch parsley coarsely chopped
Toasted sesame seeds
EV Olive Oil
pinch sea salt

Toss all ingredients together and set aside.

For the Pesto

Follow the directions on the Rawmazing blog. Rawmazing Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

For the Zucchini Noodles

I medium zucchini for each person, unpeeled

Using a vegetable peeler or very sharp paring knife, slice zucchini lengthwise from top to bottom making long, thin "noodles" until almost completely sliced. Cut ends into noodly shapes with knife.

Toss with Sun Dried Tomato Pesto, a nice glug of EV Olive Oil and a pinch of sea salt.
(I also added some grated Sheep's milk Pecorino Romano cheese.)

Serve with your favorite red wine or a nice beer.

PS The pesto would work beautifully with regular, cooked pasta as well, making this a very nutritious, almost raw meal.