This morning the yoga class before our meditation runs a little long. I sit on the bench outside the door and pay attention to how annoyed it makes me. I wanted time to find my spot, get settled. I’d rushed the whole way, walking fast in the hot morning. I was sweating. It was the principle of the thing. The whole time part of me is incredulous. Was I really going to get all bent out because I had to wait a few minutes? The principle of the thing? Really?
A woman walks out of the studio smiling. My answering smile feels stiff on my face. A man comes out and sits beside me on the bench. He’s all blissed out from a good class, his movements slow and deliberate, taking it all in. I soften, feel the dumb irritation slide away.
My neighbor from Canada, one of our snowbirds though she hates that designation, keeps asking me if I’ve been away. “Are you okay?” she said one evening when I passed her sitting on the porch after picking up my mail.
“Yeah,” I said. But I bristled inside. Why would I not be okay? Today she asks me again if I’ve been gone. I’ve already explained why she might wonder. I haven’t been sitting in the courtyard. I no longer talk to my cats. I am a quieter neighbor these days. My work is quiet, too. “I haven’t been outside much,” I say again.
“Oh, well,” she says. “You need to get out. Get some fresh air.” I laugh and tell her how much it bugs me when she says things like that. I hate being told what to do. But the laugh is genuine, and I let it go. Later, I see two white-crowned sparrows sitting on the wall across the road. I talk to them through the open window for a moment before they fly away. I want them to winter here now every year, our true snowbirds. Maybe when they come back I’ll be sitting in the courtyard again.
In the late dusk the moon is a sickle in the southern sky. I realize I’m too tired. Everything chafes.
Saturday morning it comes to me that all unknowing I have begun an endeavor that involves a considerable amount of intellectual or conceptual effort. What the Buddha laid out all those centuries ago is intricate and many layered. And I have not committed myself to studying it. In fact, I think part of me resists it. This morning I have a bad moment. What if I keep going and find myself caught up in a structure that constricts me? I flash on being stuck inside the Buddha’s system, unable to free myself from the sticky strands of that web. What if I am unable to have a thought without naming it, categorizing it? Ah, this self-conscious feeling, this is clinging in the category of self. Or, oh, the sun has gone behind the mountain, and I am cold. Is that aversion in the category of sensual pleasures? Sunday night there is socializing after the meditation and teaching. I nibble on the millet raisin cookies I made and try to talk to people. I am awkward and not very present. I am so uncomfortable, I leave early without saying goodbye to anyone. My mind races as I walk home in the rain. I am judging myself, my discomfort, my rambling speech. I realize this is the biggest learning curve I have been in since I began to teach for the first time. But I have forgotten to be kind to myself. Notice, yes. Pay attention. But gently. Lovingly. I remind myself of that surprising bit of rainbow I woke up to, curled on my side, the bands of color tucked into the curve of the mountain before me. And the next morning before dawn, the waning moon and Mars in the clerestory window when I roll over in bed. Gifts from the universe, reassurance. And the small quiet gang of wintering white-crowned sparrows that gather in the courtyard just before dark, tiny beloved aliens who call in a language I don’t know. Something eases within me. Yes. And again, yes. I choose this.
Off and on since the fall, in fits and starts, I return to working on the novel I began a decade ago. I am determined to finish it, still convinced I need to complete it before I can move on to embrace a new big writing project. Like pulling teeth, I revise and edit the existing typed pages. It seems important to bring the writing current. During November’s National Novel Writing Month I write new pages by hand and type them up then promptly lose them. I found them last week—they sit beside me now, await revising and editing. I cull three notebooks full of scribbles and scraps, recycling most of it. Two ancient loose sheets, folded, and two notebooks each open to a page I may want to save sit here, too, a worn red ribbon that held things together resting on top of the pile. I will type these last bits up next week. I want everything clean, no more mess for this next stretch, not knowing what I have, everything in one word document. The manuscript itself will be unwieldy enough, I think. I’m pretty sure I’m writing scenes that will never make it to the book itself. But that part I don’t worry about. I have faith in that part, certain there can be no wasted effort in this, only added depth if I am lucky. And it’s how I find out what’s going to happen—in the writing itself. Lately, I find myself daydreaming about the story. There is a sweetness in that, too. I stare at the pile and pray away my ambivalence, that my resistance might melt and undivided I immerse myself in the writing. And even as I send off that wisp of prayer I feel a gentle tug, a tiny, eager spark. I wonder what my characters are up to now.
One-day retreat at the meditation center. First two surprises: a silent retreat and “custody of the eyes.” I keep my eyes down except for three accidental glances, feel like a mouse scurrying by in the long grass. It amuses me. In the parking lot, looking at the southern mountains and eating my soup, it comes to me that I could break into wild winged dancing and waving of clothing, unseen (like the mouse). Our teacher breaks the silence now and then. She is calm, open, funny. Once she speaks of our soft animal bodies, and I think of the poem. She is like that to me, a soft animal, a big, peaceful bird, maybe, a brown pelican, part big cat, too, sleeping in the sun. While we sit I feel again the hard weight in my chest. I am reading Andre Norton now, and I think of quan iron, blue-green, touched by magic. A blade of quan iron inside my ribcage. I am fascinated by it, cultivating curiosity. I want to know it, sidestep the urge to be rid of it. I am certain it has worked long and hard on my behalf. I want to honor it. The fourth time we sit I feel so strong it surprises me, and when I check on the quan iron it’s as though my chest is in a different place than it was in the morning. When I come home I can tell there is much more room inside me. The next day, it is gone, but I remember how I felt larger. And I remember how strong I felt in that one sitting, like I was a big oak, or that tree whose name I don’t yet know with the gnarled bark who makes those big blossoms in the fall that litter the ground like starfish.
I hear dove wings through the window, afternoon feeding. Earlier today they scattered, and the Cooper’s Hawk sat on the top of the front gate. I watched him through the branches of the guayaba tree from my cozy perch inside. Today is my last day off, the last in a long, luxurious chain of days. I treated most of them the way I used to treat my Sundays, only doing what I felt like doing, letting the day unfold. I wrote twice, did yoga four times, once yesterday before the sun sank behind our mountains, rare sun salutes, my eyes closed, rich deep orange behind my lids. I baked cookies, ate cheddar cheese, made soup on New Year’s Day. One day I even did the crossword puzzle. Mostly I have read, tucked up in the down blankets, first my worn copy of Tigana and then two books from the library. In between, I let the book close and gaze at the mountains. I relish the quiet and the gift of being able to let my mind wander, to drift in happy, lazy spirals wherever it will. I idly wonder how many students have enrolled in my classes, how many login help requests we’ll have tomorrow. I dream seven ways I might have money come to make up for the upcoming loss of one of my jobs. I remember Sable purring and rubbing his face against the corner of the open carrier in the vet’s office on the day he died. Sometimes I cry. But mostly I am just present, sitting in this glorious sun-filled room, the mountains spread before me. I listen to the cheaps of the house finch at their sunflower seed feeders, and I am so glad for their company and for the sleek dove sitting on the wooden fence right now, and I give thanks for this beauty and this peace and the rich fullness of my heart.
I wake up this morning to an earthquake. It is a long, gentle trembling of our world, the first one in my trailer home. It feels familiar, like I dreamed it or slept through another unknowing during the night. I wait in bed, poised to spring up, grab my clothes and sprint for the door if it becomes violent. After, I sit up to see fresh snow on the mountain, wisps of clouds, all tinted pink by the rising sun. My heart thuds, my own aftershock, but it calms soon, looking out the window. Later, the birds come and the sunlight touches the courtyard, slants through the clerestory windows, gift of the winter sun. I hear the heater, smell my walnuts toasting in the oven, appreciate warmth, electricity, running water, all still here after the earth shakes. I remember the quick leap of terror and am soothed again by the memory of that quiet pink mountain, the exquisite clear air and the truth that all is well.
Yesterday, the tenth day after my cat Sable died, I woke up happy for the first time in a long while. Today I wake up in the almost dark, Venus still vibrant in the southern sky and the solar Christmas lights glowing on the guayaba tree outside my window. It’s the first morning I don’t cry. The shock has lessened, though in moments I still reel. Sofia died in September. It’s hard to believe it’s only me here now, our little family of three gone. I glimpse things I’ll be able to do now without them, visits to friends, to Wilbur, to Mami, even just here in town, gone long hours, nothing tugging me home. Small snatches of excitement spark in me, mixed with a kind of guilt it’s easy to brush aside. I know I would gladly have stayed put to care for them forever. I miss those gentle tethers. Now it’s just me and the birds and the field mouse I met the other day in the shed. The house finch are loud and cheerful through the open kitchen window as I write. It makes a difference. My best truth today is knowing how much I cherished them, knowing I didn’t take them for granted. Sitting under the umbrella in the courtyard, the two of them napping on their pillows nearby, their furry forms relaxed in boneless cat abandon, and me knowing life didn’t get better than this. The sound of Sable clomping down the hallway, a galloping horse, the only way to run on this laminate flooring, and my heart lifting for his mad cat glee. And waking on a cold night warm beneath the down blankets, their small weights pressed against me making me feel like the luckiest woman in the world. I feel it still. And I know sweet things lie ahead. I cradle my big loss low in my arms, soft against my belly, grateful and alive. May the year ahead lie easy and dear to each of us.