Monday, May 29, 2017

Amity and Enmity

Here is the thing
Or, rather, here is one of the things.
Here is A thing...just one that is worth considering:

People are going to disappoint you.
Your feelings are going to get hurt.
This is a fact.

Sometimes you are going to feel neglected, forgotten, discarded, dissed, unimportant, and disregarded by people you count on or care about.

And it isn't always because they are unkind or thoughtless or shitty friends or selfish people.

Sometimes they are.
People can do some heinous, awful, terrible things.

But I am thinking about the little injuries of the ego. Those moments we get our feathers all ruffled because someone is not behaving the way we think they should.

It isn't always because we are right and they are wrong.
Our "should" does not eclipse fully an other's reality, no matter how strongly we feel they ought to just do what we want them to do. Or be who and how we want them to be.

People are going to fail to live up to our expectations sometimes, because they are also bobbing out there in the sea of life, juggling things and twisting themselves up in knots trying to just get by. Trying to just stay afloat. Trying to navigate other obligations and situations that might not have you right in the center of it all.

They are going to fail to return a call or a text or an email
They are going to miss your birthday.
They are going to "leave the conversation" and ignore the invitation.
They are going to miss the post in which you told the whole world what is happening for you.
They are going to miss that you two broke up. Or you two are now together.
They are going to go MIA and radio silent when you are your most chatty and desirous of their company, friendship, or insight.

Which means, they are not always going to do or say the right thing at the right moment. Or be there when you think they should be. Or show up when you think they should. People are not always going to respond to (or "like" or "love" or even acknowledge) your latest post in social media or respond to your latest crisis or drama the way you think they should.

And it's not necessarily because they don't care.

When our feelings are hurt, we can always lash out and blame others. We can chastise them with all our bitterness, crossing our arms in self righteous and self pitying rancor. And, sure, sometimes they are responsible for hefty load of that pain. They really are.

But not always.

And lashing out at others for our bruised egos and unfulfilled expectations is not necessarily going to ameliorate anything.

And that is what I am thinking about today, as I have witnessed a handful of otherwise really awesome people hold so tightly to grudges, there is no more room in them to hold much else. Because when the chip on your shoulder gets big enough, it's hard to be a shoulder to lean on.

I disappoint a lot of people. I am an overextended introvert with a lot on my plate--including daily requests for my time and company. I can't keep up with it all. And the people who love me, get that. The people who don't, don't. But I have also felt that disappointment, that hurt, that sense of being forgotten. I know how indignant it has made me, how my hurt gives rise to a few fired up explanations that all seem to point to me being in the right and someone else fucking up.

But I know better.
Because I know I don't ever hurt anyone intentionally. And I have only been hurt--really hurt and knowingly so--by one or two people in my 41+ years of life so far. And, the small slights and stabs of life-in-relation-to-others has also taught me a lot about who I am and what matters most. So, I am learning that a wounded ego need not lead to a wounded soul. I am learning not to conflate the two. I know, for the most part, we are all just doing the best we can with the resources, energy, and time we have. Day by day. And if my inner world is THAT vulnerable to someone else's humanness, I might want to take a look at that before I point the finger outward.

Regardless of what the other person did/didn't do, when the ego is hurt or our heart feels chipped, we can learn an awful lot by looking inward and questioning how our own projections, assumptions, interpretations, and expectations are complicit in the hurt.

We can ask, "What else HAS to be true for this assumption of mine about ABC to be true?"
We can ask, "What am I projecting onto this person?"
We can ask, "Have I just been asking everything and everyone to accommodate my inner needs without communicating directly or clearly why I need anything at all?"

You know, let's face it, hurt feelings can lead to a lot of strange and faulty translations. When we are wounded, we are more likely to critique others, focus on their failings, write them off, or assume the worst. And, right again, sometimes that is all spot on.

But not always.

Sometimes we are so blinded by our own needs and demands we are incapable of seeing how much someone else might be struggling.

A long time ago, someone I love very much was in the ER after attempted suicide. I could barely see straight as I rushed to the hospital. I am sure I sped, drove erratically, and ignored just about everything else that came my way for the next week or two. A few people knew where I was and what I was grappling with. A lot of people did not.

When your feelings are hurt, it's good to remember that an individual may be facing something you are NEVER going to hear about. And their absence, silence, unavailability, or erratic behavior is about what is happening in their life, not yours.

And your feelings? That is mostly about what is happening in you. Not them.

Not everyone makes public what is going on inside or behind the scenes of their lives, in which THEY (not us) are the central subject. And, because we don't always know why someone is not available or saying the things we want them to say or showing up in the ways WE read as love and care, it's a good idea to at least include--if not privilege and begin with--introspection.

Before reaction
The reproduction of our usual stories and interpretations.
The inner story where we are always the center and right and everything else is marginal and wrong.

What we feel when we are hurt can be informative. It need not be definitive.
So, maybe pause before you lambast people or write them off or write the manifesto that everyone else is crap and you've been done wrong. Maybe take a little look inside and see what all the fuss and hurt is really about.

Self study.
Self awareness.
Self inquiry.

These are some really important steps in the response cycle.
If you want to feel less like the victim, that is.
If you want to recover a sense of agency, that is.
If you want your response to life to be effective.
If you find that you are going through certain experiences over and over with lots of people.

As my mom said many times to me when I was growing up, "if it's 'everyone else,' it's probably you."
Among the best insights I have ever been given.
We are the common denominator in our lives, so we might as well start there.

Those who too easily blame, project, and hold tightly to a grudge might not be so surprised to discover how unpleasant that is to be around.

And, in my messy, human, flawed, learning experience, reflective people are infinitely more adept at life than reactive people. Introspection leads to better questions--of ourselves, and of others.

So, before you assume, inquire. Before you react, reflect.

People are dealing with an awful lot you don't always see or know or understand.
Try to remember that.

Monday, March 28, 2016

I do...but do I know why?

I often feel super dazed and confused when I am asked to officiate a wedding or write a ceremony for a couple.  In oh so many ways, I am the least likely wedding officiant. I am flattered, honored. But my first response to an engagement is rarely wide-eyed or excited or congratulatory. It's not that I am cynical (not exactly), but I wouldn't say I am an enthusiastic proponent of marriage across the board, either. I look around most days and am hard pressed to identify a marraige that I admire or that inspires me...which is always a great time to get curious about whatever it is in me that I am meeting through my reticence. 

But when you are invited literally to marry people, you start to ask what it's all for, too. 
Why do it?

There are practical and pragmatic and symbolic reasons to marry, of course. 
There are passionate and political and beautiful reasons to take vows and formalize your relationship.
But it's an oddly interesting position to be the one holding that sacred space, much less helping people clarify and articulate the real promises they are making and the actual vision they are creating. 

I wonder how often people are even gazing in the same general direction, much less looking at the same vision.  

Too many people seem to just, well, collapse into marriage without asking why or how. So much emphasis is placed on the "whether" or "what" that they lose sight of these essential questions. Why marry? And what does it even mean? The momentum or the expectations or the "where I want to be by age___" sometimes take over and eclipse any sense of what it actually means, day to day. All too often I witness the bewilderment and disappointment of couples who perhaps mistook their wedding for a marriage or based their vows on abstract projections that have little to do with their actual lives. Frustrated or scared or hurt or disenchanted, people often choose to suck it up rather than communicate honestly about where they are and how they feel. Because they "made vows."

So many vague promises are made that seek to restrict and control what shifts, as individuals and as a couple. As though growth and transformation are threats. As though we can predict, forecast, and control what and who we are becoming instead of vowing to really SEE and support who we are becoming. Yet most people really want to be cheered on in their growth, to feel supported in the challenging processes of exploring and evolving and becoming who they are becoming.

I spend A LOT of time with people who are healing from broken down relationships they expected to be fairy tales. People who grapple with the sense that a perfect marriage meant you'd never change. People who realize their codependency isn't passion, their resignation isn't devotion, and their paralysis isn't very healthy. People who diminish themselves to make the other person happy. People who are starved for genuine connection, because their partner stopped noticing who they were becoming and no longer knows them at all. Even when they share a house. Even though they share a bed. People who make great roommates, but terrible lovers. People who are stuck in patterns they have no energy to redress or change, though it's killing them inside. People who can't even have the most basic of conversations for fear of being shut down, pushed away, or attacked.
And listen, I am not saying this is true in all marriages. 
There are some marriages I absolutely admire and from which I glean hope: couples who are present to one another, and honest, and generous but independent. Supportive, passionate people who you just know--because you see, feel, and hear it in all the subtle and obvious ways-- belong together, in this way. At this time.

But that is the issue I see the most. People gamble that who they will become is as simple and seamless as saying "I promise." Life rarely goes according to our plans, though. People grow and change and shift in ways we cannot predict. So, the trick is not auctioning away future you into the confines of some mold you think will make it all perfect. Similarly, so many people find their relationship "commitments" make their worlds smaller--casting suspect on any connections outside the unit so that jealousy, control, and co-dependency eventually (de facto) trump trust, expansiveness, and interdependence. One of the crippling and toxic habits we have around relationship is asking someone to be our everything, and then stripping from them the ability to cultivate and nurture themselves outside of us. It's a recipe for disaster, yet it's so commonly what we expect from the one we "love." 
Relationships of all kinds ought to make our lives bigger, brighter, and richer, right? Yet, very often we only feel secure if our partner's life gets smaller, under careful monitoring. In subtle and overt ways, people demand that Life is forfeit for the security of the relationship, when in fact the relationship ought to be one way we are brought more fully and beautifully INTO Life.

Some marital vows implicitly privilege stagnation over transformation and are based in fear/control rather than the dynamic love that most people really seek. Rarely do I witness couples commit--through their vows--to being fully present and honest about what IS, outside the fairy tales, and to communicating the hard and messy stuff, supporting one another in their respective evolution--even as that might mean growing in different ways.
Most people I work with need to commit to themselves and develop that inner intimacy before they go promising themselves to someone else. That is the marriage we seem to avoid committing to more often. The vows we make to ourselves, through thick and thin, richer or poorer. How will we honor and support our own heart in all the days ahead?

So, every time I am asked to write a wedding ceremony and support a couple in vows to share a life together, I always balk and ask,"WHY on EARTH do you want to do this? Why does this even interest you?" I ask them if they know who the hell they are now and we spend less time projecting into who they think they will be.

It's an odd thing. Writing a ceremony for me is not just giving MY blessing (whatever that is worth), but it's a process of helping two people recognize who they are--here and now--as individuals before they let that get eclipsed by who they think they are as a couple.
I guess I am a hard sell on this.  
Lots of people love with passion and commitment and honesty without a wedding.
Lots of people lose all passion and commitment and openness within a marriage.
I don't think a relationship has to last forever to be valuable or meaningful.
And I don't think the most loving thing we can do is ask someone to sacrifice who they really are in the service of playing along with who we promised (projected, expected) we would be. 
I do think real love is about seeing someone as they really are and letting them see your vulnerable belly, even when it might mean rocking the boat.
So, anyone who wants me to bear witness to the ritual of it all has to know that I am not just interested in their wedding...I am asking them to consider their ideals and ideas of marriage. The why and the how.
So, maybe that is why I get asked. I am just reluctant and leery enough to pose some tough questions before I will say "I do" to them and they say "I do" to a shared vision. And what I am going to write for and about them is not a fairy tale projection that belies or denies the gritty hard work of any real intimacy. 
But, what I am finding--with great delight and a peppering of hope-- is that the few couples for whom I DO end up saying "yes" these days are the ones whose answers suggest that that their relationship brings them more fully and expansively into life rather than collapsing them into one another and withdrawing from life. I say yes to the ones who champion the growth of the one they love, even when it scares the shit out of them and demands that they grow, too. The ones who promise NOT to stagnate or tip toe around the truth just so to keep the boat from rocking. I say "yes" to writing and officiating when I feel myself saying inwardly "yes."
I feel lit up around them and inspired by their care and connection. The way they carry equal measure of awe and honesty as they describe the other. And when I say yes and sit down to write for them, I also get to wrestle with all my own ennui and cynicism, which is undoubtedly a good thing, too. 
It's a humbling and deep undertaking, for which I feel truly grateful.
I do. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Precious Resources

"The one person who really knows me best says i'm like a cat 
yeah the kind of cat that you just can't pick up and throw into your lap no, the kind that doesn't mind being held only when it's her idea 
yeah, the kind that feels what she decides to feel 
when she is good and ready to feel it"
 ("Virtue," Ani DiFranco)

SO, as a singular departure from my usual cadence, I offer this borderline (or overtly) snippy PSA post about time and attention, expectations, and honoring the precious resource of our own self care.

Let me start by acknowledging a few related threads, before I unravel (metaphorically and otherwise). My teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life encouraged me to treat my attention (what and how I attend to things) as a precious power, and I have come to know it as such. Where our attention goes, so goes our energy. And what we put energy into, we eventually (but inevitably) merge with. When that faculty of attention gets diluted, deluded, or distracted (and let's face it, we live in a culture that bases billion-dollar industries on us doing just that), everything in our life is impoverished. So, in my world, my attention is how I create and sustain my creations. It's a precious resource, and one that I am slowly learning to conserve and nurture with greater reverence. I have devoted my life for the past decade to a (scary, often unpredictable) focus, which has articulated itself in a body of work that continues to evolve and change. Nevertheless, there is a continuity that bridges the gaps of every shift in tide and direction. And that continuity is the real work, the real mystery, and the real power. Because when the shit hits the fan--and it does, all the time, because this is life in all its messy unruly glory--it helps to keep the attention on the linking mechanism rather than gripping in panic at the form that is giving way. I have great faith--faith I have earned--that the solid ground I seek has everything to do with kissing the rug beneath me goodbye.

So, focusing and refining my attention is a practice of devotion, creation, and courage. It's how I am able to hold space for vast experiences of those I serve. It's critical. To me, and to them.

And lately, I am having to work harder and harder to protect my attention from the myriad demands and distractions that play into old habits of people pleasing and trying to be superwoman. But more on that in a bit.

In addition, I am both a naturally solitary person AND an introvert, which consistently shocks people who know me only as a teacher or a face on social media. If you only see the animated, intense, sociable me, that makes sense. As a teacher, I give 500% of my focus to those before me, which means I am mining my resource of attention and connecting with as pure and unbridled a presence as I have available. And yes, a good party or gathering with acquaintances can lift my spirits. I can and do joyfully connect with people, and my work is all about relationship and presence--oftentimes in large groups.  But, I prefer intimate time, 1:1 with my nearest and dearest to socializing in groups, and I always need at least 1-2 days of solitude in the wake of a big event or gathering. My soul is best fed when I am in the woods or wild, alone, silent, and able to hear what is happening inside and out. And that--that silence--is an even more precious resource for someone whose work often means an overload of speech. And by "speech," I am including texts and emails and the like, since they are just another form of dialogue. To restore--to bring myself back to my original state--I require silence (not talking, not listening to others), stillness, and solitude. It's how I tend the well from which I draw SO VERY DEEPLY in my work life.

There are a lot of people in my life who are cut from a very similar cloth. People who love people, but love their solitude, too. When they feel wrung out and overextended, they retract. It's natural. It's healthy. It's normal. And there is a distinction between drawing inward to restore and heal vs cutting off and isolating, though some people seem to assume the former is a threat of the latter.

But here it is. My soap box moment, if only to shout it into the wind-tousled snow. 
I am the sole proprietor of a business that demands constant care. There is no partner or patron paying my bills at work or at home. There is no one else's name on the dotted line, and there is no one else responsible for the vision or the viability of the vision. There is, in other words, no plan B. No net beneath me. 

Just the way I like it.

Because, to be clear, I am NOT a fair maiden looking to be rescued by someone else. Not a business partner, not a benefactor, not a mate, and not even a teacher. In fact, the best teachers I have known were the ones who insisted on my freedom, even when that meant working it out in the least graceful of moments. They believed in me. And that unwavering trust in me gave me the tenacity and courage to keep moving into the unknown, so it's the heart of what I do for those who call ME teacher. 

But this means I need downtime. NEED it. That might mean days of me not talking. Or not making plans, because I have no need for plans even if you do.

Confessions: I have never been nor will I ever be someone who wants or needs or likes to talk on the phone.  I talk ALL THE TIME, and I often lose my voice after more intensive weeks, so when I get "off" time, I go silent. It's beautiful. But that doesn't mean I don't care or don't think of you. You can live in another country or in Denver, and chances are I will have great faith that our connection is not dependent on phone calls. It isn't a need of mine. I thrive on the intimacy of an actual face to face experience. If you can move across time and space and hold steady affection, picking up where we left off, we are likely great friends.

For better or for worse, I have married myself and am living with a fiercely independent soul. But I know I am faithful to her, too. I promise to grow and change and contradict myself and wade into the shadows as often as I bask in the sun. And that is all she asks of me. It's all any of us can really expect, unless our love has more to do with control and comfort. I relish my alone time, and the fact that I live in a beautiful home and a beautiful town in a beautiful place with no one else calling the shots.
No negotiations.
No accommodations.

AND I also delight--truly delight--in the company of those I keep close. My life is blessed deeply by an amazing community of people whose talents and wisdom and innovation far exceed my own and who keep me inspired and motivated to stay focused. THEY are my business partners, my bosses, and my patrons. And they are my friends and family. The ones who tend my wounds and get me back on the trail when I want to skulk in a cave.

So, don't get me wrong. I am undeniably grateful for the people in my life who support and love me. And I may be alone in so much of what I do, but I am never lonely.


That also means my life IS full. And by virtue of the depth and authenticity of the work I do, there are many requests for additional time and even friendship (which I think is often a misinterpretation of what someone is really seeking and so it gets projected onto those who hold the space for them to remember). Every day I am inundated with text messages and emails and phone calls from people asking for attention and time. I am asked to infinite "teas" and "talks," which more often than not translate as me working. Usually for free. Usually at the expense of my own downtime or time wiht my beloveds. 

The struggle for me for years was that I WANT to be there for anyone who asks. And there was a time when I could do that so much more easily. So I said "yes" to everyone, and tried my best not to disappoint people. But that isn't sustainable for me anymore.

For the most part, I am getting better about knowing when to say "yes"and how to say "no."
The learning process is a tough one, though. Of the many things I have refined to develop a modicum of wisdom, there are three times as many things that I am moving through clumsily, like a toddler. I used to say "yes" all the time and spent endless hours at the teas and in my office and on the phone or writing lengthy emails to people. Mostly for free. Mostly without any offer to honor my time or attention. I participated in it. My bad. So, now those requests are so much more obvious to me, as I am also working with so many people who DO honor my time and attention, and who DO offer some kind of compensation when they are asking me to be there outside of MY regular work hours. So now the 2am 5-part text from a student expecting a response is both frustrating and infinitely educational.
(and there is no specific reference here, dear students...that is how often it happens, my loves)

I am learning. Still. Always.

And it's so often where we are bumping up awkwardly like that against our old ways that we innovate (or are forced into, out of survival or necessity) new ways. The truth is, not everyone likes it when we change. Especially if they are invested in us staying the same. One thing that has become crystal clear to me in this process of reclaiming my time is how easily we tend to project onto others a need that isn't real. Given the in depth and profoundly intimate work I do with students and clients, it's no surprise that it cultivates a space of safety that might not be common in the rest of their lives. That is what I LOVE about what I do. It is a privilege to watch people give themselves permission to feel, say, think, and be who they really are. It's scary and thrilling, for all of us. 

BUT....(you knew that was coming)....when a student or client begins to attribute how they feel when they are embodied or seen or heard to another, it's a red flag. The responsible position is to redirect that praise (or criticism) inward, so the person can find the truth and the sanctuary within--not to be dependent on me. I am just facilitating and witnessing their process. However, there can be a tendency to want and expect some kind of reciprocity, like a friendship. But, as rough as it sounds, I am not looking to be friends with everyone. I am kind of stocked up. I have amazing friends I barely get enough time with as it is. People who see ME and hold space for me and all my crazy complexity. My work is not about being liked or becoming buddies. My work is about serving others so that they find their way HOME. And I get it, we all kind of fall in love with the people who see us and remind us of our own inner worth. I have been there--been crazy in love with my teachers and wanted nothing more than to be in their inner circle, around them all the time. Spiritual maturation and the hard work of SELF study has helped to usher me out of that tendency, thankfully. So I get it. And I can see it. And I see how tempting that adoration or popularity can be to those who are in the seat of a teacher and haven't done their own work. Mistaking others' dependency for a job well done is a surefire karmic nightmare. Yet, sadly, we frequently encounter "teachers" and "healers" who are all too happy to take the praise and credit for the inward shifts that were always already solely the beautiful process of the individual alone. 

What is my point?
A lot of people think they "need" us (and the more surly among them expect it and get pissy when we don't accommodate them), when in fact, 1) it's likely a projection as they hit a wall and doubt themselves, 2) so, indulgence of those requests usually doesn't serve anyone in the long run; 3) It is rarely broached as formal work and instead insidiously (however well-intentioned) couched in the terms of friendship. 4) While I once felt an obligation or responsibility to meet those needs, every call for help and every desperate text looking for an answer, I am no longer in a position to do so. 

Remember the "I am alone" bit? Yeah. there is only one of me. And she has needs, too.

That means I am asking of myself, first and foremost, to clarify MY needs and figure out how to meet them in a sustainable, conscious, and conscientious way. It's a huge effort for me, I am discovering. Self Care, the heart of so much of my own work, has become an elusive luxury over the past few years. Yet, thankfully (I mean this), things stop working when I don't care for myself. I get depleted and diluted and my awesome complicated body gets very clear with me. I say "thankfully," because the wisdom of my body is a profound messenger....and it hollers way before I would throw in the towel. So, I am learning to listen earlier and earlier, before the message affects the rest of my life. 
But I am ALSO asking of those I serve to clarify THEIR needs, since so often there is a decidedly UNCONSCIOUS knee-jerk reaction to grasp at a teacher (or lover, or money, or counselor, or...) when something is uncomfortable. Within the scope of MY practice, I am now asking students to first DO THEIR PRACTICE before and USE the tools we have developed together before they ask for more (time, tools, attention).

And what I am finding is that about 75% of the time, they aren't doing anything other than hitting the panic button. Job well done for me is when the people I serve are independent (dependent inward, trusting themselves) and interdependent (able to foster genuine connections that are neither co-dependent nor isolated). It's a great and humbling process for us all.

Those of us whose entire work life involves in-depth and intense communication and presence do not necessarily want to spend days off or precious downtime on the phone or texting or emailing. When we get a chance to go idle and silent, we love it. We NEED it. Maybe more than you "need" to catch up or chit chat. And, if you are really asking us to work, and just calling it "tea," consider how that feels. 

Or, maybe find the attention you really seek elsewhere.
One of the greatest lessons I have taught myself with regard to my own tendencies is this: I want you to assume you don't need me, and figure out from there what it is that drives you to think you do.

And as much as I am working on that clarification of my time and attention at "work," I also find myself chippy in the world of social media (something I use out of laziness as much as I use for practical purposes). 

I am too often spread too thin these days, and I do not owe anyone my attention or entry into my personal life just because they are curious. Neither do you. Friendships are developed, not obligated, and certainly not presupposed by virtue of being linked via social media. Because we are inundated by technology and can communicate instantaneously, we tend to project onto our interactions a hyperbolic urgency that frequently belies any actual need. Just because we CAN say things instantly does not obligate anyone to reply instantly. We clutter up the quiet spaces and powerfully medicinal downtime of our lives with constant chatter and little to no time to process/digest anything...and it leaves a lot of people starving for actual intimacy, while choking on the glut of the clamor. I see tooa many passive aggressive and pissy posts written by people who don't bother to do their own self inventory before they pull the trigger. Projections, expectations, and woefully sparse actual communication. Since we are afforded such regular glimpses into (curated, abbreviated) aspects of one another's lives, we often assume a level of intimacy and familiarity that can contradict any actual substance beyond face recognition. 

It's best to assume you know very little about someone unless you have looked into their eyes and spent actual time in their presence.

And it's best to assume you know nothing about what is going on in someone's personal life right now, this day, unless they have told you personally.
Truth: I share very very very little about my actual personal life. You will likely never know when I am in a relationship or going through a breakup or circulating through many lovers or deliberating my future in a nunnery. Likewise, please do NOT assume I know diddly squat about your breakups, conflicts with mutual friends, etc unless YOU have told me directly.

And finally, on that last quasi-ranting note, those who mistaking Facebook for or tinder or some other dating site, please stop. Let's assume that I am knee deep in a relationship with someone who is equally private and far more skilled with pick up lines. So, please, back your bus up to the dating sites and have at it.

Rant complete.
Phone "off."
Boots on.
Big deep breath in. And out.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Still, life

Here is what I remember:
each day that was
our introduction your departure
thick and heavy July night
weighted down stars
a careless moon
Too hot even for dogs and coyotes to quarrel
A night made for owls
A night made for those who see best in the dark
toads, torpid in driveway light
and dung beetles
and drunken moths driven into the flames of citronella candles on the patio
beautiful and stupid
A night like that
no less ordinary than the nights we are born.
Or the nights when we die.
I remember the earth breaking open hours before the dawn would break (and days before something else broke and fell into a crevice in the Great Sand Dunes)
all the things we carry
and miscarry.
I remember that pause before the earth exhales and starts over
reveals the pink glow of new skin
my body made
a grave
space carved
where no space could be
a presence(an absence)
an invisible unnameable shape (though in truth I have given you many names)
a year past
and still
Still, life
still, birth
quietly dilating like the moon
little earthquakes no one feels
on the surface
because they haven’t been called down to their knees yet
the way seeds take root before they flower
clawing downward
away from an unbearable sun
wiping out the shadows that confirm our shape and size and substance
the way seeds shatter and plunge roots into the earth no one sees
the way seeds shatter and bleed into something
and stupid
the way sand dunes refuse to hold a shape long enough to memorize
the crevices and wrinkles and hidden lines of newborn and old worn skins
swallowing up the footprints that might have left a trail
a point on a map that shows
you are here
The way we erased one another, bled one another to bone, to dust
How form yields and dissolves and we call it birth
there is a lot I forget
an amnesiac and prodigal twilight,
undecided which way to tilt the axis
keeping vigil in the dead of night
scattering your absence in secret trails
marked only by quartz and a carpet of pine needles and the skull of a mouse
the owl left
How do we forget what we never knew? How do we miss someone we never met?
in passing
and still.
I remember each day 

and your departure became
my arrival (but it took many names to name it)
your death, nameless
birthed me
named me (so many names it took for me to answer)
on a night like tonight
with a coyote at the fence and four barking dogs
A night made for owls
A night made for those who see best in the dark
the way seeds shatter first
and grow from there.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pedestals and Prisons (a work in progress)

This is part of a much longer chapter I am writing on what it is to be named a "spiritual" teacher and how the teachers who have had the greatest impact in my own life are those who have been navigating life, not avoiding it. It's a work in progress, but I figured it was time to share some of what has arisen. 

The trick with being a teacher in a spiritual tradition like Yoga is that your main job is to see those before you as whole, holy, and complete. Missing nothing. Lacking nothing. Neither deficient nor in excess.  And when you commit yourself to that work, then that is what you see and call forth in those before you who have named you “teacher.” But that also means you are going up against some of their most deeply entrenched stories (about themselves, about others, about the world) and fears. What is illuminated in the presence of a good teacher isn't just the empowering or the beautiful. We meet all our own light and darkness. We meet all that we think of as unlovable and unbearable--not just the stuff we want to share with the world. Because real presence requires we heal back into the original state, at times re-opening and draining old wounds along the way. Yet it is so easy to make what we feel or experience about the teacher vs our own process. It's tempting attribute our insights and awakenings to another, and it's equally easy (so so so easy) to place blame on another when we bump up against our less lovable or loving places. And when it gets hard--and it gets very, very hard when we begin to amend our old stories--we might want to hold someone else accountable for that internal tumult. We might give up and blame the tradition, the teacher, the method, the homework, the classmates, the commitment, the expectations. We often shame ourselves when it's hard, as though the struggle were evidence we are doing it wrong. Or not doing enough. A committed teacher is going to hold us in that space, too. Even as we rail and fidget and implode and explode. 

Sometimes we really appreciate that.
Sometimes we don't.

Part of the conflict is how we attribute too much to teachers, whilst simultaneously stripping them of their own humanity, evolution, or messiness. 

Some people want an idol. A model. An image. Someone to place on a pedestal and praise (or condemn) in order to divert the focus from the real task of looking inward. When we make it about another person's triumphs or failures, we implicitly hand over our own process of revelation and maturation. We ask them to carry the burden of our spiritual responsibility, focusing our attention on worshiping or measuring their performance of our ideals rather than attending to the perfection of our own inner practice. 

Whether fawning over someone as perfect or judging them for not being so (and the two are intimately and inextricably related), the result is the same: We strip them of their full process--the very well from which they must reach down to teach us anything relevant or meaningful--and in so doing, we reduce our own spiritual process to that of the consumer. We seek guarantees and shiny new things that won't break or falter. 

The imposition of perfection on others so that we will feel self righteous or safe is how we imprison and diminish. Oftentimes, the ones who praise and adore a teacher most enthusiastically are the same ones who will judge and attack with equal vigor. The adoration and the condemnation are two sides of the same coin: we forget who we are and make it all about someone else. It's precarious, and it further mires us in the disconnect. If the only relationship you have to your "teacher" is one in which they stay the same so that your ego and stories are never challenged, then it's a fragmented and unstable one. That is, you only interact with one aspect of another because it reconfirms what you are already committed to believing and seeing. That is the work of an idol, a model, a statue to praise so you never need enter the temple of your own being.

When we demand that someone else be perfect in order for us to commit to or know our own practice, we miss the point. Tragically so. If our spiritual mettle depends on others living up to some ideal we hold, then it's not a practice. It's more like a performance we watch safely from a distance, inspired by those we ask to proxy the experiences we are too afraid to have ourselves. And then we can just remain spiritual critics in our balcony seats, never once stepping onto that stage under those lights ourselves.

Still, other people want a teacher. A friend. Someone who helps light the pathway home. Not to a better place, but to who we already are. Someone whose flaws we can relate to and through whose humanity we better understand our own divinity. In a teacher, we want someone who has walked though the fires; not someone who has merely learned to avoid them or had the privilege of denying them. A teacher is someone who insists, no matter what we are applauding or booing in them, that we look within and stop projecting our own discoveries onto others. 

Our work as students of yoga is, in part, to see the divine in all things--not just in the situations or people who kowtow to our demands. We don't give up on that process of exploration when a teacher reveals tender spots or broken pieces or their doubts or transformations. Instead, when we name the "teacher" in all things, we commit to seeing ourselves in all things. A teacher is that which reveals us to ourselves. No more or less. With idols, we see only the other--insisting (often with unconscious zeal) their beauty, their imperfection, their power, their ruin. Through a teacher, we learn to see ourselves. Because the role of a teacher, ultimately, is not to be perfect and uphold our fragile expectations, but rather to awaken us to our own innate perfection. The fact is, the universe--and everyone in it--won't bend and yield to our will, our egos, our ideals. The task we face is to meet the world--and everyone in it--as is and let that unruly, unpredictable, dynamic dance call us home into full presence of (and accountability for) who and what we are.

I have spent the last several months in many conversations with some of my own teachers about what it is each of us is called to do AS a teacher, and why. Because the truth is, as many of you know, being a teacher of this stuff is not easy. It's not just a job, there aren't simple roles we play, there are few securities, and it can be profoundly isolating to do the work one must do in order to serve from a place of truth. If we are any good at what we do, we are humbled and tumbled by Life over and over, and we serve from that.

Some of my teachers were very stubborn in saying that the teacher's love for the student is always far greater (and more spacious, I would add) than the student's love for the teacher. Back then, so in awe of my teachers and what they inspired in me, I had a hard time believing that. It seemed like an unfair and strange thing to assert. After all, why would anyone quantify love like that?

But over the years, I have developed a different understanding of what this suggests. It's not about how much, but how broadly and spaciously. I think it has to do more with the guru principle (a force, a phenomenon) rather than the interactions between two people. When we reflect on "the seat of the teacher" we consider what that relationship allows (provokes, ignites) in us as students. As students, when we name someone "teacher," we give ourselves a safe place to rub against barriers and to meet our shadows and our light, meet ourselves in new (often disarming) ways. Another teacher reminded me a few years ago that the teacher gives us a safe place to fall apart. To crash, to fall, to unravel, and to struggle. And that is so often what a teacher is for us--a place to feel and reveal our vulnerability as well as a place to remember our strength. The teacher holds space for all of it.

My most formative teachers have been the ones in whose presence I could do just that, and in their eyes I saw only love. Not judgment or even the patronizing coddling of "there, there, it will get better." The teacher doesn't love you because your are flawless or do things perfectly, and s/he will not give/withhold love according to your performance. The teacher loves us through it ALL, because the teacher's only job is to see us as already whole and divine--to insist on it until we are reminded as well and can sustain that vision in an embodied, real way. Your struggles are not grounds to judge or condemn you or exile you. The teacher bears witness to the ups and downs, the spirals out and in, and never stops loving you. We learn this from Yoga Sutra III.18. The teacher sees all that has led you to this moment, all that has come before, and they understand it. They love you for it. They know AND they love. Not they know and they judge. Or they see and they condemn.

And the truth is, that kind of "holding space" is woefully rare in life, nor is it expected to flow both ways. Most relationships in our lives are fraught with judgements about what we do/don't do and whether or not someone is living up to our ideals. But a sincere teacher doesn't limit her/his love based on a reward system. That is, when we name someone "teacher," we ask that they hold loving space for us to make our way home, no matter how mean, petty, messy, inconsolable, terrified, or ugly our path may be. In their presence, it's all about us. We get to work it out, and we get to do so because there is an inherent and necessary imbalance there. Because they can't ask that we extend to them the same courtesy, the same space, or the same compassion. Not really. We may want to, or think we are capable of that, but the truth is that we kind of need our teachers to be perfect while we work out what it is to be human. We get over that, in time, but it's a tough road for a lot of people. The ones we are so willing to make gods are the ones we must tear down. And that is a good thing. Any teacher who enjoys the pedestal ought to fall, and fall fast and hard. But our teachers also feel fear, doubt, pain, and longing. And that doesn't diminish them. We want to walk through the fires they know personally. They stumble on the very things that they can eventually point to and say, "caution!"

Through my conversations with Mark Whitwell, however, I have also learned that part of our spiritual maturation is to move to that place where the teacher is, in fact, no more and no less than a friend. These days, the teachers I work with most closely as a student are in fact that--no more and no less than friends. There is sincere friendship through which a mutual understanding arises. We call forth in one another the highest and best, and together, in the messy work of being human, we offer one another the faith that we are already divine. And somewhere in that simple teaching I find ground for my own ever-shifting being in a way that still calls me into the seat of the teacher. Some of the teachers I most adored and from/through whom I have learned, been rewired under, been initiated, and been empowered are also some I have railed and rebelled against, judged, and sought perfection from. When I look back, as I got my own sea legs, there were many mutinies in which I was all too ready to withhold my love or respect for the ones who taught me I could sail. Yet the ones who have taught me the most over time are those teachers who have met me, in each and every incarnation, chapter, or shitty pit stop, with love and that certainty that I am worthy, as is. As is. Always. All ways.

My greatest teachers are friends, not gods or judges or celebrities. My greatest teachers are human and invite me to be human, too. They walk me through my fires and make me less afraid of the flame, the burning, the ash. And my greatest teachers love generously, no matter what Life provokes in either of us. Today, like all days, I am grateful for the teachers I have had--the ones I put on pedestals, the ones who fell, the ones who inspired me, and the ones who have disappointed me. In each case, they led me to look at me, not them. They taught me to recognize that whatever they aroused was about me. And they awakened in me the courage and humility to answer when I was named "teacher," and to do so from a place that is fleshy and real. So, that is my commitment these days. Not to just pay lip service to the teachings while insisting on some perfect, untouchable role I play. If I want those who name me "teacher" to embrace their fullness--their shadows as well as their light, their fragility as well as their power--then I must be willing myself to do just that. The teachers I love best and from whom have learned to love myself better are those who show me that it is THROUGH my humanity that my divinity is revealed. Not in spite of it.

(Note: To be clear, this is not a blog about the very real and repugnant abuses wherein a teacher--someone with a kind of power--exploits or harms a student. In those awful and all too common circumstances, responsibility and culpability are INDEED the teacher's. What interests me here is the more subtle ways in which we idealize and demonize those we have asked to help us grow.)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

So many wounds, only one tongue

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.
—T. S. Eliot

It has been a bit rough lately, and it is not just the usual weariness of another commercially saccharine Valentine’s Day. However, if I am honest with myself, I must also say it isn’t exactly unrelated. Most everyone I know is heartbroken, disappointed, or borderline cynical about intimate relationships these days. Even the people I know in seemingly fulfilling and stable relationships. I’ll get to that, but the first thread I want to pull is the fact that I have been dealing with a tenacious form of laryngitis, which has been coming and going for over two weeks. Now, trust me, I get it. I GET IT. I have already been inundated by well-meaning advice and concern offered up from the four corners of my life, and it all essentially boils down to two perspectives: see a doctor to get that checked out or explore the more symbolic/energetic message of this prolonged struggle with my voice, my truth, blah blah blah.

Those of you who know me know where this is going.

And those of you who don’t—who only know me through these words on this screen—well, you are really the point of my story today. Yeah, you, stranger.

I probably don’t need to say that I have yet to see a doctor, but it’s not because I am dismissive of the physicality of this…this plague, as I affectionately call it. By no means is the physical aspect of this situation irrelevant. In fact, I would argue that the physical, embodied, felt experience of this…whatever it is…is the only point here. Truly. On some level, I am writing about—and trying to access—the meaning of my body, or your body…and how bodies connect and commune. Sometimes beautifully, sometimes painfully discordant. But there is no language for it, really. Nothing that can convey or express exactly what it means or feels like or suggests or challenges.

How we see and experience our worlds, our lives, and definitely our relationships to others is largely defined by (and thus so often limited to) the language we use to bind it all up. If you are trained to read the world as divided up by men and women, and even more specifically into roles we play within those careful scripts, that is what you will write upon each individual you meet. You will inscribe upon the infinite possibilities of someone a very restrictive category. And you will mistake that inscription for truth, and the danger is when we assume that what we are hearing is truth. As though your readings were objective, and as though the translation was clear. As though the filters were uncomplicated. As though we all got the same script and it’s just a matter of acting it out convincingly. You be the man I am dating and I will be the woman. Action.

We collapse who we are our into the words and lose that sense that everything is everything. 
And uniquely so.

So my words can never really convey to you—exactly—what it is I am attempting to say, feel, or express. Each word directs your attention to one of many fields of possibility, and I cannot control which way you go and what that evokes in you. There is what is said. There is what is heard. And they don't always align. So our responses can seem erratic. Our reactions don't always make sense.

Nevertheless, words do serve us—through them we attempt to access and excise the mystery of it all. Words are like tools, surgical and steely. But we are instruments, not tools.

I can tell you this is writing about sound. And maybe you read this as a rambling about love. Meaning cannot be contained. Or, if it is, it’s in everything.

As William Blake wrote:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.

Which is why I find myself basking in the morning winter sunlight, sipping hot things, listening to sharp-angled, throbbing, loud music, and writing about the ways in which language fails. And music works.

And it will take me a long time to say something meaningful, though the words may spiral around in pretty (or awkward) sounds and images. Because they only ever point toward what I mean, deferring and deflecting meaning, like sign posts or web links: click here for more. And off we go, wandering in the labyrinth of all the words that suggest and invoke and evoke, one leading to another, never landing, never arriving.

I recently returned to an archived On interview called "Language and Meaning: An Ojibwe Story." Krista Tippett spoke with David Treuer, an Ojibwe writer and translator who has been compiling the first practical grammar of the Ojibwe language—a language, like so many indigenous languages—that faces extinction, obsoletion. One thing Treuer shares is his discovery that language is so much more than mere currency of meaning. His mother tongue allows for a distinct awareness and understanding of himself and the world that is not accessed through another language, like English. Repeat: awareness and self understanding is not always accessible through the language we wrap around it.

This tells us something very important about the words we use to express ourselves—they are not just labels slapped onto things we can all see and agree upon. In worlds both internal and external, there is infinite possibility for meaning, connection, and understanding. And these worldviews—entire systems of who and what and why we are—are not universal or generalizable.

Let’s repeat that one again, too: how one person sees and organizes the world is not the only way. There are infinite silent voices for every one given the power of Truth. And I don’t just mean to chafe at another example of cultural imperialism. I am just as surely digging around for the inner silence in each of us—the places and spaces within that haven’t yet found expression. Because the language fails. Because it can’t accommodate the experience. Some aspects of Treuer’s identity can only be expressed in Ojibwe. I get that—don’t you? I understand that there are concepts and perspectives only made available within certain discursive contexts. Language is not a reflection of what is out there. Language creates what we see and experience out there.

It’s probably worth noting, then, that space and sound are intricately and irrevocably bound. If you want to understand space, in other words, you should make a study of sound…the way it moves and undulates and fans out. And if you want to understand sound, you immerse yourself in space. Sound needs space, body. An instrument, we could say. And sometimes the only way to find space in oneself and ones experience is through a new language, a new song.

It is no epiphany to say that music so often conveys something for us—beyond the lyrics, even. We know that the melodies and the rhythms and feel of a song can express something shared, something we know is more than the words. But music doesn’t merely say for us what we can’t or won’t say…music holds the space for us to feel what we need to feel, uncensored, and to embody something that might in fact go against the confines of our language. Music allows vibrations to carry you, to give you shape from the inside out and the outside in, until a loose harmony is struck.

In the nerdy academic world in which I was first introduced to this perspective that language does more than communicate ideas, we explored the difference between constitutive and mimetic. Most of us believe that our words directly reflect and describe a solid reality—the fixed and objective world we can observe. By extension, we believe that if we just find the “right words,” we can capture that truth so that others will see it too.  And so, we (mostly unconsciously) employ language and assume we are clearly, directly, and precisely conveying to another exactly what it is we are feeling, thinking, observing, or experiencing. In other words, we think and thus act as though language merely reflects something true and real, and thus the task is to become more adept at using the tools.

But a constitutive understanding of language recognizes that words, and the discourses that evolve from them, do not reflect reality, but rather create it. Words aren’t accurate and equal currencies; they can limit and reduce. They organize the world in its complex and interconnected relationships into manageable categories around which we can wrap our minds and land, if only for a moment. This is why an Ojibwe requires his mother tongue to express certain understandings and experiences. The words create a world, and that world is not available in all tongues. Not all tongues speak of the same world, even when the word is the same.

From a cultural perspective, I think we get it. I think we can grasp the fact that an Inuit really does see hundreds of types of snow, because they have a language that allows for wintery nuances ours cannot. Or maybe we are comfortable acknowledging the seemingly “foreign languages” of women to men and vice versa. The words might even be the same, but what they mean to each individual has less to do with something innate than it does with something they create. Feel. Embody.

And how we respond to creation—like what is created in me when someone says, “I love you” is a world all my own.

Yet it’s also, in part, a world that has been conditioned and reinforced through our shortcut use of the words. So I hear or read a word like “love” and the spiders of my mind and past instantly begin to weave a complex web that I think of as REALITY. But the utterance from the other person may have been woven according to an entirely different intention than the design I am now caught within. The more we struggle, the more we wrestle to reconcile what we have created with the intended creation of another in a word like “love,” the more stuck we get in the silky, sticky threads of language.

I guess laryngitis kind of draws my attention to the usefulness of words, or more specifically of speaking to people through them. Because it matters that “express” means both to give voice to AND to extract and force out. Slapping a word on something is neither, and yet I wonder if what I am after is a kind of surgical precision that can help me both articulate and excise this ache of collapse and the stripped down and whisper thin reedy fragile feeling of “heartbreak.” 

We are all looking for the right words, the right tongue, to express something and therefore heal it.

So many wounds, only one tongue.

In spite of my academic training, I am also a student and teacher of yoga, and so I have another model to consider. The chakras, the energetic centers of consciousness—what we are aware of, and thus from what state we act and experience ourselves/others in the world. The yogi nerds in my life, upon hearing I am struggling with my voice and chest are immediately up in my esoteric business (always so lovingly, always so genuinely) pressing me to explore what Truth I am holding in, or asking what in my heart is not being expressed, or how I am resisting my own Voice or how it relates to my dislike of being on the phone….you know, very yogic sounding things. And, again, all very relevant. This is not news to me, I tell them. Vishuddha chakra, the throat center, is the center of communication. It’s also the next step from the heart, where transmission and reception can get stopped up. Communication here is not just what or how we say what we want to say. It’s also about what we take in/receive (the messages we internalize or hear), and all the things we don’t hear, say, or let reverberate deep in each cell. Vishuddha chakra is also related, as each chakra is, to certain relationships and essential understandings. Throat chakra? Your relationship to yourself as divine, whole, and holy.

Because that is the only Truth, as far as yoga is concerned. The rest is ego, and we choke on that a lot.

Of course, when we are least conscious, words act as a shorthand for thinking (or not thinking, as it were) and simply reconfirm, reproduce, and contain. Collapse.


If you have ever spent time in another country, where you didn’t speak a lick of the language, you know that there are some things that get communicated without words. Sometimes we make meaning together in spite of—or more likely, because of—the chasm where language fails. Those moments are the intimate transactions where, as bodies of sound, we entrain in something far more intimate than the words we might have spoken had it been easier. There is a space, in other words, where we find fluency in one another and it need not be pinpointed to a single action, a single utterance. A single tongue.

Physicists and yogis share perspectives on a surprising array of things, including vibration. That is, the essence of all matter is vibrating energy. Sound. Music, if you will. We are, at our most basic level, made of sound. Even our atoms and cells, our skin and tongues. Reverberating, resonating, pulsating. Where we insist there is concrete form, the physicists and yogis shake their heads and cluck their tongues and remind us, it is all energy, spinning and vibrating. For the practitioner of hatha yoga, the ultimate goal is to hear the nadam, the everpresent vibration of life itself. The universal hum, from which all things arise and back to which they all return. The song within all things, at all times.

This sound, this vibration, this thing emanating within and around us is what connects us more than any touch, taste, or word. It’s a song that holds it all together.

This is key. The matter, the essential matter, with me as with you, is vibration. The vibration of a thought is no less important or real than the vibration of a body. In fact, we might say that the body—the forms we see and feel, that eat and breathe and have sex and hold and take and sleep and die—are just the apex of the song that began with a single note. So when you are muted—either internally or externally, by fear, heartbreak, grief, self doubt, or shyness, or laryngitis or too much screaming or not enough speaking—the effect is the same. Think of it like this: you are an antennae, receiving and transmitting all the time.

The question arises, then, are we in fact listening? Or are we always superimposing onto the so-called silence?

The heart, we know, is an organ. An organ. An instrument. And all instruments require an outside force to bring forth their song. Yet in yoga, the heart center is anāhata chakra: the un-struck instrument. It suggests that the heart plays with or without an outside force—the love of another, the attention of another, the touch of another. The issue isn’t whether or not the heart has something to express. The issue is whether or not we can hear it over the din of all we are saying.

You know, like “heartbreak.” We say something like, “my heart is broken” and it creates this experience that may or may not be the real truth of it. The raw and ripped open experience of it. For us. It serves as a shortcut I can use so you can meet me somewhere in there, nod your head and say “I know how you feel.” But the problem with the shortcut is it disallows, hems in, and restricts. It mutes. If I tell you that I am heartbroken, I am being honest. But I am also withholding and tiptoeing around the silent space of it all. The shadowy place where the experience (the feeling, emotion, pulsation) is so much more than the label, and so it requires something other than the label to bring it forth.

Sometimes the only way I can really access and feel what I am, well feeling is to break out of words (she writes, nodding her head with you about the irony here). To quickly change course and run in a new direction, into the thickets of my body’s own language (wild and untamable) before discourse, like a neurotic and overprotective nanny, bundles it all up in a safe and totally suffocating embrace. A label. A word. An expression. Some experiences require a new contour, a new melody. They need to move through the body in a new way, or the new song will re-work the space for a new perspective. And this is what is so awesome and painful about playing the right music at the right time. We can lick the wounds with more than that one tongue.

This is also why this same cold dull February day I go running. Against the oppressive and well-meaning advice to stay warm and stay in and sit and drink things and just be. But today I know that what my silent screaming place needs is space. A new shape to move the sound, to find the voice, to find a way into expression. It isn’t that I am not speaking my truth or holding back or holding things in. It’s that I haven’t yet found the right language, the right tongue to give shape to something inside, much less lick it. And I don’t want to rush that. I don’t want to mistake the quiet for being dumb and without voice. I don’t want to assume that the pre-made phrases and sound bytes are enough. I don’t want to cheapen the depth and richness and singularly meaningful feeling of what I have to say by forcing it into something lifeless like “heartbreak.” You see, I don’t mind the silence. It isn’t punitive. I think the silence is my way of insisting I find something new to say. To myself. Gods know I need a new song to make sense of this space.

In the brittle cold, on a frozen dirt trail, I zip up my layers and cover my face (my eyelashes are already forming spiky little eyecicles). I can’t speak out loud, but I can listen. I can see the shape of my breath and know there is something big and loud brewing in my every garrulous cell. And as I start to make way down the icy trail, I realize all the trees around me are so still that the forest itself is a dense and woolly concert hall. Beneath the rhythm of my breath, I swear I hear the sap moving. Still, I want my body to be the amphitheater, the concert hall, the echo chamber. And though I am sad (shorthand for a feeling like bloodletting and rage and humiliation and a giddy freedom that doesn’t fit “heartbreak”), it’s not sad music my bones crave. It’s raucous and loud and hypermasculine and raging. It isn’t making me feel something or echoing a thought. The music is vibrating through my entire instrument and it is giving me the space to feel what I am feeling. It is carving out a new shape in me, and in that shape, sound arises from the silence. And my body is running full throttle on a frigid day, and I am sweating and my breath is forming tenuous clouds, like comic book balloon texts that ferry all I am saying—from deep within—into expression. And then into resolution.

Most of the time, we don't have words to corral what we feel or think into a useful shape. It's all so imprecise and fleeting--words on a page or words on the uttered breath do not hold meaning or convey it precisely. They stain the infinite space of all that is unsaid, leeching from all that possibility one ill-formed utterance that transmits a mere fragment of what you feel. When what you feel is so much bigger. Unruly. Vibrant. Unique to the hum of the organ within. And the wrong words, well, the wrong words are a labyrinth in which we too often lose ourselves trying to translate what was meant. John O'Donohue said, "music is what language would love to be if it could," and when I consider all physical matter is made of vibration-that we are music at our very essence--it seems wise to remember we are instruments so much more than we are tools...

Sometimes what we think of as a failure of relationship is really an inability to resolve foreign tongues and find fluency together in something new. Something not yet penned or spoken or sung. All I know is that an imposed silence has asked I be a better listener, and what I have heard has changed the very fabric of who I am and what I transmit, transmute, and receive.

Is this the resolution then? Have I said anything at all? Perhaps not. But I have made room for and given shape to something that was silenced when I would try to talk about it. And it isn’t up to me to translate for you whatever worlds these words evoked. When we think of “resolution,” we tend to think of something coming to an ending. Closure. Something final. But in musical terms, a resolution suggests the progression from dissonance to a consonance…the note or the chord toward which it’s all moving. Resolution brings all the seemingly contradictory threads together into a place, a space, a sound where each can hum and together, where two tongues come together, and hold the world together.