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It is late considering how early I have to be up and out tomorrow, considering that OWL didn’t feel well at bedtime and what the night holds is unknowable. And yet, here I am with a freshly carved potato stamp transcribing lines from Adrienne Rich poems onto pieces of paper and discovering that intimacy is derived from the same root as intestine, trying to remember my most true self, to locate those pieces that were misplaced along the way, the ones that splintered and marched off at age three, five, eight, fifteen. Do I only flow in one direction, or in many?

I sat for 10 minutes, staring at the thing I will offer up tomorrow when I take the Bodhisattva Vow, the thing I will let go of, the thing that stands between me and my ability to see what is. Specks of gold glimmered in the candlelight. Its heft was visible and I realized that it could not be folded as I’d hoped to do. I will have to present it as is, not made into a generic shape that can hide its interior.

Khyung Nyi-ö feels so foreign and yet familiar. Too big and yet tailored to my shifting body.

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My essay In Falling is published here, through the Shambhala Publications 35<35 project, personal essays from Buddhist practitioners under the age of 35.

http://www.35u35.com/submissions/in-falling/

PS’s & dedications:

*so so so much gratitude to the lovely Ms. Meredith Arena for loving me through this madness

*loves to my sister Cindy for listening out loud at the EXACT right moment

*congrats to my brother Chris for the courage to share and be himself in the world

*and always to OWL, for saving & enriching my life

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NOVEMBER 11th

Time moves slow.  The ache of the heart a long slow cracking after the initial break.  Thousands of aftershocks that travel across a year, add months, count the days.  New mistakes stream in and stretch out inside the ravines, touch the canyon walls, and flow on top of the scars.

Take stock of the present.  Orange lamp hangs overhead and casts its familiar glow on the pillow and couch, on my fingers as they move over keys and trace lines in my journal.  Silent apartment, save the passing the planes and occasional scuffing of boots on the sidewalk or wheels turning over wet leaves.  Yesterday’s breakfast pan soaks in the sink.  A cold beer on the windowsill.

From my ledge I see other people in the open sky.  The vast space around them as they touch hands, unwrap gifts from tissue paper, smile in ways that communicate the complexity of joy and sadness and living.  I see what I hoped for in my life and my family and my love, and know that it didn’t complete me the way I thought it would, the way I wanted and needed, because I wouldn’t let myself be whole.  I cannot imagine building a new life, although I know I’m doing it everyday.  Dish by dish, word by word, moment to moment.

2010 harvest moon photographed by chris updegrave

Notice that my body marks its own time, with signals that fall outside the calendar of dates and anniversaries.  Another harvest moon rises and pins me to the spot, to the moment.  Memories stored in the quality of light, released by the Fall chill settling in the air.  The memory of organs swell the body.  The well of sadness opened by the senses and the body’s recollections.  But this time there is a quiet joy marching alongside.  It’s new and weak at times, but gaining strength and momentum.  I stand on this edge and my lungs clench.  I see the size of my wounds, so long in the making and don’t know if I can cross to the other shore.  If the scars can soften and stretch and let in the light and air.  I hear another bottle break on the sidewalk outside through the closed window and know there will be something to clean up in the morning.

Time moves fast.  OWL’s growth, so ordinary and so exceptional, impossible to track.  Loose notes on the calendars waiting to be transcribed into a baby book.  The feel of those moments so vivid at the time hardly seem describable now.  Watch as baby C, now 4 months old, gorillas sits with his fists on the floor as he slumps forward, and marvel as he pops up.

NOVEMBER 7th

In the morning after a previously amazing day and an evening spent writing in tears, I lay across my bed and mark what is right.  What is going well.  A two page list in columns, turquoise ink.

OWL is healthy.
He talks & talks & signs.
Trots around with little stroller.
Sleeps clutching books like The Secret Life of Plants and Crime & Punishment.
We have heat.
The cat snuggled me through last night’s sadness.
I can read.
I have a practice.
I write.
I walk and run, and sometimes cartwheel.
OWL stomps through puddles in frog rain boots.
OWL & baby A hold hands.
He kicks a ball.
I laugh, cry & feel.
Sweep the floors that ground us.
Cook the food that nourishes us.
We ride buses.
Have teeth to brush.
Bodies to wash.

On the cushion later that morning, the sangha shoulder to shoulder in staggered rows, I open without cracking.  I carry myself back up to that eye-level view of Mt Rainier, and sense my presence among the other mountains, my icy peaks rising above the blankets of green.  The sky passes and mingles, the clouds appear and dissipate.  And I think, I could do this anywhere.  On my feet.  In a courtroom.  At breakfast.  I can be this mountain among mountains anytime.  Struck by the sheer confidence of the open sky.

By nightfall, I slip back down.  Self-arresting, I land not at the bottom, but catch myself in a point of utter aloneness that is sad but not sorry.  It carries me a ways outside the room.  To a place without walls.  All I want is OWL in my arms, in this room, among these friends.  Wait anxiously as the openness battles the rising fear of seeing the ex in the coming exchange.  The fear of directly seeing the embodiments of my failures and success from the open sky where my heart beats raw and tender.  I feel exposed by the moment where everyone around me seems transformed and held by something that I’m not even sure I get.  I feel quiet.  OWL arrives and my world tumbles together and in to pieces all at once.

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*day one.  flying.  25 Sept 10*

Wet sadness held court just behind my eyes.  Brushing my teeth.  Shaking rice crumbs out of OWL’s pjs & placing them in his overnight bag.  Picking a half chewed piece of beet off the bottom of my rough foot.  Hiking him down the hill to papa’s nest, to his nest with his papa.  Watch them play.  OWL asks for keys & inserts one (likely the same one each time, which he does with my keys, always choosing the apartment key over the others) into the cabinet with a missing knob.  Take one last picture, his new “I LIKE TRAINS” tee-shirt tight against his full tummy.  Cry & laugh & kiss my goodbyes for the next 6 nights.  Fall into the ex’s hug in fear & sadness & longing.  Never afraid of flying until last night.  If something happens, how will he know how much I love him?  How will he feel the mama’s love I know he’ll need every day of his life, good and bad and sad and everything in between?  Wipe my eyes walking to the bus.  On the bus, my lower eyelids a dam ready to spill over the edge.  From the train I text my girlfriend, a super-mama with a 10 week old, and ask her to keep up with OWL if something happens.  So he knows what a mama is like, what she sees and how she loves like no one else.  The dam breaks.  My life these days measured in the time between tears on public transit….

Fly eye to eye with Mt Rainer, blue magic walls coated in snow, holding the view steady and strong as the other mountains move behind it and away.  It amazes me. I know someone who’s summited, stood at this very peak and looked back out at the world.  Something I never really wanted to do, but sitting there, staring at eye level, I understand the desire.  I know I’ve been climbing my own mountains lately, but damn.  I bet that one has a better view.  Fly over Wyoming, over the Tetons on the opposite side of the plane so I cannot really see them.  It was here that OWL became his living swimming pre-self.  Where I felt so indescribably alive and energized by the air & skies & moons & starts.  History floods and cuts through me like the canyons chiseling the landscape.  Ledges and buttes giving way to hills green and rising like the folds of a soft blanket giving way to puckered earth.  I have to get back here.  Soon.  Next fall, I decide.  With OWL.  (Who’s up for an amazing road trip?) Fly into Colorado, the setting sun rests on the western slopes of the Rockies, reflecting a pink-tinged yellow, casting deep shadows over entire valleys.  On the Denver ground I recall a phone conversation, then-husband still driving through Kansas (which he was doing when I took off from Seattle a few hours before).  I feel and see the open  atrium where it occurred (on my end) before I reach it and when I do it is with a sinking heart.  This is where it began.  That trip.  The end of that summer.  The one that changed everything for better or for worse.  I turn my phone back on.  Picture comes through of OWL and his papa, snuggling on the fake fur blanket.  My little family.  But not really a family.  Just my piece and his piece of our now separate families.

I slow down and name the sadness.  And the fear.  This trip, in this moment and not 2 years ago, is about a new beginning for me.  There is no immediate decision to make.  But the next few days are about my eyes & my feel & my questions.  My future.  My potential.  My next steps.  If I love it, how can I make the choice to leave?  To pull OWL away over miles & mountains & a days drive?  And if I don’t love it, will there ever be anything out there that fits?  A place for me to grow & learn?

*day two.  wandering distractions.  26 Sept 10*

Morning & early afternoon lost to the drone of wheels against highway.  Full of heat. Low blood sugar.  Hitting reset only to wander the streets and shops in blindness. Picking up a few needed things here & there (like a new hat, which my fortune a few months back suggested I do, for a “new look”).  Sushi alone.  The wasabi and the maki pull me out of daydreams and back to the present.  Realize I spent the entire day distracted by art & soft things & beautiful fabrics & books & debit cards.  A way of walking without really looking or feeling.  “Good information,” I hear my therapist say.  “Great to get the message,” I hear my Monday night MI say.  Second reset. Need to let this place in, let it penetrate.  I need all the information my wisdom can gather.  This decision needs a place of clarity to come from my heart. Wisdom I need to see the direction my path twists and turns at this point.  Note these distraction are nothing new.  Some are fun & exciting, like my new hat. Others sad & destructive, like feeling ganged up on and put down by the people there to help when I was in labor.  And I let that go too, same as my day of distraction.  Back to the moment.  To the cheap chewy unagi on the end of my disposable chopsticks.  In coming back to the moment, there is no traveling forwards from the past or backwards from a fantasy.  I just arrive.  The weight of the fish in my hand, my breath disintegrating into the room all around me.

Driving back.  Exhausted by the day.  Catch a glimpse of a gold sphere emerging briefly from behind a grove of tall trees. Disappears.  I wonder aloud if it’s the Great Stupa (which, I still mistakenly think is in Boulder instead of 2+ hours northwest), majestically lighted in the dark September Colorado sky of 8:30 pm.  Crest the hill and find the waning harvest moon, so low on the landscape, like a building rising out of the earth and not a mass hovering and rotating above it.  Laugh at loud.  This is the essence of a moment.  Being surprised & taken not only by the light of the moon (which is ordinary even when putting on a show like this), but also being surprised that it is the moon in the first place!

Back at home base I look up directions to the Shambala Mountain Center.  Discover it is in Red Feathers Lake, not Boulder.  Over 2 hours away.  After my day of distractedly doing nothing, with a full schedule of “real” events starting midday tomorrow.  I should have been hiking the land and meditating my ass off in the stupa and….  So so so much is rising up in me.  So much without words.  After putting the pieces of three harvests moon together, there is so much behind every thought & movement.  Behind every landscape.  In every shadow & highlight.  A quality of hot hot heat and remembering.  Aching and moisture I cannot spare in this dry air.  I need desperately to go.  My super-mama friend assures me that is worth the drive for even a short stay.  Agrees it is a great space for me to visit now, after my day of distraction, a year after my husband left, two years since dawning OWL’s existence, in this part of the country, nonetheless.  Set my alarm for 6 am.

*day three.  the great stupa & a school.  27 Sept 10*

So much in this day!  Cook scrambled eggs and steep green tea.  Eat standing up. Slice an apple.  Pack walnuts, dried mangos.  Wash my dishes.  Honey for the tea. On the road.  Hard place to be the driver.  So much beauty in the mountains and bales of hay.  Horses flipping tails.  US 287 N to CO-14W.  Poudre Canyon Highway. A miracle.  Driving through this canyon, the river running seamlessly alongside, hugging the curves of the road and the looming formations, greenest of green hills ahead.  Bob Dylan singing Knocking on Heaven’s Door comes on NPR.  A song I’ve never liked all that much, so perfectly timed & inserted, so perfectly sung….  A new favorite.  More songs pass through the background without notice.  Cellos come into focus as I turn up the narrow dirt road leading up & up & up.  Remarkable sound. Quaking yellow leaves.

Hike under morning sun, among hoofed prints and chipmunks, distant birds, a brief visit from a pileated woodpecker.  Open the door to the stupa, empty and unlit, and say, out loud, “Holy shit” at the 18-foot buddha sitting on his lotus, vitakra mudra. Cold floor glides under my feet.  Eyes fixed ahead and upward.  Shrines & photos & guest book &….  Ground rolls and moves underneath my toes.  Awake!  Nice touch, this feeling of the earth I stand on every second of my life with little thought or effort.  Like a good student, I sit in Shamatha for at least 5 minutes.  Contemplate the weeks’ assignment, again.  Is there anything that does not change?  Is there a stable ground or foundation of all things & all experiences? Recall my recent revelation that I have nothing to do with who OWL is – he just amazingly is who he is.  Think of the parallel to basic goodness.  Birds & bees & trees & canyons & streams.  Summer fading.  Onset of Fall setting the stage for Winter.  Spring flowers digging in and waiting for their time to re-emerge.  Unchanging essence.  I have nothing to do with that either.  Just a part of it.  Same way I am part of OWL & he is part of me.  Indistinguishable, really.  My mama responsibility lying in creating and holding that space for him to flourish & grow & become his best self.  An active idleness.  Not engineering hopes & fears & story lines.  Letting him be in the world, working through it, teaching & helping & loving.  Providing tools.  Knowledge. Sharing wisdom.  And so too it is, with this home we all share.  With each other & birds & bees & so on.  In this current state of the world & affairs & the planet, I have the responsibility of stewardship.  Letting things be in the world to work as designed requires action.  Intervention.  Restoration.  That is my place.  My part.  Where I fit. This is one of those things mamahood & OWL were meant to teach me.

Nighttime open house.  Walk among small cottages, a greenhouse with foliage spilling out.  Small speeches and information.  A manuscript in poems.  More poems in a different voice.  Drinking in that cool mountain air & elevation like Kool-Aid.

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