Posts Tagged ‘Wednesday Stories’

Missing person

November 25th, 2009    -    5 Comments


I caught a story in yesterday’s paper that you shouldn’t miss. It’s not uncommon for one little story in the newspaper to sum up the wretched whole of human tragedy but this story was in a category by itself. A 13-year-old autistic boy, running from rebuke at school and evading punishment at home, stowed away in plain sight on a subway where he rode nonstop for 11 days without being noticed.

It wasn’t hard to be invisible, he told police. “Nobody really cares about the world and about people.” He is a rare jewel among human beings: he can see things as they are. Read more about his journey here.

I feel as if I have been missing for some time. Not so good about reading your blogs or writing my own. Not as open-eyed or even-keeled as I might have been. I’ve been immersed in the late stages of the publication process: the manuscript submission, the diagnostic revisions, and now the slice-and-dice of copy edits. No one who is striving for that mythical, magical realm called “Being Published” will ever believe what it is really like: how much it extracts from you, and yet how little it changes things. It’s like abdominal surgery. Over the course of the procedure, all 28 feet of your intestines are shoved aside, and in some cases, taken out and piled up on the table beside your body. Then your bowels are put back and you’re sewn into the semblance of something new. For a short while you feel the effects, but before long everything is just as it was before. You’re not younger, better looking, or rich. You might even been poor. You don’t believe me, but you can read more about it here.

Today I said goodbye to my husband and daughter as they travel east to celebrate the holiday with my in-laws. Aside from the year my father died, this is the first Thanksgiving we haven’t been together. I will attend Rohatsu sesshin, a Zen meditation retreat that commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment. It is time for me to excuse myself from the family table and do what the Buddha did, to be like the boy I told you about at the top of this post: a rare jewel who can see things as they are. You can read more about the story of Buddha here.

Next week several guest bloggers will appear in my stead. I thank them for spilling their guts, and I hope you’ll stick around and read more about them here.

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Letting the air out of fear

November 18th, 2009    -    16 Comments


Exhalation is the jump. Inhalation is the parachute.

Last week I spoke to a college class – an Asian philosophy class – about Zen. It is a gas to speak about something as simple and straightforward as waking up. The thing is, in this morning lecture to nearly 100 young people, a quarter of them were completely asleep and none of my antics could stir them. If it were an audience of middle-agers, the percentage in deep sleep would spike precipitously, so this was a chance to change the course of lives, to be sure.

Sometimes when I get rolling in a talk, the ocean swells, the surge accelerates and I finish up feeling as if I’d consumed all the oxygen in the room. Pens literally drop, and we hear them. Drop. Drop. There is a cushion of hush that follows, and hardly a murmur comes forth. I was not surprised that the horde rushed the exits, and only a smattering came to the front to see me.

A young woman waited her turn, eyes wide, and when the space between us cleared, I instinctively grasped her palm in one of mine and began tracing circles with my index finger on the top of her hand. She said she wanted to talk to me about something that had happened to her recently. She said, “You tell us to trust our lives . . . “

but I have a problem letting go. People tell me I am a control freak, and I wanted to do something to prove them wrong. Something to overcome my fear.

And so she dove out of an airplane.

She described the experience. The feeling of numb nonchalance, eerie disembodiment, followed about eight hours later by total shrieking hellish recall and paralyzing terror. She’d given herself post traumatic stress.

I said, “Don’t jump out of any more airplanes.”

I’m sure there are some for whom it qualifies as sport or playful pastime, but skydiving is one of those ridiculous things that fearful people do to prove they are fearless, humans do to prove they are superhuman, and mortals do to prove they are immortal.

“Don’t do that,” I soothed, still tracing circles on the back of her hand.

“Just exhale.”

This is what I tell everybody all the time these days, because I’ve finally realized that what all the ancients tell us really is true, and really is that simple, and really is that effortless, natural and ordinary. Just exhale.

Exhalation is the act of letting go, the release, the surrender, the trust, that otherwise seems like mumbo jumbo psychobabble coming from another New Age guru with a book and website. Just exhale, and you’ll realize that all this time you’ve forgotten to exhale. You’ve become tense and constricted in your fearful distractions and your anxious grasping. All this time you’ve been holding onto your breath, choking yourself, and now all you have to do is exhale.

Just exhale: there’s the jump. Just inhale: there’s the parachute. Land in one piece without ever leaving the ground.

You’re safe, you’re free, you’re fearless. You’re dismissed.

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