Tag Archives: lao tzu

Let Yourself Be That

30 Dec

IMG_1982

I apparently make it a habit to rarely be at home, and this year was no exception. Some months, I was only in my own bed four nights out of the calendar 30 or 31 for which I pay precious, precious Brooklyn rent. I don’t regret living (actually, just leave it there: I don’t regret living, full stop) in the many different experiments I put myself through this year. I let myself live in the mountains of Utah and on the beach in Southern California, I tried roaming free in Alabama shortly after returning home from Assen. I was in crummy places like Washington, DC and Baltimore, and I took up temporary residence in my childhood hometown of Minneapolis. There was time in Amsterdam and Barcelona (actually, three trips to Barcelona) and France. And there was more, much more. So much more that I’d have to consult my trusty Moleskine calendar to track it.

Oh! What a natural segue. Moleskine calendar, you say? Well, that must be precious, and since its rear pocket carries the folded poems you must carry with you at all times, you never let it out of your sight, of course.

Of course.

Except for the day in October when I actually lived my worst, most persistent recurring nightmare. I’m talking about the dream that I’m sure I’ve written about here, the one where I endlessly pack my bags and never, ever go to the airport. Or if I’m at the airport, I somehow never get to my gate, whilst losing articles that tumble from my over-filled bags.

The dream v. life metaphors are obvious, but the point is, I never make a flight in my dreams. But in real life, I’ve never missed a flight. Until October 8th, 2015. (Dramatic chord!)

I was in Minneapolis, and I was at the peak of my self-loathing for a terrible habit that was only getting worse as I aged. I was becoming one of those people who begin to pack for a trip at the precise time when they should actually be going to the airport. This was not my dream self, mind you. This was the awake version of the girl who had just arisen from her slumber packing session and was at present dawdling through the newspaper, some coffee, room service breakfast, some lying around and moping… you get the drift.

So, I loathed this girl. But I took her rumpled self down the escalator of the fancy modernist hotel where I’d indulged in an extra night because my friends’ daughter had taken ill and I was already at this conference anyway, so Overburdened Charge Card picked it up. Like I said, I loathed this irresponsible, hapless person that had taken over while my restless soul wandered elsewhere, trying to find itself.

Ahem. My hotel was 15 minutes away from the airport, which helped but also hindered me, because I abused that fact. I glanced at the free airport shuttle, filled with hapless tourists lugging those gigantic bags that only tourists carry, and checked the time. No, I had to take my own transportation, direct to my own concourse, with no stops for Sally Six Bags along the way. I summoned an Uber, smug that I was such a fancy traveler girl that I had to get a car while a van was still being loaded with more girth-testing bags and people beside me. And then I opened my Delta app to check the time of my flight.

To my horror, I saw what I’ve never seen before in my life. It said, “Information is no longer available for this flight.” Which prompted me to wonder, why, wait, what time does it leave?

It left five minutes ago.

You thought it left an hour from now, because for the first time in your life, you let your Calendar app store the flight info, and that app pretended we were on East Coast time, and we are, in fact, in the Central time zone.

A very, very quiet little thunderstorm began in my brain as I smiled at the driver who opened a door in front of me. I was living my recurring nightmare. Well, let’s see what it’s meant to teach me, I told myself in an attempt to soothe the very recently Zoloft-deprived brain in my skull.

The details of what lengths the universe went to in order to demonstrate how far I’d fallen are actually, seriously, too painful to relate here. Let’s just say I cried in the airport, in a ridiculously overpriced Uber Black Car that took me away from the airport so I could kill six hours elsewhere, at a random diner that only took cash, at a shitty bar possessing the only ATM for miles and it was out of money, on the sidewalk in front of the bar, in the stunningly proximate office of my friend’s husband, and then in a Tumi luggage store at the airport, where I let a luggage therapist try to piece me back together again in the form of needlessly overpriced bags that are nowhere near the quality of those made by my own brother. (Sigh.)

I finally did arrive home, with lots of that “kindness of strangers” stuff cheering me along the way, but little did I know that somewhere in all of that Tumi shuffling, another very small thunderstorm was erupting, and it would be two months before it was over.

I’d left my Moleskine calendar, filled with more personal details than anyone should ever put on paper, in one of the many overwrought pockets in one of the many overpriced Tumi bags in a store 1500 miles away from my home.

I didn’t realize this until I’d turned my apartment upside-down and inside-out every night for two weeks. (Sheesh, I look back on this now with true horror at how low I was a the time. You should have seen the wreck my living room was then. Unrecognizable!)

Finally, dust settling on piles of unsettled detritus all around me, I told Unrequited about my lost calendar drama one night while we planned our trip to Spain. His clenched cowboy voice rumbled across cellular transmitters from Utah: “Well. Maybe it was something that you had to let go.”

Gulp.

It’s like he knew that one of the poems in that calendar was the Irish blessing I’d read to try to convince him to love me way back in 1972 (translation, 2011). Ughhhhh… okay, yeah, I should let it go. I get it!

But the universe had other ideas. The night before our flight to Barcelona, I received a phone call from Ohio. Someone, some very lovely one, had found my calendar in a bag they’d bought in the Minneapolis airport! And in the most charming phone call I’ve ever experienced, that someone’s husband cheerily told me how yes, he’d found the poems in the back pocket when he was looking for any means of identification in the calendar. This was the one time I hadn’t written my contact information in the front of a Moleskine notebook and promised a reward of fresh-baked cookies to anyone who found it. The ONE time. Fortunately, he’d found a receipt from my tailor (whuh huh huh, I use a tailor).

Anyway. Profound gratitude pulsed my heart and filled my soul. He was going to mail the calendar back to me, and it would be waiting when I came home from Europe. I promised to send him his rightful reward of freshly baked chocolate sea-salt cookies.

“I’m not one to refuse freshly baked anything,” he said.

Except, when I came home from more Unrequited adventures with Unrequited, the calendar wasn’t there. It was not there in my mailbox, nor there on my doorstep, nor in the hands of any of my kind neighbors. It was clearly in the hands of nefarious agents of the internet-posting world where they were surely going to scan the trembly drivel on my calendar pages and share them with readers of “Found” magazine or whatever it was called. I was going to be a laughingstock. A meme. An animated .gif.

More letting go. Letttttting go. Apparently I was never meant to have this calendar again. I get it. I get it!

But do I get it? Do I have any idea why I let this completely implausible fantasy persist? No, because if I did, I would let it be the beautiful idea that it actually is—and that is, if I let go of trying to control every step that anyone makes toward my heart, someone will actually walk right up to it and embrace me (see previously mentioned Lao Tzu mantra).

Here’s what it’s all about. You see, there’s a meditation that I rarely let myself indulge in doing. It’s effect is blissfully powerful, and it leaves me feeling exactly as I did when I was a giddy little girl who still thought she could do anything in the world, because her golden, pure heart loved everyone, so why wouldn’t that love be reflected back toward her?

The meditation is called “Follow a Desire into Fulfillment.” And people, it’s a magic spell. At the end of its very short ten minutes, when you’re so elated you think you might float away, the very lovely Sally Kempton says, in the kindest, most sincere imperative ever: “Let yourself be that.”

Except she says it with all the right pauses between the words. “Let yourself (pause) be (longer pause, just a slight bit of extra emphasis ahead) that.”

If we could all let the controlled steps of the calendar go, let the missteps of lost love go, and be unafraid to follow the true desire of our hearts (ironically, that’s what the Irish Blessing that I carry is all about), we could let ourselves be that. And I reckon we’d be pretty elated.

By the way, the calendar came to me two months after I lost it, and one month after it was returned-to-sender to the kind people in Ohio. I sent them their well-deserved chocolate sea-salt cookies and I hope those confections made their Christmas as lovely as their kindness made mine. 

 

Overwintering Your Heart

24 Dec

IMG_1556All summer long, I watched my fuchsia plant react to sunlight and heat the way I do, shriveling up and running for the shade. Except the poor fuchsia couldn’t run. It doesn’t “have agency,” to put it the way I heard someone on the radio describe the imbuing of inanimate objects or ideas with motility.

There wasn’t much I could do for the fuchsia’s placement, given the limitations of my south-facing, 50-square-foot (extremely wobbly) deck. But because I was working at home this summer, I provided the fuchsia with agency. I went outside several times a day and picked up its planter and moved it to the rotating pockets of shade cast by the slotted railing throughout the day. It wasn’t enough, though, because it was just too hot for the poor thing. (Next year I will finally get a canvas sail shade!)

So my fuchsia went dormant. Summer dormant. And when the autumn came, I repotted it with a plan to bring it indoors for overwintering in my building’s basement. Everyone online says fuchsia’s have to be the basement, because the house is too warm to let the plant know it’s winter. But honestly, I hate the idea of putting the plant in this building’s particularly grim basement, so I put off the move until the first frost.

…Which never, never came in this El Niño winter. It’s 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now. So, since September the fuchsia has remained where I left it outside. I peeked at it every morning, just to see how it was doing, wondering how dormant versus dead it was. Then, a few weeks ago, right around the time my Christmas cactus was in full, vibrant bloom indoors, I noticed bright, new pink bulbs forming at the end of the fuchsia’s healthiest branch. It was loving life, getting ready to bloom again.

I know I should be horrified, I know I should feel bad that the plant is confused in our weird climate pattern. But I am so happy to see that it’s living, and it actually obviously just needed me to leave it alone for a while cooler temperatures so it would recuperate.

Meanwhile, the plants I brought in for the winter, my kitchen herbs, have died. I researched this move, too, but fearing a sudden drop in temperature during a two-week trip abroad that I was taking in November, I skipped the step of repotting outdoors and letting the plants adjust to the new confines outside before dragging them inside. Well, that was a mistake.

And this mistake was something I was lamenting this morning while I did yoga in the presence of a withering rosemary plant on the window sill. I’d moved it inside, then closer to the heater when the window got drafty and cold, then again closer to the window for more sunlight when it was warmer, trying to help it weather the ups and downs of temperature fluctuations, and yet there it was, regretfully having to make its exit because it preferred to roam free outdoors. The soil was wrong, the pot was wrong, the depth was wrong, the poor plant, which never really got established this summer outdoors, was now overwatered, over-coddled and overcome.

So I googled “saving a rosemary plant brought indoors for overwintering” and found a helpful website that basically told me I did it all wrong (but in a very polite fashion), and I frowned. To lose a plant life is not something that happens often in this apartment. I am the plant rescuer! I am a hero! How could I accept this defeat?

Then I saw a helpful and very relevant quote in a column next to the overwintering article:

A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.
—May Sarton

And I exhaled. Okay. Yeahhh… even though a plant loss feels far more severe than discovering that a skirt no longer fits (even immobile, plants are alive, of course), I guess it’s something that happens, even to the best gardener.

I was sort of not really accepting this truth, promising myself and the universe that I’d have all the right overwintering materials and practices in place next year (this is only my second year of having a real garden), when some more fortuitous words leapt into my frame of vision.

It was my new mantra, one I’ve written about on this site previously, but not one I was ready to actually live out until my return from Spain and France a month ago:

“Stop leaving, and you will arrive. Stop searching, and you will see. Stop running away, and you will be found.” 
—Lao Tzu

I moved the plants around frantically, just like I move myself around frantically, but they only really flourished when I could let them rest in one place. Given the right conditions and a little time to take root, plants are pretty resilient.

Already, only one month into my new practice of not flying away from New York the minute I get antsy or a little to close to getting what I want at work, I can tell that I’m getting stronger, and new work ideas are arriving. If I want all my big career moves to happen, I have to stop moving. If I want to enjoy all that I have, I need to stop looking elsewhere. And if I want to be discovered as the whole person that I can be when I just sit still and let myself be whole, then I need to stop running to the airport. Constantly. Although I’ll definitely enjoy my Delta Gold status next year!

 

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