Sunday, May 27, 2012

We've Always Been One

     I'm sitting at the desk in our hotel room, sipping mediocre coffee from a styrofoam cup, waiting for my husband to wake up. The obtrusive whir from the air conditioning unit camouflages his rhythmic sleep-breathing, drowning out any auditory evidence of the two human beings currently occupying this room. He's lying on his back, almost completely motionless except for the automatic rise and fall of his chest. Is he dreaming right now? He stirs, rolling over onto his side, burrowing further beneath the covers, and lets out a deep sigh. How can it be that we've only known each other for five years? I sometimes wonder if it's possible to intimately know another person, or whether that's just what we tell ourselves because we like the reassurance of feeling as if we're "in the know" about the people with whom we share our lives. Most of us refuse to know ourselves; how can we really know another?
     This warm, sensual skin which envelops each of us gives the physical illusion of "him" and "me", but the only real boundary circumscribing us is that of our own thoughts, thoughts which readily evaporate in the spontaneous bliss of carnal knowledge. Our thoughts no more define us than our clothes do. Just as clothes conceal our true forms, thoughts are obstacles to our innate intuition, superfluous barriers to the primal sense of connection and interdependence we enjoyed before we developed conscious reasoning. To accept our thoughts as reality is to be imprisoned by them. Why are we so apprehensive about letting them go? In releasing ourselves from the bondage of our egos, the opacity of "me" and "you" is supplanted with the transparence of "I" and "we", and suddenly, we remember we've always been one, that we're only as separate as the thoughts which distance us.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Incandescence, Obscured

     For the last two months since we've moved into our new place, I've been wondering why the lighting in the bathroom seems so dim. The lady who owns this place certainly wasn't too concerned with lighting when she lived here; most of the overhead light fixtures are shorted out so that only one or two bulbs of three actually work at any given time. I am one of those people who values a well-lit room. There is nothing more annoying than tackling household projects, cooking meals, or working on paintings with light that is insufficient or too harsh. During the daytime, we get good light from two huge kitchen windows and a couple of large skylights. In the late afternoon and evening, a variety of lamps and under-cabinet LEDs keep the illumination going strong--I guess you could say I like to see what I'm doing and where I'm going.
     The bathroom lighting issue has really perplexed me. Because I've noticed that the light automatically becomes stronger if I jiggle the switch a little bit, I've assumed that there's a short somewhere in the wiring. Sigh...another thing to fix if we end up buying this place. Due to the sporadically dismal lighting, putting on makeup in the bathroom has been somewhat challenging, especially in the very early morning when there is no ambient light from outside. It seems rather odd that a newly remodeled bathroom could have such a problem with incandescence. There are three separate light sources, each with its own separate switch: two dreadful wall sconces, a hideously ornate overhead chandelier thing-y (the main source of the poor lighting), and two recessed lights over the bathtub and shower. I've walked in and out of this bathroom hundreds of times now, and the routine is always the same. Flip up the switch closest to the doorjamb. Observe the ensuing dimness with great frustration. Think unsavory thoughts about incompetent workmanship and the owner's lack of appreciation for decent lighting. Jiggle the switch. Consider flipping the other two switches "on". Repeat as necessary, until overhead light decides to cooperate.
     Yesterday, I finally decided to examine the light switch. Since it is normally hidden by our hanging bath towels, I've never really bothered to look at it. Immediately, I discovered the problem, and just had to laugh. Each of the switches for the chandelier and recessed lights has a tiny dimmer lever adjacent to it, and every time one of those switches is turned off, the dimmer accidentally gets dialed down. It's a minor design flaw, a small nuisance to be aware of. What kills me is that it took two months of faulty cause-and-effect assumptions, of standing in my own light, so to speak, before arriving at this straightforward conclusion. Alan Watts, a favorite philosopher of mine, said: "Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them." In consciously attending to something, we ignore everything else. Consider how unnecessarily complicated I made the process of solving this simple lighting problem. I went into it with a preconceived notion that the owner of this loft didn't care about good illumination, based on the fact that we'd heard her openly admit she wasn't a fan of overhead lighting, combined with my own observations of multiple overhead light fixtures in varying states of disrepair. Secondly, she didn't wear makeup, so why would she concern herself with bathroom lighting? When we first moved in, we found a great deal of convincing evidence that this unmarried, middle-aged woman wasn't very handy around the house. For instance, the water filter in the refrigerator was so old and clogged that neither the ice maker nor the water dispenser functioned properly; fixing that problem was simply a matter of replacing the filter. She apparently didn't notice the mildew around the tub, caused by a shoddy caulking job. I re-caulked it myself, surmising that I'd do a much better job than any other workman our landlord might hire. Given these findings, along with the fact that jiggling the switch instantly produced more intense light, it was reasonable to attribute the dimness to an oblivious homeowner who had repeatedly ignored a short in the circuit. It never occurred to me to peruse the switchboard itself; otherwise, I would have seen those dimmers, lucidly obscured by towels.
He who stands on tiptoe
doesn't stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn't go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can't know who he really is...
--Lao Tzu 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Texture of Love

     The rain outside continues to pour as I'm pouring my second cup of coffee. As usual, I'm up early, a habit I've developed after many years of having to be at work in the operating room by 0630. Today, the morning's hush is punctuated by the steadiness of the rain, pleasantly amplified by my metal roof, giving rise to a familiar feeling of comfort and continuity: I am warm and dry, and I am surrounded by loving men. My husband and my son, Nick, are still fast asleep. For 22 years now, I've been outnumbered by boys and men, and I sometimes wonder silently, "What would I have done with a daughter?" Being the mother of identical twin boys hasn't exactly been the easiest job on earth, but for the most part, it's been pretty straightforward. Whereas boys are fairly low maintenance, girls seem unnecessarily complicated. I'm fully aware that I'm making a generalization here, but it's an assumption based on having once been a girl, a girl who grew up with two sisters and three brothers. In contemplating my relationships with my mother and sisters, the word "complex" comes to mind. Our individual journeys through womanhood have brought us to many crossroads; oftentimes, our paths converge, while at others, we seem to travel in completely opposite directions. Unlike this steadily pouring rain, we've sort of ebbed and flowed.
     My husband just awoke, kissing me gently on the forehead after fixing his coffee, and wishing me "Happy Mother's Day." The rain has started to let up some, lightly tapping now instead of drumming down, and I am left with the realization that ebb and flow are the two faces of continuity, with ebb being the aspect we choose to ignore. They are integral parts of a unified whole, each being dependent upon the existence of the other. In listening to the rain more closely, I'm aware that it too has ebbed and flowed while I've been sitting here writing, never quite stopping, only changing in intensity. I'm fortunate to love and be loved. Over the course of my life, I've known love's many sumptuous flavors: fierce and tender, carnal and pure, unconditional and incomplete, eternal and fleeting, climaxing and eclipsing, fervent and agonizing. Like the rain, the texture of love is simultaneously torrential yet hypnotic, consuming yet sustaining. Ever dynamic, never static, it inevitably returns to its source. In thinking of my mother and sisters, I'm reminded of how textures change over time, how well-worn places in the fabric require mending, while other spots remain as good as new. Perfectly flawed, yet enduring, threadbare and pristine, we're a patchwork of velvet and burlap, a work still in progress.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Temporary Nuisances

     Here in my house, it is relatively quiet, but I am almost deafened by the noise. Roomba's* bumping hum is accompanied by the smooth whir of the dehumidifier and the yawns and sighs of my sleeping dogs, juxtaposed against the perpetually buzzing, unidentifiable background of near silence. I'm feeling sad for some reason, let down, tired, and frustrated. My thoughts are troublesome and chaotic, aggravated by this ambient cacophony. Last night, I dreamed that I was writing checks to specific members of my family for $300.00 each. Every time I made out one check, I felt compelled to write another, knowing there would be complaints that I wasn't being fair to everyone, regardless of whether those who protested really needed the money or not. My spontaneous gift of generosity quickly eroded into a tug of war, defiled by jealousy and old resentments. The dream's mood was sickening, an unpalatable decoction of perceived imbalances in the satisfaction of wants and needs, sticky and tenacious as fly paper. I awoke feeling emotionally drained, wondering how and when we made our lives so complicated, and why, oh why can't we all just let go of the petty grievances that are suffocating us?
     I've chosen to disengage from battle, to allow others to have their opinions with the recently-gained awareness that opinions, including my own, are really quite meaningless. My happiness and contentment in life are not contingent upon anyone else's approval. I've come to value what others think of me with the same regard I reserve for my own fingernail clippings: non-essential and easily disposed of. The only way I've found to successfully overcome resentments is to let go of them completely. Forgive, forget, and move on. While it's true that we can't forget the actions which prompted us to forgive, we are more than capable of forgetting any lingering resentments; otherwise, the forgiveness is incomplete. Resentments aren't productive or worthwhile. They create an endless source of suffering, both for the grudge-holder and the begrudged, and are the unfortunate by-products of an unreceptive, rigid mind. Clinging to resentments actively prevents the acquisition of new insight.  Under such circumstances, unconditional love becomes stifled, the capacity for empathy and compassion is diminished, and real growth is not possible.
     Words have no inherent power. We assign weight and meaning to them, as well as to the opinions they help form. This is why opinions are of little importance. Ego-trippers, as well as those whose sense of self-worth is derived from the approval of others, have a great deal of difficulty accepting this. We use words to label people, things, and feelings, but something is always lost in translation. That something is experience. While words hint at an experience, they are not the experience itself; they are the map, not the territory. Likewise, we are not who we think we are. Our thoughts are as inconsequential as gnats in the summertime, our egos as relevant to our true selves as a fleeting glimpse, caught in a plate-glass window. A finger points at the moon, but to see the moon, one must look beyond the finger. Words aren't necessary in conveying experience or truth; these are qualities that defy definition. Our true selves lie beyond the distractions, ever-present and undefinable, intimately connected with all that is, ever was, or will be. The map may change, but the territory endures; the roadblocks we encounter are only temporary nuisances. In looking past them, we're free to arrive.
*Roomba=robotic vacuum cleaner

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Wisdom of Innocence (The Right To Remain Nude)

     As I scrolled down through Facebook this morning, one post in particular caught my eye. It was a former co-worker of mine, a young nurse named Sara who is a brand new mother, and she was commenting about how she'd just given her daughter her first bath. The arrival of Sara's child was a much anticipated event. Her first pregnancy ended in the birth of premature twin boys, both of whom died shortly after delivery. Throughout this pregnancy, she kept us updated daily on the changing size of her uterus and how she was feeling, clearly enraptured and overjoyed at her second chance to become a mother. I often thought about how devastating it must have been for Sara to have lost her twins. My own twin pregnancy was complicated by Listeria sepsis, a food-borne illness which caused me to go into preterm labor at 32 weeks, and my sons were quite sick when they were born. That experience literally tore me apart. Both boys were on ventilators for a week, and many days passed before we were permitted to hold them. I didn't feel like a mother until we brought them home, five weeks later. Unless you've suffered through the illness or death of a child, it is nearly impossible to imagine the profound sense of loss parents experience, desperately wishing we could absorb our children's pain and sorrow, and simply make it disappear.
     Sara's daughter developed neonatal jaundice, and had to spent about a week on a "bili blanket." Jaundice (yellowing of the skin) is a common problem in neonates, and results from the breakdown of hemoglobin in red blood cells into bilirubin. Because the infant's excess red blood cells are being destroyed faster than the immature liver can clear the bilirubin, this by-product backs up into the bloodstream. A small percentage of the circulating bilirubin is deposited in the skin, causing a sallow yellowish complexion. Normally, this is a self-resolving phenomenon, requiring no intervention. If the bilirubin levels are unacceptably high, the baby will need to undergo phototherapy (or other more invasive measures) to assist in clearing the bilirubin. In order for the bili blanket to do its job, the baby needs to lie on it continuously, making holding, feeding, bathing, and diapering a bit of a challenge. From what I gather, home phototherapy has been successful in treating the hyperbilirubinemia, and  Sara's daughter is no longer confined to the blanket. Last night, the baby received her first real bath. The episode of neonatal jaundice had clearly stirred up old anxieties and fears, threatening to blemish those first few days of Sara's motherhood with worry, and I can only imagine how exciting it was for Sara to bathe her daughter in a little tub, instead of on a medical device. This bath was a definite cause for celebration. Like most enthusiastic parents, Sara and her husband snapped plenty of bathtime photos; however, she mentioned that she'd need to find a way to censor the photos before posting them on Facebook. Apparently, it's now a no-no to display one's nude baby photos online. This strikes me as odd and sad. Am I that out of touch, or has American society really amped up its proscription on nudity?
     I have so many naked photos of my children, and actually encouraged them to be nude as often as possible when they were small. There are pictures of them, sitting gloriously au natural on the beach when they were about 10 months old, and snapshots of them in the bathtub with their cousins, Alex and Evan. These images were taken long before digital cameras were available. I'd dutifully take each roll of film to the drugstore to be developed, and never once had any issues with censorship. As a child, I remember helping my father in the yard, neither of us ever wearing a shirt. I didn't understand what he meant when he told me that I'd have to start wearing a shirt once I got a little older. Being topless outside, feeling the warm sunshine on my chest and back, felt so luxurious. What was the harm in that? My family didn't have many hang ups about nudity. I think I've seen just about everyone in my family naked at one time or another. When I was breastfeeding my twins, I didn't care where I was or who saw me. If the boys were hungry, I fed them. As a human being, I feel I have a right to remain nude. I try to spend as much time in the buff as possible. I've taken great care of my body, and it has been a never-ending source of visual and sensual pleasure, both for me and my lovers. My uterus housed my children, my breasts nourished them, and my arms have never stopped embracing them. My body is exquisite. I am not ashamed of it at all. If I could, I would most definitely go topless at the beach; I've never quite understood the reasoning behind women having to cover their breasts. In my opinion, we've taken the whole modesty thing a bit too far. This sense of paranoia and exacerbated fear of child predators seems to be an unfortunate side effect of cyber-space and the media...I'm relatively certain that such creeps have always been around.
    Punishing the masses for the sins of a few has never proven to be an effective deterrent to depravity, has it? The problem lies in the fact that we are conditioned to be ashamed of our bodies and our sexuality from a very early age: this is the genesis of much of our societal dysfunction. Consider this. We issue from the Earth, lustrous and innocent in our naked splendor, unclothed and unworried, absolutely perfect. Self-consciousness sets in, and fools us into thinking we're helpless victims of existence, until we no longer recognize or appreciate our own radiance. We learn to punish ourselves for being human. When the light of innocence is extinguished, we lose our blissful, happy nescience, a fateful moment at which we become our own worst enemies. Most of us could use a little more time in the nude. In allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, freed from the armor of defenses we've spent a lifetime accumulating, our perspective widens and we become aware of the ways in which we've detained ourselves with worry and regret. Why not just let go of all that nonsense? Clear-minded as a newborn baby, open-hearted and unapologetically exposed, we can once again return to the wisdom of innocence.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Where Yesterday and Tomorrow Become Today

     Yesterday, my son, Nick, and I spent the entire day together, enjoying each other's company. The only plans we made were to go to visit Elaine, a very dear friend of mine, who was in Atlanta to promote her new book and give intuitive readings at a little cafe in Buckhead. Elaine and I met each other in the summer of 1975. Her dad was a psychiatrist, and had accepted a position working with my father, also a psychiatrist, at the new regional psychiatric hospital in Columbus, GA. Elaine's family moved to Georgia from Kansas, just like my family did the summer before. Both of us were from large Catholic families. She had six siblings, and I had five, and our households were similar in that they were both pleasantly chaotic. Elaine and I shared a passionate love of art. As teenagers, we spent a considerable amount of time together, drawing, painting, and making little art films. We were fascinated with the human form, as well as the mysteries of the universe. She is possibly the only person I know who can see auras, as well as fairies and sprites; she is the embodiment of pure, innocent magic. As young adults, Elaine and I lived in Atlanta, and at one point, we were roommates. Over the span of our 37 years of knowing each other, we've lost touch quite a few times, each of us experiencing life's trials and tribulations in different ways. That time out of touch only seems to have intensified the brilliance of our illustrious connection. We enjoy the same type of perpetual spiritual kinship that I'd previously only known with my father. He was also a gifted artist, and although he died almost ten years ago, my bond with him is just as tangible and accessible now as it was when he was living. Elaine knew my father very well and tells me that she senses him everywhere. I do, too.
     Dad used to drive down from Marietta to take me out to lunch in Little Five Points when I was about Nick's age. We'd spend the afternoon together, doing whatever we felt like. Sometimes, we'd talk about things, but words weren't essential because we intimately knew each other's minds. In that sense, nothing was left unspoken. Many of Nick's mannerisms remind me of my father, especially his candid youthful wisdom and his passion for learning. He pours himself into whatever he's curious about, just like his grandfather. Like Dad and me, Nick is also a free spirit, young at heart. As we sat together, waiting to see Elaine, I thought about how my connections with him, her, and my father were coming full circle, a repurposed, elemental host of ancient souls, convening spontaneously and naturally. Profoundly aware of the illusion of time's arrow, the specter of causality erased, I lucidly recalled future events. Yesterday and tomorrow became today, with a now-ness so electrifying it was sensual, sexual,  forbidden, and in that moment, everything and nothing coalesced and collided, crashing like cymbals, quiet as a mouse. We are all artists, lovers, seekers, and joiners. Sometimes, we forget who we are. We're central, not peripheral, each of us an intricately unique expression of the universe. We're here now, yet we've always been. Ephemeral and steadfast, enduring and transient, we say goodbye, but never really part ways.
Nick, me, and Elaine