“Every individual soul chooses the significant people in that life.”—Brian Weiss, MD

There are very few shopping malls or large-chain book stores in the state of Maine. I prefer it this way—for the forests where I yearn to wander to remain sprawling, and the shops less-plentiful. I tend to do my acquiring locally where the parking is limited and the offerings distilled. The one exception being LL Bean’s super-sized, 24-hr campus where I once purchased a new pump for an inflatable air-mattress at midnight—the starry sky filled with moonlight and autumn’s chill, my pregnant belly loath to sleep on a deflating, rectangular balloon in our new and yet-to-be-furnished home.

Despite my preference for the quaint, I sometimes find myself in South Portland in a more heavily-populated, shopping nucleus with a few minutes to spare. Jonah, Adrian and I venture into the massive bookstore across from Macy’s with its rows of bargain books, colorful display of calendars and the latest works to top the New York Times Best Seller list.

My boys beeline for the children’s section of the discount isle where the books are immense and overflowing with colorful photos and plentiful information. They pounce on the materials about wild animals or superheroes and sprawl out on the tightly-woven, carpeted floor as if they are lounging on the wool rug at home between their two twin beds.

I hang around for a moment assessing their safety—wondering whether their bodies draped across the aisle will bother anyone—and then wander to a nearby magazine display filled with glossy art & design and travel covers. I take in the exquisite images—minimalist living rooms with flourishing, lavender orchids, photo ops of celebrities at art openings and fashion week, rugged, backpacking getaways to faraway places—take only what you’ll need.

I imagine purchasing a few, tearing out the most appealing photos and creating a collage of what I hope is yet to come—acknowledging the paradoxical desire I possess for both a deepening-connection with my fellow humans and a simultaneous extraction from the relentless connectivity of modern life.

Recently Jonah was exploring the webpage Google Earth. We were having a discussion about the Dalai Lama and we opened the program because I wanted to show him where Tibet was located on a map. He took the little, yellow-person icon from the right corner of the screen and dropped it into the mountainous region to the northeast of India. When the frame opened-up to a satellite view we saw the image of two backpacks lying on a mountain peak—the shadows of two hikers hovering over the packs as captured by a lens in space.

It illustrated so succinctly a symbolic form for the places and manner in which I would still like to go. It captured the dream of unplugged connection.

Walking away from the magazine isle empty-handed and toward a display table, I thought about the deceptive-promise of a polished life. I thought about how so-much of what I value and what has made life meaningful to me could be interpreted as too-ordinary—too-messy, or even too-traumatic—to be depicted as something to aspire to as a benchmark on the pathway to greater contentment.

I also contemplated what it means to weigh the desire-for-more against a backward-trust-fall-into-the-moment—brothers lying on the floor-of-a-store turning pages on a September afternoon between appointments tipping the scales heavily.

I like to believe that we have the opportunity in life to grow through joyful expressions and experiences—that we might remember our divinity without having to pass through a doorway of pain. And yet, some of the most challenging experiences of my life have propelled me infinitely farther into my capacity for compassion than any of the chapters graced with ease.

It is unusual for me to buy three books for myself at once, especially when they each explore—from diverse perspectives—the topic of personal-evolution, although I am almost always reading something in this genre.

I was sucked-in by the circular sticker on the front cover promising that if I bought two, I would receive a third book for free—a bibliophile’s extra donut in the baker’s dozen.

Deciding to purchase the one with the sticker was an obvious choice. I had read one of Brené Brown’s other works and was a believer in her stepping-into-the-arena message.

Her research and the book I had read were inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s thoughts on celebrating the brave few who expose themselves to vulnerability through expressions of their most daring, truest works—regardless of outcome—while unmasking the critics who cast judgement from the sidelines.

Reading Daring Greatly helped me to begin telling the truth of my experiences and showed me how-to-know who could be entrusted with those personal discoveries. This book invited me to live and create at a level that was measured by my own criteria and not by the model of the masses.

I had never connected with the fact that Brené Brown was from Texas—a place for which I have complex feelings—and I-for-certain had no-idea I would be in the Lone Star State anytime soon and specifically in her city, Houston.

The second book I chose was sitting in clearly the wrong spot in front of Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth—one of the most transformative reads of my life. Someone had obviously picked the book up, decided against it and put it back incorrectly on the wrong shelf.

I followed-suit, picking it up and placing it back down again several times—in hesitation— wondering why Eckhart Tolle hadn’t written anything new, anyway.

One of his brilliant books would have been an easier selection.

I was both weary of the subject matter—wanting so much to sink-into this lifetime—and somehow feeling like the book wouldn’t let me leave without its presence in my hand. I had read another title more than fifteen years ago by the same author—a psychiatrist who utilizes past-life-regression to assist people in overcoming obstacles in their lives. He was a Columbia University and Yale Medical School graduate who had risked his credibility in order to explore an esoteric path that lead to his blossoming life and the healing of many people.

Some explain away the idea of experiences from past-lifetimes impacting our current lives as illusions created by the subconscious mind. Even so, I found this author’s first book compelling—especially relating to the feeling of having a deeper knowledge of some people beyond our current, shared life-experiences.

I remember once meeting someone for the first time and the thought immediately coming to my mind—Oh, there you are.

I succumbed and added the book to my pile.

The third choice was a less-complicated selection—recommended by a woman whom I admire and who recently lost her dearest friend to cancer. She has been utilizing the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu in their Book of Joy to wade through her grief.

I stumbled upon a talk given by the Dalai Lama in Central Park in New York City in the summer of 1999. Although I was on the very outside of the many rows encasing him, his simple message of compassion and impermanence—his gentle presence and wisdom—has stayed with me.

I was eager to learn from him again.

At the check-out there was a plentiful display of candy and tchotchkes and the news that my particular book choices did not qualify for the sale mentioned on the sticker.

I felt like I was playing a game of whac-a-mole with Jonah and Adrian—keeping their hands away from the many tempting treats and toys as I chatted with the cashier about the confusion over the sale.

I shrugged off the full-price status of my purchase and gathered my books along with a stack I had bought for the boys.

The expansive parking lot and the inside of my car radiated heat as we climbed back in—Jonah and Adrian finding a good spot for their books in the seat between them while I tucked mine on the floor beside me.

Labor Day Weekend and one-final, end-of-summer getaway were on the horizon.

All was well.

 

** Due to the lengthy nature of this story and the desire to do justice to the nuances, I’ve decided to break it up into a few installments. I hope you will enjoy my journey through these three books and the way they spoke-to and supported me during a difficult time caring for my mother who is struggling with a sudden illness. Thank you for any good thoughts of healing you might send her way.

 

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“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”—Loren Eiseley

The sky is rumbling—ever-so-slightly and then boorishly—a steady, sonorous rain falling placidly, spread thin through lush, velvety-green, pine branches, landing upon lavender flower petals then making its way to the ground—drunk up by a thirsty earth grown parched from endless days of summer’s swelter.

The resting Buddha’s chalky-white surface transforms in the garden—gradually revealing itself as the wet, clay sculpture of its inception. I am reminded of a recent attempt to position Jonah and Adrian there next to the Buddha for a photograph marking their first day of school—to include the statue as one of my own, between the two of them.

They insisted on hiding her from the sight of the lens and sitting on her head and teasing me while I begged them to move to either side of her, laughing and finally giving up.

They love nothing more than to turn my attempts at keeping them in some-sort-of-order into bubbling amusement—sometimes my eyes will change from serious to lit-up, along with the hint of a smile, in response to their innocent preference for fun and antics. Jonah—especially—revels in pointing out this shift.

It makes me smile, now, thinking about them. Remembering all of the many ways they challenge me—the way they still need me and yet covet their burgeoning independence like a shiny, precious jewel nestled in a little pouch within their heart-space—pulsing out the colors and rhythms of their lives—Jonah in his graceful, cerulean dance with destiny, Adrian marching forth, staff in hand, grounded and golden.

Seagull feathers from countless days of beach-combing are scattered about the front porch—wide spaces flare outward between the curling, silvery barbs. I admire their gnarly appeal—textured and engrossing in their imperfection and think about the stark contrast of these castaways with the delicate plume that I keep in my car with its smooth surface and intricate design.

I rubbed it across my cheek recently in comparison, experiencing its softness and considering how-on-earth the thick and sturdy quill could ever have been attached to an actual bird.

I used to have a rule for myself that I must submerge my being in any body of water I came across. With the exception of New York Harbor and the East River—when I lived near these two heavily-trafficked and perhaps less-than-cleanly waterways—this held true for nearly a decade.

It didn’t matter the season or the temperature or the circumstances, although, I was no member of a Polar Bear Club.

I viewed the presence of water—of rivers and ponds and lakes and especially the ocean—as evidence of the miraculous. I thought of them as sacred spaces infused with a higher energy that could only be manifested by an intelligent, creative consciousness.

I especially felt drawn to saltwater and while a dip-in-a-lake could feel nice there was nothing that could quite compare to the presence of salt left-gritty on the surface of my skin—the stickiness of its residence in my hair, the remnants of its grounding force upon my heart.

It felt like a violation of my soul to pass up the opportunity to make contact with something that felt so holy. I rarely articulated anything like this to anyone around me. I was just a free-spirit—a wild child—with a rose-colored, magic bag and an extra set of clothes wherever I went.

I didn’t always swim but I always got in—at least up to my knees or thighs if I could hike a skirt up. Living in the northeast, it meant many experiences diving into frigid liquid and then quickly reemerging—breathless from the cold.

I especially loved the way icy water would make my heart race—like I’d just run a marathon but without all of the effort. It always felt worthwhile, as if I had stroked a wild animal across the forehead.

I cannot remember the exact moment in which I allowed this self-imposed directive to fall away, although I do know it at least in-part had to do with the discomfort of changing diapers, cold and shivering, in a wet bathing suit. To be clear, I did still go into water—especially warm water—but I had become more timid, more motherly about it.

I imagine it must have been a gradual release to have let-go-of something so intrinsic to who I was in those years.

That usually is the way of change—over time, slowly, the manner in which we proceed through life, transforms us.

We become something new—without even knowing it.

In Maine, the beaches vary greatly in their qualities and substance. If you’ve seen one, you have not seen them all.

There is one beach I’ve long considered a favorite that appears like a desert in its breadth of sand. I ventured there often when Jonah and Adrian were pre-school age—this was before I discovered the closer path to the shoreline. I would layer-up with a backpack and our lunches and blankets and buckets—and sometimes even Adrian up on my hip—and trudge like a camel slowly across the football-field length of sand shouting out encouragement to Jonah who lagged behind me with his wave board on a string.

We’re almost there!

The destination tide pool appeared like a mirage in the distance.

The beauty there is vast and will take your breath away in the late afternoon when the sun dips down and the water mirrors light—like glass—and your child walks silhouetted back to the car.

Another beach—across the bridge where enormous Navy ships are constructed—has large rolling waves, long stretches of soft, white sand lined with sun-bleached driftwood and a frigid lagoon with a current running through it. It seems like you might be able to ride the current like a water-slide but it’s an illusion and just beneath the surface are a path of jagged rocks.

There are beaches with large collections of shells and some with extremely shiny, vibrant stones. There are even beaches that feel like lakes with higher water temperatures and only the slightest sound of lapping-water on the shore.

In the last weeks before the start of school it was tempting to begin counting down—to get organized—to shop and re-establish a bedtime routine. I decided to forgo almost all of that. I recognized the call of my spirit to instead prepare for the coming, colder months and the more in-breath existence with one last monumental outbreath and the application of a thick layer of salt and warmth on the many sheaths of me.

I decided that Jonah and Adrian would benefit from the same.

We managed to traverse one beach or another for a long stretch of days in a row—doing the work of packing and driving and loading and unloading the car and piling sandy towels and bathing suits into the washing machine late into the night only to rise and do just the same the following day.

On the first of those days—ears all-filled-up with the long-summer sounds of bantering brothers—I strolled alone down a nearly empty stretch of sand re-discovering my breath and sweeping away the debris that had been building in my body and mind.

As I walked, I noticed the spaces within me—especially within my chest—expanding and my tanned, bare feet sinking more deeply into the soft, warm sand.

I stopped occasionally to notice where I was exactly—in a magnificent place on an incredible planet.

I watched Jonah and Adrian in the distance—marionettes leaping along the water’s edge. Strolling back, I bent down every now-and-then to collect a feather—this beach particularly full of them.

Finally reaching Jonah and Adrian, I told them I was coming in.

The water couldn’t have been more that 50-something degrees as is common in some parts of Maine. I inched my way in—icy cold waves meeting me at the shins, then the waist. My sons beckoned me to jump in more quickly—balking at my trepidation. I lifted my ribcage up long and away from the waves, stood on my tippy-toes trying to put off the inevitable chill and then suddenly—realizing the futility of my efforts—I dove into the crest of a large wave. The powerful swirl of water curled over me, pulling at my bathing suit and elevating my heart rate fast. Emerging, I could taste salt on my lips as I struggled to stand up—readjusting my suit and looking to make sure my boys were safe.

I was both incredibly aware of the frigid water and in some ways not experiencing it at all.

I was in it but not fully succumbing to its numbing potential. The shivers would come later.

Sometimes at night, I will put my hand on Jonah’s chest and ask him how his heart is. It’s my way of inquiring whether he feels the need to close-himself-off to this sometimes-harsh world.

I massage my hand quickly back and forth across his chest as if I could vibrate away any pain he might be experiencing in living.

Being tossed about in the waves felt like someone had done that to me—like they had shaken my heart free from all that was gripping it.

Driving home the car was quiet—Jonah engrossed in a book, Adrian gazing out the window.

I didn’t know then that I would be drawn into the sea again-and-again in a series of saltwater baptisms at each of the many beach-outings we made in the coming days. I am less inclined at this point in my life to make hard-and-fast rules for myself and so in that moment I was only aware of that single, nourishing communion with the waves and it, alone, was enough.

The fields of goldenrod lining the seagrass marshes on the road home seemed to glow in the path of diminishing light and the occasional tall bursts of ironweed splashed their vibrant-purple hues across the landscape like an end-of-summer firework finale.

 

 

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“O Joy! that in our embers is something that doth live.” —William Wordsworth

Driven from the woods by a well-meaning park ranger warning of the brown tail moths shedding their meddlesome hairs along the coast of Maine this season, I find myself now at a picnic bench in a farm field.

I’m looking out at a fenced pasture, peppered with yellow flowers—buttercups, I think—contained, yet empty except for a light blue tractor in the distance making its way back and forth across the landscape in some seasonal chore. The Casco Bay stretches out behind me just beyond a thick row of trees so that I cannot view this favorite, rocky spot where I sometimes come with my boys to skip rocks and take them in as they test their courage and agility.

The air is warm and thick—welcoming to the black flies that bother my face every now and then. The birds are deep in boisterous conversation and suddenly they quiet all at once as if in acknowledgement of some other presence listening on. One particular bird—a Yellow-headed Blackbird, I think—has the most to say and sounds almost robotic in his delivery. I could sit all day trying to decipher their messages, the individual meaning of these numinous sounds in my midst.

A few weeks back my friend was grieving. A group gathered at her home. It was a day most unlike this one. It was quite cool and drizzling rain. Maine can be so changing like that—most places can be. When I arrived, there was a small bonfire being tended out back. There was plentiful food in the kitchen, people speaking in lower tones than they normally would in our friend’s home. I spent some time inside and then gradually found my way out to the blazing fire.

The yard sits on the cusp of a wooded area surrounded by sprawling trees—some are alive and thriving—mostly Pines. Others are long dead and remain like towering sculptures—like art—stretching up into the sky. There was a pile of twigs and branches, bark and weathered logs just beyond the edge of the yard being drawn from and placed onto the bonfire keeping it going and the heavy moisture in the air at bay.

I joined in readily, finding my place in tending to the heat—the heart— of this place that remains within each of us even in our suffering. With each piece of wood that I added, each ember I stoked, I began tending to the spirit of my friend and to her home and family. Some of the children were barefooted despite the cool temperatures. I took in the nature of their soiled feet, the freedom they had in this company to just be. Many of them had found a stick to do their very own tending and roasting, unaware of the matter at hand.

The rain came down more strongly at times and then dissipated again, resting in a mist. I wasn’t particularly well-clothed for the conditions but I felt very, very warm and at peace. I had a hood, but kept it down, wanting to feel the dampness on my hair and face. It felt just right to be there keeping the fire going. I could have stood there well into the night.

A few years ago, my husband decided to have a large, old stump ground out of our yard. He made the arrangements without my knowing. He had no idea how much I loved that old stump! I mourned its departure, my heart sinking when I looked at the empty space where it had been. To me, it had been breathing. It had been a memory of something from long ago. It was just beautiful.

My husband was so sorry when he realized. A large circle of sawdust remained in our yard where it had been, never filling in with grass—as if in protest, the tree still grasping to be a part of this life.

A few days after the gathering at my friend’s home, and on the last day of school for my children, I began lining the circle of dust where the stump had been with rocks, creating an impromptu fire pit suited for the blustery day. I felt a little anxious about starting a fire with the gusts that were coming across the shoreline and through our yard.

Jonah and Adrian were deep in play out front. Occasionally they would run in their bare feet into the back checking in on me and noting my progress. When I was finally ready to start the fire, I asked Jonah what he thought—whether he thought it was safe to light a fire in the wind. He is still so young—only, seven—and yet, I trust his instincts about so many things. He thought it would be ok and so did I, ultimately, so I set forth in creating a tiny, slowly burning blaze and tending to it so that it was just big enough so we could roast marshmallows.

I ended up sitting by that simmering fire for hours and hours, gazing at the orange and crimson embers. At times it would get a little scary with the wind kicking up. I would pile a few small logs on to keep the ashes down.

I sat and I contemplated the tending of my own inner fire, of my own heart and all that I hold within me as sacred. There are so many dreams, so many sorrows, so much joy and love resting right in there in the center of me to be kept tenderly in a steady glow.

Strangely—or not strangely at all—it has begun raining here in this field as I have been writing and I have moved into the back of my car with only the hatchback covering me. The climate of my life—of all of our lives—is always changing. Whatever the weather, I plan to keep tending, to keep nourishing that which is golden and glowing within me. I plan to keep stoking the fire so that I might always stay good and warm.

 

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“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” —Louisa May Alcott

I’ve just come off of another breathtaking weekend with the brave and beautiful souls in my yoga teacher training. I’m still in my pjs curled up in a blanket on the couch though it is nearing noon. My kitty Autumn is sprawled out on our ottoman giving herself a bath with my legs stretched out beside her. Every few moments if I glance at her, she will stop her bathing and stare back at me with her sparkly green eyes—like a human. A drizzly, foggy landscape is to my right through our glass doors—our back porch seeming as if it were just painted with a thin coat of water glazing the grey, wooden boards. Chip Hartranft’s nuanced translation of The Yoga Sutra is sitting next to me, and my day calendar, too—nearly overflowing with the many activities and commitments to come in the weeks before summer’s arrival. My energy is still buzzing inside from the flood of information I received both from Chip himself as our guest teacher this weekend as well as from my very own inner teacher who showed up ready to witness as well. Sometimes I feel that I have come so far in my inner unfolding. Other times it seems that I have only just begun. I looked on with curiosity at what Chip decided to write in my book when he offered to sign my copy. “To Meghan, A new friend on this pathless path,” he wrote. At first, I couldn’t quite make out the word “pathless” in his inscription—the “a” only very lightly recorded, almost skipped over. When I did finally connect with what he had shared, his words resonated deeply with this sensation of having traveled far and having just begun—like the paradox of pure-awareness with its description of having no qualities at all.

Although I feel deeply joyful and immensely grateful this morning, I have been thinking about grief. On Sunday, there was a yoga class offered before our training would begin. Knowing that we would be sitting for many hours I felt compelled to attend the class, to interact with the soreness in my body that I felt from the previous day and clear my mind—making room for more input of the dense information in our studies. Leading the class was a teacher I had never met. He had trained with one of my teachers and so his way was somewhat familiar and very precise. He was warm and kind but very much offered a blank slate in his teaching. I was able to fall deeply into a meditative experience of my practice dropping my eyes closed and nearly forgetting there were others in the room—my breath became long and far reaching, the gripping I felt around my heart for leaving my boys on a Sunday began uncurling. It was a strenuous practice with a focus on hip and heart openings. Our hips being the primary home of historical pain, the heart the place where we retract when love feels withheld, I might have known what was to come.

We were nearing the end of our practice, my mind was still. Lying on our backs, the lights were dimmed. I noticed a space in the back of my throat begin to soften and tears slowly heating up and coming to the corner of my eyes, my face felt very full and warm. My heart seemed to grow larger and larger like a belt buckle was being undone from having been tightened around it. Waves of energy passed through me and I allowed them to arrive like a gushing river through a dam being opened knowing its way straight to the sea. I wasn’t thinking about anything or feeling sad, I was just allowing these ancient energies that I no longer needed to hold to come through me like a storm—though it wasn’t violent at all. I was perfectly quiet in all of this. It was incredibly freeing to let go and in the end there was one image that came before me. In my mind’s eye, I experienced a thin layer of glittery dusty rain falling away from my body and there grounded on the yoga mat in the silent studio, I could feel the dust settle around me and be absorbed right up by the earth beneath me in its infinite wisdom.