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“Being must be felt. It can’t be thought.”—Eckhart Tolle

Upon our descent the airplane tilted the left wing sharply earthward—our bodies shifting off balance in our narrow seats. Across the aisle we caught a glimpse of the Maine landscape, the fields and forests splashed in white and russet brown. The stark-white sheets of snow had melted or been washed away, now only intermittently splattering the trees and rooftops and the rocky coastline like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Peering out the far window, I tucked my book partially under my leg so as not to forget it. Its orange cover was worn, the pages yellowing with many of the corners bent from years of re-reading. The topic—inner spaciousness—breathed through me emphatically as we as we surged to the ground.

Driving home—despite the single-digit temperature and our thin clothing—Jonah said it felt like fall and then he shouted-out, suddenly remembering his snow-fort in the front yard and fearing its demise. Once I realized his howling was not from injury, I assured him that it would take a long while for the snow in our yard to melt entirely—which turned out to be true, in the front at least.

In the back, a damp and grassy ground had become visible beneath the new, circular swing and all around it. It feels more like spring than fall to me with the sudden accessibility of tree roots and the coffee-colored puddles.

Just a few weeks ago, I tried the swing out myself, with a vigorous push from the boys and then a leap off into the snowy padding below.

I felt so alive in the clutches of the cold, rocketing toward the pink-streaked sky at dusk.

The fire pit is still covered in an icy mix. I’m tempted to clear it out and build a fire with the dry wood stacked in the garage. It takes time to feel grounded again. Building a fire allows a weight in me to be regained, stirring the embers steadies the stirrings within me. The heat melts away the high-vibration cells in motion.

By tomorrow, the ground will be covered again. All evidence of the raw verdancy witnessed today will be blanketed over with the return of winter’s firm habitation in these parts—a clean palette dropped down from the heavens like a curtain unfurled in a midnight meeting with the new moon.

In a café this morning, I looked around for where the light might be streaming in and ended up in a cozy spot in the back. I thought about all of the ways light shows up in various scenes of living—in my home, in the places I go—how it feels heating my hair, my skin, the way it can shine on a face or create shadows that only draws a greater—more powerful—emphasis on its presence.

Looking for the light made long days with babies and small children less lonely and forged a fruitful pathway to deeper seeing. Discovering the light again and again has had a way of establishing me into the present moment and vindicating my right to be there at my own slow—even glacial—pace.

While I was reading the café seemed to fill up and overflow with ebullient conversation. The space was mostly filled with university students and some of their parents. I gazed across the room and my eyes were drawn to a man who appeared to be a father with his son. For some reason—I don’t know why—the father captivated my attention.

I felt a spaciousness growing in me as I took him in, my thoughts falling away.

He was looking at his son as he ate—his eyes just slightly lit up. I noticed his attributes. I was far enough away that he had no idea I was looking so intently at him.

Finally, I looked away and my attention was drawn more near to a table of women and girls. One girl talked in a lively way. I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Her hair was long, her face round and youthful. Everyone was listening.

I felt myself landing more deeply into my body as I sat observing all of the people in the room, none of them noticing me. I looked down at my book and read on.

In one of the airports there was a courtyard in which a pianist played. We settled into a couple of the rocking chairs beneath a row of trees. I asked Jonah if he thought the trees were real. We looked down and saw that they were planted right into a square space that had been carved out of the concrete and filled with real soil.

We agreed the trees were alive and envisioned a vehicle coming around watering each of them. It was hard to imagine that so many would be watered by hand.

As I sat rocking—as if on a front porch—people of every, single variety, in every shape and pigmentation, flooded by in a colorful stream of hearts beating, blood traveling, cells dividing.

It is compelling to look on and observe the way the brow reflects thought—denser thinking and worries tugging it inward, lighter contemplation or expanding awareness drawing it outward. I can feel it in myself.

I could almost hear some of their thoughts shouting out—like fireworks set-off from their skin. Others emanated a peaceful equanimity—a waterfall of goodwill pouring off in a gentle flow.

They talked and talked and talked, then waited for their turn to talk again. Others had learned to listen—to really listen to hear and to understand. I could see it in their eyes.

I contemplated the significance of each person in all of their consciousness and unconsciousness, in all of the intricacies of their very own, unique lives. Not one of them deserved less than the others.

I am so taken with humanity and the many ways that people go about living. We are here to learn from each other. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Tonight Jonah and Adrian—unusually—went to bed at the same time. I was lying with Adrian in his bed rubbing his back when Jonah said he heard something. I told him it was the music downstairs.

He got up and cracked the door open to listen. I heard more loudly the gentle beat of the kirtan.

He came over to Adrian’s bed and tried to squeeze in with us.

“I wish all three of us could fit.”

I rubbed his leg that had made it onto the edge of the mattress reassuringly and then he went back to his bed.

Adrian said that he was having a scary thought.

I expressed that he was safe and offered to help him find his way out of the thought.

I invited him to follow my breath with me.

My hand was on his back so I could feel his breathing pattern become elongated as I began to become more conscious in my own breath.

After a couple of moments I suggested that he take a pause at the top of his breath and then again on the exhale. I demonstrated with my own breathing.

Some time passed.

I noticed with my hand that his breathing had become very slow, almost imperceptible.

I experienced my own thoughts softening—the planning and imagining falling away.

I relaxed into being right there with him—my palm on his soft skin, my brow relaxed.

Adrian fast asleep.

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“And now we welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been.”— Rilke

The temperatures have dipped into the negative teens these last few days in Maine. With wet hair, I walked briefly outside this morning and within moments felt my hair stiffen into frozen, wavy strands. I ran my fingers along the rigid tresses, grabbing little sections into my still-warm palm, melting the ice crystals and making it soft again.

Before that I had been sweaty and warm practicing eagle pose in a heated yoga studio. It is a paradoxical posture that requires a twisting of both arms and legs around each other within a balancing framework and somehow has the affect of unwinding the mind. All wound up like that—gazing intently at the striped towel on the mat in front of me and arriving in a steady stance—an unexpected sense of freedom came over me. I wanted to stay right there in that tangled place.

It was as if I had been transported within myself to a precipice, ready to fly.

The roads are dusty with the disintegrating sand and salt leftover from the recent storm. The wind gusts and ribbons of snow are whisked from the drifts and cast thinly through the air—like ghosts. Back windshields of cars are hard to see through this time of year but I glimpse in one the outline of a dog frolicking about. I can see his silhouette jumping—joyful. I wish I could gather him up into my arms in an embrace.

On a dresser in our front hallway there is a stack of feathers that we’ve collected at beaches and in fields, state parks and along dirt roads. I often take them in as I pass by to go upstairs. There is one particular feather that I am most drawn to that was spotted and picked up last summer by my younger son, Adrian. Lagging behind he discovered it and just afterward fell into the mud.

The feather is long with a sturdy quill and distinct black and white markings. When I walk by, I sometimes realign it into its prettiest position.

I noticed it wasn’t on the dresser and asked if anyone had seen it. Adrian said he had been playing with it because it was his and recounted the story of how he had discovered it on his own and then ended up holding it above him in the air, safe from the mud.

I later found it among the copious Legos on the ledge by the fireplace. Our living room is strewn with these genius, rectangular modules that have my children in their grasp. The dining table is covered as well in torn papers and colorful palettes, my own obsession underway. It’s like a storm has blown through our house leaving a slew of multicolored design materials cast about in its wake.

It is an exquisite looking feather—one that might have been used as a quill pen in another era. I wanted to preserve it and saw that Adrian had been running this fingers up and down it creating greater space between the barbs. He liked the feel of it and I tried to imagine how he had managed to take it from the dresser. He must have been high up on his toes or maybe he climbed up on a chair to reach it.

We had never thought to study its markings and learn where it came from. Its size suggested that it belonged to a large bird—perhaps a bird of prey. Adrian’s original guess was that it had belonged to an osprey. We began researching various feathers and initially it seemed like it could have belonged to any of a group of larger birds; osprey, peregrine falcon, eagle or even a turkey.

Upon deeper inspection, we began to recognize the subtleties of its makeup. My older son Jonah insisted quickly that the feather belonged to an eagle based on what he saw. Adrian was more studied in his approach and wanted to take his time with deciding.

I was reminded of my own natural tendency to rely heavily on instinct and inner-knowing as the compass that guides me and also how making space for deeper observation and contemplation has confirmed what I know to be true.

The first time we saw the bald eagle out back it was a barefoot day—vastly different from today’s bitter chill. Jonah spotted it first and called out with elation as it swooped over the tallest pines and we caught intermittent glimpses of the wide wingspan through the branches.

We ran down to the dock—breathless in our excitement—as it swooped majestically through the clear, summer sky over the water. It seemed so near. We could fully make out its yellow beak and the distinctive white feathers of its head. After that we began cutting out the images of bald eagles from magazines and wildlife calendars and adopting them as significant to us.

In the years since, a large nest has appeared in a distant, mighty pine that sits on a point of land that juts out into the water at a diagonal from our dock. I often gaze out to that spot at dawn in meditation.

Though clearly having settled near us, we only rarely get a chance to experience the ravishing display of these stunning beasts. Their presence has grown more common in this area once again, yet their impression remains momentous.

My alarm chimes before the sun has risen. It is still dark out, the bed cozy. I don’t always want to get up. I always do. I pull on my layers and drift down the hallway noticing the moon spreading a glow across the yard, enhanced in these months by the reflection of snow.

Jonah and Adrian’s room is right at the top of the stairway where we still have a baby gate installed. I lock the gate at night as a precaution because of my own experience as a sleepwalking child. I once awakened alone in the garage of my childhood home and fear that Adrian has the same tendency. Once I found him sitting at the top of the stairs with his eyes open—but clearly asleep.

Sometimes I open the gate quietly to pass through in these dawn hours. Other times—feeling nimble—I silently climb over it like a robber in wool socks. As I pass by their room and navigate the gate, I am careful not to think of them—especially Adrian. If I do—our hearts so intertwined—they will awaken.

I have roughly one hour before their door will crack open and the stairs will creak and they will sleepily make their way down in their striped pajama bottoms.

I soak in the quiet like an elixir. I allow the parts of me that are not associated with my identity to expand like a vast wave wiping out the various contractions that this world—and I—have placed upon myself.

I nudge judgment out and wrap myself up instead in the tender arms of acceptance.

Their entrance is a signal for the practice to end and the application to begin. In their purity in these peaceful moments, they make it easy. I might forget throughout the day but I always come back to seeing them for what they are in their somnolent innocence.

They approach me in such different ways.

Adrian—the earlier riser—climbs and cuddles into my lap, still half-asleep, pushing my journal away. Despite his desire to keep resting, he can’t help himself and begins talking, peeling his eyes open and blinking away the sleep. He has a distinct smell when he’s just awakened—like cookies. I breathe deeply taking him in and smile at his rapid speech—like his words are running to keep up with his thoughts.

Jonah approaches more quietly and tucks himself in next to me. I take in his cherubic face trying not to break the silence. There is much to be said between us in the quiet.

Often our collective gaze turns outward toward the wall of windowed doors that look out at our tucked away cove revealing a constant state of change. We might comment on what we see—glimpses of color in the morning sky, a glow lining the tops of trees in the distance, a boat or swimmer or clammer.

In the fall we were nested together in this way on the couch when suddenly—like a scene from a nature program— a bald eagle swooped down across the water and dove for an unassuming duck floating on the still water. We all jumped to attention entranced by the unexpected scene. Adrian ran and got his little chair and pulled it up by the glass doors.

Frantic, the duck managed to completely submerge itself and dodge the eagle’s grasp.

The eagle retreated up into the sky for a moment and as soon as the duck reemerged, it dove down again fiercely. It was another near miss for the duck. We watched as the eagle flew back to its nest wondering whether it was lying in wait or had given up.

We sat for a long time in anticipation of the continuation of the saga. We hadn’t chosen sides. We only wanted to see what would happen.

The duck disappeared for a little while and finally we saw it pop up in another spot entirely. The eagle had seen it too—immediately—and came lunging toward it.

Amazingly the duck got away once again and the eagle retreated back up to its nest. We stared out into the bay for another long stretch wondering what might happen next but the drama never did resume.

I was sitting by the fire when Adrian came up behind me and tucked the feather into the back of my ponytail. I reached my hand around to feel it and make sure it was secure. I ran my fingers gently along the barbs.

A little while later, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and noticed it poking out like a simple headdress.

I removed it and placed it on another table—now upstairs— along with a collection of other precious finds—smooth oval stones and large, powder pink ribbed seashells.

I arranged it out in front of the other treasures—in that pretty way again—and headed back downstairs where the rooms are full of so many things yet to be made.

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“Beautify your breath—beautify your life” —Amit Ray

It is the morning after my five day immersion in a barn-studio in rural Maine, learning more about yoga—about becoming a teacher of this ancient tradition. It is the morning after a soul’s journey into deeper noticing of the ways in which the mind works, of observing more closely the manners in which our bodies compensate when faced with the stretching and tugging of life’s mighty grip upon our spines, our limbs, our hearts. It is the morning after sitting in the company of a community of souls—each one exquisitely themselves, each one unfolding their life’s path with courage—moment by moment by every single important moment. The wind is gusting outside fiercely—my home responding with creaking, the windows even are shuddering. The gusts are long and breathy and sumptuous seeming like they might never finish this deep and blustery exhale. The snow is like powdered sugar being danced across the landscape in thick, rapid sheets before me.

One of my teachers says she can see a mother coming from a mile away. She recognizes them in their too stretched shoulders, their forward tilt. I suspect she knows them energetically as well with their increased tendency to give, their ability to notice the untended needs of others. When describing this recognition, she talks about all that mothers give—their milk, their comfort, their everything—she says so aptly. She is not a mother, but knows the body well—dedicated to a study and understanding of anatomy and proper alignment. She called me to the front of our practice studio demonstrating to the group these characteristics living in me. I am the poster-child for these rounded shoulders and forward tilted hips. As she makes an adjustment to my body—drawing my shoulders up and then back—my neck is suddenly offered relief from its constant overwork.

I am remembering rocking in a pale blue chair in the corner of Adrian’s room when he was a baby still—the shades are drawn. A deeper noticing is coming alive in me with his silky skin so near—a sliver of light shining through a crack in the shade landing on his soft arms, illuminating him like an angel. I must have bended forward into Jonah’s crib one thousand times—gazing down at the blue whales with their red spouts on his sheets, rubbing his back into sleep. Leaning into both of my children is what I have done these last years and have every ounce been rewarded. Another mother in our group later shares that tears sprung forth in her when she witnessed this demonstration of my being brought back into my more optimal shape—relating not just as a mother, but as a woman as well. I too know that this pattern of curling forward runs deeper than motherhood alone. It is indeed the posture of profound giving, and it is also the posture of protecting the heart, the posture of shrinking, the posture of remaining unseen. Pulling my shoulders back into their proper alignment, I notice the way that a space is created in which my lungs might fully expand. I feel like I can breathe into all corners of my being like never before.

It’s evening now and I am sitting on the edge of Jonah’s bed, holding his hand as he begins to quiet into sleep. He’s seven now and independent in so many ways. He’s very physical and silly and loud at times. He can get wrapped up in a building or a book or some digging. And yet—so like when he was a baby—he struggles to ground himself at night for sleep and so I often still help him with my presence. Tonight he is afraid of what might be lurking behind his closest door. I remember feeling that way as a child and muster compassion for him. I sometimes still feel that way even now and make certain that my closet door is fully closed before sleep. Despite the desire to be finished, I stay with him and sit on the edge of his bed. He takes my hand and wraps his fingers in mine precisely—wanting to be held just so. I allow him to guide me and I am thinking about an exercise we experienced in our training in which we closed our eyes—palms pressed together with a partner—noticing the subtle push and pull between us. There is an energy that gathers between two bodies touching. I whisper to Jonah about his inner gaze offering that he might rest his attention on the space between his eyes. I suggest he follow his breath between his abdomen and this expansive place. I am sharing with him about how this is a special pathway to his contentment and how some spend a lifetime trying to discover it. I am sitting and my legs are crossed and I am hunched forward leaning toward him—my hand is wrapped in his, resting on his chest—observing him as his breath lengthens and he begins to fall peacefully into sleep. His chest is wide open, his lungs are filling up completely. I can feel his heart beating against my palm.

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“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” —Rabindranath Tagore

In this season, the birds awaken so early, beginning their morning song a good hour before our household stretches its sleepy limbs. I’ve been listening to their song and heard them clearly this morning—the door to our bedroom kept ajar in the night. Lingering in the space between sleep and wakefulness, I experienced their chirping coming to life and then my bigger boy Jonah called out to me from his room down the hallway. I jumped up quickly and went to him trying to ensure that he didn’t wake our littler boy Adrian with whom he shares a room. It is a big job protecting these two birds from each other, soothing over ruffled feathers and quieting the squawking when one has seized a valuable find from the other. “It’s so cold in here!” Jonah exclaimed as he stumbled into our room still half-asleep. I suggested he crawl under the covers quickly and from the swagger in his walk I knew he would be back to sleep in no time. It seemed much later than it was and I was surprised when I looked at the clock and saw that we had more than an hour before we needed to rise for the boys’ first day of camp. I had just drifted back to sleep when I heard Adrian call out. I glanced over at Jonah and saw that he was soundly sleeping again. Even as he grows quickly into his more mature six year old self, his face still appears like an angel when he sleeps—his lips full and pink, his skin so smooth with cheeks still slightly rounded. He seems younger than he is under the big fluffy white comforter. I pull back the covers quickly and head back down the hall to Adrian—this time trying to protect Jonah’s sleep. Adrian asks for me to lay with him and I crawl into his tiny twin bed. It is toasty warm there and a luxury to curl up next to his still, little body. He is coming into his four year old being with the speed of a bullet train and the stealth of a ninja. And so this moment of calm is that much more treasured.

A few summers ago, our family ventured out on a three-hour whale watching excursion launched from a dock in Portland, ME. The “before” picture is a favorite of mine with a special aunt and uncle journeying along with us, the sun shining down and smiles across the board. The boys look so small—Jonah with a wide brimmed sun hat and Adrian decked out in a plaid shirt, tucked into my arms. Shortly after leaving the Casco Bay we found ourselves out in the deeper sea on a vessel spouting heavy fumes and with the gait of a slow-motion, bucking bronco. It wasn’t long before I found myself in the boat’s tiny bathroom with Jonah where he was loosing his lunch and my head was spinning.  Adrian was draped over my husband’s slumped shoulder escaping his nausea and this tumultuous situation through a deep and abiding sleep. Our relatives were stoic but now donning gray complexions. The whales were elusive and the minutes were counted until we would return to shore. We all envied Adrian in his slumber and the sip of Ginger Ale from a kind stranger was a life saver. The photograph at the end of the journey would have been a very different one than the one that was taken at the start! I have found myself recently in this same place of enduring some of the things that life has thrown my way, of counting the moments, of holding on until the waves have settled and we may come safely back to shore.  I am heartened by our ability to share this story of our excursion with such laughter now and of our dream of still owning a boat one day.

I attended my first yoga class in New York City in the 1990’s. I remember looking up from a congested Manhattan avenue and noticing the fluid, muslin curtains draping the sprawling windows of the second floor. I remember the start of my practice, of comparing myself of being somewhat outward-focused. Last summer, I was able to begin a more consistent, deeper practice at a studio that opened near my home here in Maine. I find myself now in class often with my eyes closed heavily, my attention drawn deeply inward. I find myself lingering in the spaces within me, strengthening my ability to be with the varying sensations that arise as we travel the asanas sometimes holding for longer and longer periods of time. I notice the way that anchoring in my breath and feeling my way around the many facets of my being, I am able to witness the rise and fall of these sensations. There in the wake, I find myself in peace and I find myself growing stronger.

 

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