The Radiant Deep

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Fresh Air Musings

Last night I opened my window for only the second time in a month, since lightning strikes started dozens of fires around the Bay Area and our skies filled with thick smoke. The last time I could open a window was for a solid day and a half two weeks ago, even though it is the height of our summer season when fresh breezes always flow daily through windows, ruffling curtains in a way that makes me suddenly want to sing. Then prevailing winds changed, and the apocalypse arrived again only this time in the form of a low, eerie ceiling of dark orange that blanketed the entire area for a full day, prompting end-of-days headlines, until we settled back in to just the general smoke-filled sky and the alarming readings on the PurpleAir air monitoring site; the crushing of yet another normal. 
        It is staggering what we~what I~take for granted. The privileges that I live with each and every day that are not even a thought; that are so routine they have never even made it onto the periodic gratitude lists that I try~and fail~to maintain with any kind of regularity; my gratitude "practice" much more haphazard and casual, try as I may to be that person who nightly pulls out her pretty journal and lists in beautiful cursive all of those things that she is eternally grateful for. 
        I am nebulous at best on the word WOKE but if nothing else, these last years since the 2016 election have been a minefield of opportunity, a serious chance day in and day out to wake up and realize my absolute fortune in life. And not just that, but to open not only my eyes but my heart to the vast amount of suffering in our country and around the world. Then, these last six months of COVID have upped the ante remarkably, like a PhD program: Piled Higher and Deeper. 
        It's not that I have whined per se so much as grieved, especially the losses that have come since the virus. Yet even these, like going months without seeing my precious little granddaughter, are seriously benign when I look around; except when my arms themselves ache to hold her soft, sweet body in them, except when she says, in her two-year-old innocence, Grammy, when can you come here again? the way her voice raises slightly at the end of the string of words belying her confusion, her uncertainty, her own heart's longing. Those days, even though I know, trust me, I know how fortunate I have been, I do, for a short time anyway, plummet. 
        COVID has given me one thing. It has given me, for the first time in ten years, a garden. When there was nowhere to go and nothing to do, I figured out a way to have a very small garden in my very small patio and when nurseries opened for curbside pickup I was there, mask on, again and again picking up pots and dirt and flowers, and now, just out my window, there are pink roses and lavender and coneflowers and pincushion flowers and yarrow and begonias and more all crammed together in the small space of dirt and in surrounding pots. 
        But the fires have taken even that, taken my serene mornings out there, where for a little while I could practice yes, gratitude, but also, amnesia. Could commune with the plants, the water in the fountain, the birds and bees, forgetting for whole chunks of time the horrendousness of life out there, the terror of where this country is heading; the deep shit we are in on this, our beloved planet. And more, they've taken my sense of being safe in my own home and community, something that for so many of my years was not the case, but has been the case now for the last decades of my adulthood.
        I have known my own share of suffering. I have complex post traumatic stress, the complex part meaning repeated and multiple incidences of trauma. From that came a brutal form of OCD called Pure O OCD that terrifies me with worst-case scenarios in both thoughts and living color images re myself and my loved ones. But I have never, even in a challenging childhood, had to worry about the basics. Though it is true that I was not always safe, there was clean air and water and most of the time food and always a roof over my head, healthcare, education, and an environment free from rockets and bombs and snipers. I have never had to make the agonizing decision to leave my home for an overcrowded boat or a deplorable refugee camp. I have never had to watch my children starve. Had to make a choice between an insidious virus and my family's security. I never had to worry about being killed for walking down the street simply because of the color of my skin. Though as a woman, my body was ripe for exploitation, and I am part of the huge #MeToo collective, several times over. I can glimpse now, thanks to our president, a bit of what it must be like to live in a would-be totalitarian regime, to watch with growing anxiety one by one, some days subtly, other days not so much, the tick tock of freedom and rights and civil liberties and truth and the rule of law being abandoned, then full-on buried; along with untold and unnecessary cruelty, suffering, and death.
        So here I sit, in the middle of the oft experienced tension of the validity of my own pain versus the pain of others. The truth is, we can always find someone whose circumstances are far worse, whose real suffering is seriously more monumental. Still, that does not negate our own pain, our own losses, our own grief, our own experiences, not for a moment. All loss is loss. And our own pain is our own pain.
        Nor is it even the point, though my mind loves to distract me in that way. The point is that I now know, apropos of nothing~or everything~that opening a window, that feeling the fresh air on my skin, that watching the curtains dance, is a luxury. That hanging out with my flowers is a luxury. That watching the hummingbird at the feeder is a luxury. That having a feeder to bring them to, and clean water and sugar to put in it is a luxury. That sleeping at night in a peaceful place is a luxury. And on and on.   
        Sometimes I wonder if the reason that I can't keep a regular gratitude practice is because there are so many things to be grateful for, I mean so many things, an endless list of things, notebook after notebook full of them really, and including the fact that I actually have a beautiful, amazing granddaughter to miss during shelter in place. Or, maybe it's because there is just so staggeringly much suffering in the world, everywhere I turn is anguish, my own and the world's, the future so unbearably uncertain it is heartbreaking. Just to have a notebook is a luxury, a privilege. Not just one pen but a host of colorful pens to choose from. The ability and the time and the place to write. And on and on. 
        So here I sit, precious fresh air hitting my cheek, wondering how really we live in such a broken world, how we navigate a landscape so filled with opposites, with beauty and despair, privilege and poverty, so much to be grateful for, so much that breaks our hearts into such tiny little pieces. 

With Love,

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

From Exile

Each that we lose takes part of us;
A crescent still abides,
Which like the moon, some turbid night,
Is summoned by the tides.
~Emily Dickinson

I remember once years ago driving by San Francisco's Ocean Beach, looking for places to take pictures. I was past the deepest part of the depression and dark night that had come over me after my marriage ended but I was still depressed. And I was tired of feeling that way, but even more, I was tired of bemoaning it, and I was especially tired of the fear of it. As we turned toward Golden Gate Park, out of nowhere a thought arrived: what if you feel this way for the rest of your life? Wouldn't you want to make the best of it? 

You can't photograph an epiphany but that moment is etched in my memory. Everything was gray: the Pacific, the sky, the smudgy line of horizon; the entire landscape except the long, thick bank of windswept Monterey Cypress trees, with their deep green foliage, and the weathered brown wood of the great Dutch windmills that lined the west end of the park. 


Yes, I would want that. 

Lately I've been visited a lot by my young adult self, and want so much to write about her, but I'm not quite sure how without seeming trite, without reducing her or her experience to cliché. Or being overly sentimental, because the truth is I am feeling so sentimental toward her. She was so up for life, in spite of a hard childhood, in spite of being so alone during those years. She was creative, passionate, and adventurous, she and her little blue car constantly on the move. What she adored, she adored with gusto: music, books, movies, her cat; her first 35mm camera that took surprisingly good photos, and guitar, with its warped neck but surprisingly good sound. That strawberry scented lotion she would drive all the way to Berkeley for, already open and spread on her hands and arms so that the car was filled with its heady scent on the long drive home. How she loved to create her space, making the most of what there was, with plants and posters and sun pouring in through opened curtains.

It's no coincidence that in therapy my therapist and I have begun to explore "parts," those aspects of ourselves that for so many reasons had to split off, who exist side by side with the Self, the innate, authentic being within each of us. Through loss and pain and trauma and abandonment and neglect and isolation, we unconsciously exile those parts that make life too difficult, in order to do the very best that we can to survive.

The out-of-focus flowers in a still life painting.

At twenty-two, she fell in love with someone completely unexpected, who pursued her in spite of her inexperience and perceived imperfections~which were many. Those months were like a miracle, and those mornings, when she would wake up next to him, golden light filtering in through the window, were like a dream. So much so that when he ended it on a gray day not long before Christmas, before it could even fully blossom, it was almost like it had never been. Except that it had. Except that she had trusted. Except that she had been so vulnerable in spite of everything; had opened in a whole new way, and she had blossomed, or had begun to anyway. And unable to grieve, she began to change in ways that were too subtle to see at first, growing over the months into an inability to take care of herself, her cat, her space, some days, even to breathe. 

For so long this story and the depression that followed it have been seen as defining moments that changed everything. And it's true. For something did change on a fundamental level, and though the depression eventually lifted, some big parts had gone missing, joining other parts already exiled from early in childhood. But I see now that those parts are not gone forever. And even more, that the precious core, the innate Self, the light that we are had not gone out at all; the age-old concept replaced by direct experience and clearer seeing. It was there whispering to me as I drove into Golden Gate Park that day, and there when I answered. It's there when I feel her in me, her aliveness, her big adventurous heart. It's there each time she shows up, baring it all, the pain and the joy, seeking to not be so unbearably alone, asking for respect and understanding and space; for tenderness, but not too much, and for love, but definitely not too much, and definitely not too quickly. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

You, Venus

Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus"

Bright Venus, in your
reflection I know myself
naked heart, bold rose

Morning Star Venus is back. I'm not sure how long she's been there, but I spied her yesterday morning when I peeked through the curtains as I got up before dawn to feed my sweet kitty.

Brightest heavenly body after the Sun and the Moon, Venus lives half of her life as Morning Star and half as Evening Star. I am most familiar with her as Morning Star, and for a good deal of last year she rose in the eastern sky out my bedroom window in the dark predawn each day and it became a ritual when I got up to look for her. When it was clear, which was most often, it was not only reassuring to find her there but uplifting, inspiring even, a feeling coming over me not only of being connected with something greater, but something holy, something eternal. When she disappeared, when I peeked through the curtains and the unblemished sky was a blank note, it surprised me the loss that I felt.

But now she's back, bold goddess of love and beauty~and so much more~you whom I fell hopelessly in love with when I first laid eyes on you in a picture of Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.” Utterly captivating. And unlike any other painting ever~other than Starry Night of course~I dreamt of seeing you in person. A pipedream, really, like one day I’ll fly to the moon, one day I will live solely from a heart blazing with love, one day he will call again.

But then, there I was, a perfect spring day in the vibrant Firenze, home of the David and the Renaissance itself. My youngest daughter and I had walked along the Arno River and stood in line at the Uffizi where we were entertained by a comical street Cupid. In the door, up the stairs, and before I knew it we were standing before it, before you. Larger than any painting I had ever seen, over five feet tall and nine feet wide, its beauty though expected, was staggering. The rich colors and textures, the movement and detail, the vivid imagination. That was the day I lost myself to you for good. With your tender innocence, your wholly unexpected vulnerability; the way your whole body tilted slightly as if blown by the breeze itself; how tentatively you held your feet~thick like an infant’s~on the half shell. And how the wind tossed your strawberry hair into those swirling ripples. Then pink roses, pink roses! that floated as if by magic all around you.

Sometimes, like yesterday morning, you are accompanied by the delicate crescent moon, also rising. Those mornings I stand agape at your brilliance. You and the moon together like that, our two most powerful symbols of the feminine. Not as in femininity, but as in The Feminine, the profound yin principle, the necessary~though completely lacking in our world~balance to the masculine's out of control yang dominance. The Divine Feminine, without which we will not survive; our precious Earth, which holds me as I gaze, in such heartbreaking peril.  

(Your birth story says it all. Born fully grown of the foam of your father's severed genitals, if there is not a symbol there, then there are no symbols anywhere ever.)

To think of Venus simply as the goddess of romantic love as we do is not only to diminish her, like we do all women, but to diminish our very experience of her. As though she, as though we, as though love or passion or intimacy or affection or sweetness or grace or pleasure or beauty or cherishing~all her gifts to humanity~could ever be so one dimensional. Though she is that, too, vexing goddess of romantic love, and I have known her intimately in that guise, including her darker side, experienced with the loss of love.

In The Goddess, Christine Downing calls Aphrodite~Venus' Greek counterpart and basically her identical twin~creatrix, a life force, and the "giver of life." Born of the sea, water being the element of emotion and feeling, she is, at her foundation, the goddess of feeling. Still, I am surprised that as I write about her, I find myself not merely thinking about her, but feeling her. Feeling her always in relation with something other, her divine gift to us, intimacy, be it with her essence, with a lover, a rose in the garden, a beautiful painting or poem, my daughters and granddaughter; love, loss, life itself. As you flood my entire being I am seeing just how long you have been my companion, how since childhood and young adulthood you have not only enlivened me, but given me such thirst for life. 

They say planets don't twinkle, and maybe that's true. But except for those few days every nine months when Venus travels behind the moon to switch it up between morning and evening and back again, she is so bright she is practically effervescent. Day in and day out she shines, since the beginning of time, and for billions of years into the future, until the universe collapses into itself, or explodes, however it will come to an end, whether we are still here or not. I see you, sweet Venus, only goddess to ever be portrayed naked and so wholly vulnerable. But even more, I feel you, and I take seriously your invitation to move from head to heart, to walk and live and love exposed and vulnerable, holding nothing back, however long it may take, however long I shall live. 

Thursday, July 2, 2020


The Bay of Fundy
New Brunswi

Sometimes that thing you've been hungering for arrives seemingly out of the blue.

A photo. A sudden memory. A flash of sorrowful tenderness.

Late planes, changing tides, long drives side by side; Chris Isaak, Garth Brooks, laughter; the searing rub of an old wound; unknown clock ticking.

You read a book about a boy who loses his sister, the person he loves most in the world. The family gave her away. Poof. Sometimes families are so difficult it's a wonder you had grown as close as you had, and for so long; could know the kind of unhinged delight together that you did.

It doesn't matter how it comes about, loss is loss. Sometimes the only way through is numbness. But then there it is. A photo of that trip you took together. One of so many you've lost count. When you hauled her trembling across the country; through the checkpoint on the small two-lane road where they made you park your car and walk inside, feeling like escaped convicts; waiting, waiting, yes, finally, welcome to Canada. The open road, the endless blue of ocean, green of the never-ending birch woods; music cranked up, her annoyingly tapping out every beat on her leg, the door, the dashboard, like a drummer in some wanna-be rock and roll band. Sitting perched together as the bay, one of the seven wonders of North America, fills like a giant, muddy bathtub.

The thousands of miles traveled, until suddenly there's that fork in the road, the one you knew would most likely be there, because let's face it, it's happened before. And most days it's okay. There are even strings of moments, shiny pearls in which you forget altogether though those are less than the moments where you just don't care. Which you now understand is merely the heart's way of trying not to feel the baffling pain of a loved one choosing to leave you. 

So when it arrives, the feeling part of it, the flash of it momentarily blinds you, the sudden opening that you've wished so hard for, and then it is gone; though something remains, subtle but true. And you find yourself hoping against hope that sweet Adbullah, the little boy in the book, finds his precious little sister Pari, and together they live happily ever after. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

A Rose Haiku

Vulnerable rose
unfurls petal by petal
hello waiting heart.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Morning Glory!

The morning glory!
It has taken the well bucket.
I must ask elsewhere for water. 

This morning, sitting in the rocking chair on my little patio, I read for the first time about the beautiful Japanese poet Chiyo-ni. Born in 1703, just after the death of Basho, the master of the short poem known as haiku, it was a time when women were not allowed to be so many things, including poets. Though it was not so much against the law as against custom, and women poets were singularly dismissed or ignored. Still, Chiyo-ni wrote her first haiku at age seven, and by age seventeen, was widely admired throughout Japan. "The Morning Glory" is her most famous poem, about which D. T. Suzuki wrote, "Her mind was filled with the flower, the whole world turned into the flower, she was the flower itself." Today she is considered one of the greatest haiku masters ever.

Chiyo-ni lived a simple life dedicated to nature and with an emphasis on poetry not only as a way of life, but as a source of awakening, and though she studied with masters who had been students of Basho, she quickly found her own clear, unique voice. At age 52, she became a Buddhist nun, not to renounce the world, Jane Hirshfield writes, but as a way "to teach her heart to be like the clear water which flows night and day." In Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, Mirabai Starr writes of Chiyo-ni, "She observed the ordinary world with such loving attention that it could not resist revealing its hidden treasures.

Already, after just a few minutes reading about her, I'm completely in love. Something about this woman and her simple, quiet, gentle life, her love of and devotion to the natural world touches me deeply. And then Starr continues, speaking of "The Morning Glory, "In three quiet lines of verse, Chiyo-ni expresses the amplitude of feminine spirituality: finding the sacred in the ordinary and praising it with the fullness of her being." 

Suddenly, the rocking chair goes still. My head finds the back of it and my eyes close. Birds sing both far and near, an owl hoots, water pours into itself in the fountain. I let out a breath, as warm tears swim beneath my eyelids. 

Here is my heart's desire, one of my deepest longings for years now, so perfectly articulated. So simple, yet so profound. Finding the sacred in the ordinary and praising it with the fullness of her being. And that Starr pairs it with another long-held passion, feminine spirituality, is a masterstroke, obvious, of course, yet two pieces of the puzzle that I hadn't yet clicked firmly into place together. 

They say that when you set a course, the universe/life will show up in support. On my birthday three weeks ago, inspired by poet Ross Gay, I made a commitment to find one thing that delighted me each day and write a haiku about it, in spite of having almost no exposure or experience with them. The idea, to practice being more aware and clear eyed, more calm and centered, and to speak what moves me with as few words as possible. Though in those three weeks, only three haiku have been written.

Chiyo-ni and her life not only show me that I've been approaching this whole haiku thing backwards~ in my usual masculine sledgehammer fashion rather than the feminine way of graceful surrender~but even more important, she gifts validity and affirmation to my life now and for the past few years, when I have been drawn inescapably to the solitary, eschewing the outer world for the natural world and the inner realms. 

Precious Chiyo-ni
Wise venerable teacher
Glorious Morning!

Saturday, February 1, 2020


How do you say you're sorry? I mean how do you even begin to speak your regret not just for something that you've done in the past, but something that you continue to do? How do you say how sorrowful you are for your brittleness; for the way your heart has been encrusted; and how even~no, especially~in the face of such pain and need, the longing painted on the face of your beautiful loved one, you have, once again, locked your door and gone wandering.

It's not like you fly, Anne of Green Gables style, out the window into a gloriously fantastical world filled with color and texture, flowers and birds, trees and animals; love and belonging. Unfettered by the deep black shame that coils itself like a snake around your entire being, that squeezes the humanity right out of you, off she goes, not just resurrected, but nurtured and enlivened in the world of her imagination.

Yes of course there are reasons. There are so many reasons you've lost count. Reasons both past and present. Just like you've lost count (not really) of the number of decades you've done the hard work to free yourself.

How can you grieve if you cannot cry?

How do you forgive yourself? I mean really, how do you forgive yourself?