my own chautauqua (Page 3)

We sit. Quiet. Breathing. How loud loud loud my mind. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast fast fast fast fast thoughts. So full and busy and I can’t hear anything because so much is going on in my mind.
People sneeze, cough, shift in their seats. What is it like, at meeting for worship?

meeting room
Portland Friends Meeting
Settling in to a comfortable position. Aware of my posture, my legs, my arms and hands. More aware of my body as the chaos of my mind’s voices chatter away in the background. Noticing new aches and pains, behind my left eye, throughout my jaw, my spine, my lower back. How my jaw clenches tightly over to the side. Becoming aware. Gently reposition my lower jaw so my teeth rest not quite touching, but in line. How awkward the rest of my face feels. How I notice my spine more now. I lift my head lightly as if a string comes from my spine up through the top of my head. Lifting.
New people enter the room, finding seats. Some have loud shoes on the wood floor. So much shuffling and adjusting. The room’s sounds flow in waves. More than the clicks and hums of human sounds, my anxiety comes from thinking of people who might be bothered by those sounds. I notice that about myself. I breathe. I return to my body. Someone’s stomach gurgles. Someone may be snoring. As the sounds mingle I notice. I notice I can find quiet even in the middle of the clutter careful accidental necessary noises of these friends. My mind is slowing. As each of my to-do items flashes in I welcome it and say, not now, and say, goodbye. As a new column or blog post begins forming, I enjoy playing with the words for a while, then notice my distraction away from the moment. Each moment of distraction, when I am not mindfully resting and seeking the space and light I know I will find in the silence, I don’t fight. I don’t fight the distractions, I only notice them.
Inside me, like the quiet sounds of the other humans around me, there are waves of noise and quiet. Again, a flowing.
As more space opens in me I notice I’m feeling sleepy. Oh, how tired I am. I begin worrying this will be one of those meetings where the struggle to fight sleep is so miserable, I consider leaving (I did leave once). Instead, I adjust my legs and my arms. I bend my head to one side and then the other. I imagine my blood flowing from my heart through my body, especially along my spine, and back into my heart. I catch myself in a deep and possibly loud exhale. It’s okay. We are all here to find the light. The space. The peace.

For the last few days I’ve been frazzled in a way not typical for me. Life is good. Work has been busy. A new painting has been swirling around in me and seems like it wants to come out. Last night I blogged about my medical freedom being stolen by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. I love writing stuff like that. Then, last night and today I was working at the computer all day. When I paused my billing clock and looked at Facebook or twitter—and I did that a lot—I felt anxiety-ridden and frenetic. Click! Click! Click!
On Monday morning this past week, I was hit by a truck. I was walking my three year old in her little stroller. As we entered the crosswalk, a pickup truck began turning (right on red) and drove into us. We weren’t physically hurt beyond a little stiffness in my thigh/hip/shoulder. The palm of my hand also burned all day from where I slammed it down on the hood of the truck as I screamed. I don’t remember much of it, really. My body bent with the impact, though I didn’t fall. My daughter’s stroller had mostly already passed the truck, so it didn’t make much contact (if any, again, my memory is fuzzy).
Mostly, I haven’t talked about it. Mostly, I found myself blurting out what happened at the most surprising times. In an email to a subcontractor. To the barista at Starbucks. Blurting is the right word. Moments after it happened, I used my phone to email several people and said “I just wanted to tell people who I knew would care.” The whole day was, in retrospect, hazy and confused. I kept thinking I was making too big a deal of it, though at the oddest moments I’d burst into tears.
One of my closest friends pointed out if I kept trying to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, my body wouldn’t let that happen and it would keep coming back until I dealt with it. Thankfully, I had what I needed for support. I did spend some time crying that night as the horrifying “what if” scenarios played out with unstoppable force.
The moment when I knew there was nothing I could do to stop that truck from continuing on into me.
The moments after, walking away quickly, just wanting to get away away away when I only wanted to be away.
Not scooping my daughter up in my arms because to do that would be to face the what if of those what ifs that I can’t put into words because they are too horrible.
The anxious, confused, disconnected, insecure, self-doubting frenzy I felt in the last 24 hours or so, I now realize, was a reminder that what happened was “a big deal.” As I consider it, I begin to lose words.
This past summer I had some important experiences that helped me rediscover the richness of offline life. Those who haven’t experienced authentic depth and intimacy in their online life might not understand what it means to forget about how beautiful offline life can be. The last day or so caused in me an uncommon confusion, an absence of connection to myself. When I wrote about being a recovered alcoholic, I wrote about tapping into an infinite source of strength. When I connect with that strength I can live mindfully in the present moment. Making that connection is, most of the time, nearly second nature. It’s more than a habit; it’s where I mostly live.
Still, I feel rattled. This chunk of hours full of anxiety and disconnection from my center are leftovers. Remnants or echoes of how I felt when we were hit by that truck. Everything was called into question. I felt an obsessive need to focus on only what is really important and to let everything else slide. I connected with people who mean the world to me, even if it was just a brief “oh my god” shared moment. Now that I’ve identified the source of the last day’s puzzling spurts of staccato existence—I’m not finished feeling all that is there to be felt about the truck hitting us—I can do something about it.
Thanks to what I learned this summer, I know that what I need to do about it now can’t be done online. There are ways my online life supports me when my offline life can’t. It was one of my closest online friends who helped me through much of the adrenaline-induced traumatic fallout the evening after the truck hit me. And now, after getting the bulk of my computer-dependent work done, I’m going to go back to those peaceful places I rediscovered offline. I’m going to breathe. Thank you for reading this.


When I first set the dead beetle (retrieved from our mailbox) on top of this dusty bookcase a week or so ago, I’d pass it and think, “Oh, ew, I should find a place in the girls’ room for that or dump it in the trash.”

When I pass it now I think of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Rather than feeling absurdity and emotional disconnection, though, I’m reminded of how beautiful I find the story. It’s in the unsettling nature of the beetle’s exoskeleton that I find connection, happiness, and peace.

The assignment was to paint a still life and I did. I zoomed in so far, to an intersection of the tulip stems I found most interesting, the painting ended up looking “abstract.”
Walking quickly through the garden, it’s easy to not hear it. Walking slowly, taking time to notice, the chorus of the bees in the buckwheat pulsates and simmers and swells. So many individual insects doing their individual thing while flowing entirely together; parts of a near-entity created by the movement of their sounds. Sitting quietly here at my keyboard, more than an hour away from the garden, I can still hear their music.

Every few months, when I am “between audio books,” I re-listen to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Breath which brings Life back into my awareness. I’m also reminded each time I sit silently during meeting for worship: it takes practice to notice. When I make paintings, I move easily into noticing. There are other times where noticing (breathing) feels effortless (walking in the woods or on the beach, being in the garden, moments of awe with my daughters). But practice has shown me that anywhere is a place where I can notice (breathe).
At any time, I can stop.

Houghton Memorial Chapel (Wellesley College) window
We would run around in the concrete cool basement of the church while our Dad was getting ready for the service. We’d get into the boxes of sugar cubes in the kitchen cabinets, or into the storage area where college kids’ old clutter was left as a sort of lost and found. There was a grand organ, some kind of historical antique important piece that I’d play after church getting to lean my feet down to play pedals and to pull and push all the knobs to see what kinds of sounds would come out. The bread was real baked loaves of bread and the wine was in enormous earthy chalices. Once in a while we were told to be quieter, but mostly we did whatever we wanted to do. The churches were not unapproachable spaces where we felt we should be sedate, showing only formal reverence. The churches (the Wellesley chapel and Grace Lutheran Church in Hartford, CT) were where my Dad worked. They were places we spent time waiting before and after church. We had bell choir and choir-choir rehearsals, standing around while photocopies were made, and grabbing cookies and running up to the office to hide out during many, many coffee hours.
The best time to walk around in the garden is early morning, before the bugs (or the heat) get too nasty. Of course, if there are ready-to-pick green beans, I’ll grab one to crunch on as I look around. Maybe there’s a super-ripe cherry tomato, easy to pop in my mouth. Snacking from the garden when I’m in it is what I do and what I’ve always done.
When my three-year-old wanted to pick something (after my nine-year-old had picked our first cucumber) and I didn’t see anything immediately ready, I turned to the squash plants and pointed out one of the little yellow ones whose flower hadn’t even fully browned into the soggy flop it would as the squash grew to a more reasonably pickable size. I encouraged her to pick one of them, helping her some when she wanted to pull without any twist in her motion. We then saw a large zucchini (those things are sneaky and fast!) that she got and could barely carry.
Later, when she wanted to pick more, I showed her what kale looked like and she helped herself throughout the morning to torn off pieces of the kale leaves. She also munched on handfuls of parsley. There’s not a lot ready for picking, yet, but in a vegetable garden there’s almost always something edible.
No church or vegetable garden is too precious for me. None are somehow more important than any other living space in my world. They are a part of the meat of life; they aren’t fine unusable crystal to be placed up and out of reach behind a locked cabinet door.
my garden at my parents’ summer place
My gardens’ products are a part of their process. While I have learned to be respectful of the gardens of other people, I have to regularly remind myself that not everyone feels as flowing about their gardens. What is a garden, if not to offer its food? I am in relationship with it. I care for it and it cares for me. Even in the long-distance gardening I do, where other caregivers (my parents) do the organic pest control and watering required when I’m not there, the garden is a part of me and my family. It is ours and we belong to it. The harvest will be so plentiful, there’s no reason to hold each tiny yellow squash as off-limits to an eager and interested three year old just because it might be… what, better to cook with or prepare for a meal if it were a little bigger? Isn’t that presumptuous? How can we know the best time to pick that squash? This moment. This now is when it should be picked.
My church spaces are homes to me. Even when I’m in a new church, I feel immediately connected and comfortable. This is a place where I won’t be forced into polite restraint. I enjoy celebrating the absence of fear I feel in churches. My comfort makes each church feel as awesome as a sunrise viewed from a mountain top. There is no beginning or end to the church, in my experience. It is another one of my holy places, like the vegetable garden. Who says only eyes cast down and low hushed tones and slow movements belong in these spaces? Just as in the garden, there are times for special reverence and celebration. There are times when peaceful meditation flows through the space and the eternal becomes living.
me with our Portland garden plot
My gardens and churches are just as relevant in my life as the feeling of climbing into bed after a long, exhausting day. Feeling the physical release of exhaustion, pulling up the covers just-so. My gardens and churches are as holy as preparing a meal with the vegetables we picked earlier in the day, or picked last summer then cooked and froze to use later. My gardens and churches are classrooms and long bubble baths and playgrounds. They are complicated and simple, holy and earthly; they are life.