The Summer I Turned Fifteen…part 2

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I’m not someone with a clear memory. I don’t know if it’s the head injury, hormones or if my memory has always been murky. I wish I could reach back at will and replay remembered conversations like so many of my high-school girlfriends can. Instead it’s like they’re talking about a movie everyone has seen except me. And I’m in it.

Maybe memories are like that, murky from swimming so long in the swampy pond of emotions. Maybe they’re like prisms, reflecting back whatever journey I’m on in the present. I turn them and hold them up to the light and the story is filtered through whatever facet I’m examining. Like the summer I turned fifteen. The teenage years are full of slingshot moments, so that minute-by-minute childhood innocence is left so far behind that it seems impossible to ever have been one. A child.

It seemed like everything changed the summer I turned fifteen. Or it had already changed. Slowly, all at once. We were a family and then we weren’t. At least, not in the way we were before. Centrifugal force spun us together and then spew us apart. Father gone. Mother mostly gone. Children no longer children except one. Living alone together. This happens sometimes in the aftermath of divorce. This happens sometimes when a mother is left to raise four teenagers and a confused, angry little boy. The summer I turned fifteen I had a sort of freedom born from centrifugal force.

 

 

 

 

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A Grandmother is Born

Bebe

Forehead to forehead
I breathe a metronome
Lay my hands across her back
In the small space between

A flowing of the feminine
A calling from Isis
A gathering of women
Both felt and unseen

Hour after hour
She rocks on her knees
As day becomes night
And night becomes day

I dance with my daughter
To the songs of the sacred
And the prayers of the Holy
In a circle of ancestors

Meskhenet awaits
A labour of creation
The birth of a Mother
And first breath of her son

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Loïc Paul Riverin – born December 4, 2015

**Photo credit (last two) – Michelle Lim**

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Meeting Karma

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I began to seriously study Buddhism about ten years ago. And by study, I mean reading copious books, highlighting and taking notes and incorporating various practices into my spiritual life. I’ve attended dharma talks at the Kadampa Centre but didn’t really connect to the community. It felt like everyone knew what they were doing except me. The myriad of Buddhist disciplines confuses me.

I’ve been to hear the Dalai Lama talk on several occasions and have even taken my first Bodhisattva vow in an elaborate ceremony over which he presided from his golden throne. And yet, I’ve received no formal teachings apart from the few dharma talks I’ve attended. For years I’ve longed to find my own teacher.

One of my favourite authors, Natalie Goldberg, studied with her Zen Buddhist teacher, Katagiri Roshi, for twelve years. It formed her life and infused her writing with powerful messages. I read her first book, Writing Down the Bones, almost thirty years ago, and have read almost every one of her fourteen other books she’s written since then. She has merged the words practice and writing and birthed a spiritual movement. Writing is a spiritual practice, not a craft to master, and this is both permission to let go of the critic, as well as a call to discipline. I’ve long wanted to study with Natalie, to attend one of her workshops to sit zazen with her and to write.

The Great Spring, Writing, Zen and this ZigZag Life is her latest memoir and her most intimate book yet. In her mid-sixties, with a bout of cancer newly behind her, she writes of how she is nearing the time to leave her body.

And I think, “Not yet! Not until I’ve had a chance to study with you!” With a new grandson pushing me even further away from my own birth, I’m imbued with the feeling of time pressing.

Yesterday evening I had the opportunity to listen to Natalie read from The Great Spring and answer questions. I’ve had this date marked in my calendar for weeks and wanted a good seat at this free event. I arrived at the Vancouver Public Library an hour before the 7pm start time to find over fifty people already lined up along the wall outside the room. Dratigan. I stand behind a woman in a silver parka and geometric leggings just as the line curves back in on itself. She swipes her finger along her phone and I watch as more and more people join their friends in front of me. Oh well, I think and smile to myself, I would do the same thing if I had a someone joining me.

I have an hour to wait, but instead of pulling out my own phone I take the time to gently meditate, feeling the energy vibrate through me and down into the floor. I scan the crowd and write silent stories in my head, eavesdropping on conversations around me. I wonder if it is too obtrusive and obvious if I take out my notebook and actually write. Will they know it is them I am transcribing?

The door at the front finally opens and the line slowly shuffles forward. I move into the already crowded room and begin scanning the back rows of chairs, looking for an empty one with optimum viewing. Lots of seats are being saved and just as I’m about to turn into the centre aisle I feel a hand and see an older woman leaning forward to block my path.

“Are you alone?” she asks.

“Yes,” I nod.

“Sit here.” She instructs, removing a rice-paddy-straw-hat from the seat beside her. “I need someone with calm energy to sit beside me. The energy in this room is too excited.” She slides the hat under her seat.

I thank her and sit, folding my puffy coat onto my lap and resting my purse on top of that.

“I’m a Buddhist nun.” She says, leaning towards me.

I truly look at her now and see the familiar burgundy garb and the shaved head covered in an orange knit toque. I can’t believe the incredible synchronistic happenstance. I’m sitting beside a Buddhist nun in the first row directly in front of the dias behind which Natalie Goldberg will soon be standing! Seriously! Ask and ye shall receive.

“I don’t know why I’m here,” she confesses several times, “I’ve only read part of a book she’s written….Bones?”

 “Writing Down the Bones.” I affirm. I know exactly why she’s here.

I go with what the Universe has handed to me and make my own confession. I talk about my interest in Buddhism and my scattered studying. She stumps me with question after question, whereupon I finally sigh my ignorance.

“All the different forms of Buddhism really confuse me.”

She smiles, “Everything is confusing.”

And so begins a remarkable conversation. She shows me picture after picture of her teachers on her phone. We share our thoughts on how energy affects us. She asks if I’m a writer and I find myself telling her about the book I’m working on, about how it’s about going beyond forgiveness.

“Beyond forgiveness?” she asks.

Oh no”, I think, all of a sudden it feels like I’ve stepped into a world in which I’m wholly inadequate. Who am I to talk about going beyond forgiveness to a seventy-two year old Buddhist nun?

“When you’ve reached a level or an awareness that transcends forgiveness, where you realize that there is no need for forgiveness because there was no injury in the first place.” I’m talking about soul to soul contracts, but in the whispered confines of our conversation there is no time to expand. I wonder if I’ve jumped off the deep end and have lost my nascent connection with her.

“No injury…” She repeats, leaning back slightly, and then nodding her head she begins to share her own story about a physical injury she’s being challenged with. Now we are simply two women sharing tips on healing physical injuries and operating on an energetic level within a potentially litigious world.

Just before Natalie Goldberg takes the stage, my Buddhist nun friend takes my contact information and forwards me an email containing dharma talks that may interest me. She promises to text me and we make tentative plans to have tea together.

I spend the next hour listening to Natalie Goldberg read and share bits of writing-practice wisdom. I smile to myself. I’m sitting in the front row listening to one of my favourite writing and spiritual teachers, and beside me Karma quietly murmurs. The Universe has placed me exactly where I asked to be – both in front of and beside a Buddhist teacher.

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Lost and Found

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Forgive me readers, for I have sinned, it’s been six long months since my last post. Six months! The word ‘sin’ for me doesn’t adhere to the heavy-handed Christian interpretation. Rather I hold onto the Hebrew or Aramaic etymology, wherein I missed the mark, or was forgetting my Self. And so I was…somewhat.

Although my fingers slowed to a crawl, I didn’t stop writing. I’ve been pecking and poking away at my long-form project, in a steady, sloth sort of way. That is to say, when I have been writing, my thoughts line up as though coated in molasses. I seem to have sticky residue gumming up the pages in my brain.

Sometimes an impending earthquake can rumble through your life long before the earth moves beneath your feet. It causes all sorts of unexpected and unplanned mayhem; furniture gets tossed about, books tumble from the shelves and dishes fly out of the cupboards. Sometimes, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, it picks you up and drops you down in a completely different and unexpected place. The force of nature moving within you.

It was an article in the New Yorker about “the really big one” due to hit the West Coast that got guts churning. It was the report from the structural engineer that got my feet moving. It turns out that the cement foundation poured in 1938 is slowly turning to dust and ruin and no amount of expensive remediation will make her sound. Not to mention what might happen if the bedrock my cottage sits on begins to shake, rattle and roll. Suddenly I’m faced with a complete tear-down and rebuild….or move again.

In January, my spiritual teacher asked, “What image, word or phrase will you carry  through this year?”

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Immediately the image of a big, beautiful tree with wide-spreading branches and deep, long-reaching roots came to mind. No longer do I need a house to put down roots. I am the tree. The roots are deep within me. Wherever I go, here I am. Home.

And so, almost settled into another, smaller-again-by-half house, I am writing once more. The words are flying around inside my head like caged birds looking for an open door. I am oiling the hinges…

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Hidden Treasures

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Where has the summer gone? I’m finding it difficult to stay present in the stillness of today when my tomorrows are lined up like soldiers marching into battle. I long to return to my ten-year old self when the summer days stretched endlessly in front of me. Time is elastic and perceptions shift.

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I have a house at the lake where my family gathers. This year my Colorado sister and her family camped their way here pulling a trailer, which they nestled neatly under the trees once they arrived. Once again I have my sisters beside me, if only for a long weekend.

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My younger sister, my older sister and me…and Lani the dog

On Saturday we three sisters drove along the narrow, winding country road into town for supplies for the weekend, stopping at every garage sale sign along the way. Who can resist a garage sale? You never know what you might need.

IMG_3382We stopped and poked about and did a lot of visiting. We found a few books at the first garage sale, bought an almost new rice cooker for $5 at the next one and found hidden treasure at the last stop.

When we five ‘kids’ first began gathering our families together each summer, we rented tiny rustic cabins on the Shuswap Lake close to the small town where we grew up. My mom would drive out to spend the day and my dad and step-mom stayed at a B&B close by. It was a great, big, messy, wonderful memory-making time.

I can still clearly see Dad sitting in a chair under the trees eating a mango and watching the grandkids play. I’m sitting beside him and as I reach for my own piece of mango he says, “There is no greater joy on earth than watching all you kids visit and laugh together.”

I smile back over at him, happy that he’s happy.

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Now I know what he meant. I watch my own adult four children as they talk and laugh together. My heart grows bigger than life itself as I watch their relationships grow into deep friendships. I have an experiential knowing of what my dad was teaching me fifteen years ago.

The last garage sale my sisters and I visit is at the top of the driveway. Long tables are set up end to end, their surfaces covered with a sundry and assorted bric a brac. Boxes filled with books and larger items cover the floor, leaving narrow aisles for walking and browsing. One sister kneels at the books and a second sister heads directly to the back. Im wandering through the middle, idly picking up one thing and then another when I spot the hidden treasure.

My heart does that expanding thing as I pick it up and a frisson of recognition flows through me, leaving me tingling. I’m holding a simple pottery spoon rest decorated with my dad’s signature glaze. I don’t need to turn it over to see his stamp to know that my dad’s hands made this.

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Of course we have to buy this! To find a piece of his pottery at a garage sale along a remote lakeshore road almost 900 km from where it was made is mystically magical. Serendipity.

The seller smiles and hands me back my money with the spoon rest, “It belongs to you.”

My dad’s spirit sits and rejoices beside me at the lake. It’s the next best thing to sharing a mango with him.

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Falling Into Books

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Sometimes when I’m reading a book, I have to lay it down because a certain sentence or a phrase has just passed through my body and forever altered me. It takes a few minutes or a few hours to adjust to the frisson of energy carried by those words.

I have to stop and breathe those words deep into my body. The soft caress that comes with a phrasing so beautifully gentle it’s as if they are growing down from the heavens and up from the earth at the same time. The first green shoots of the daffodil in January, the crocus in February (here in Vancouver anyway). Strong and resilient, yet tender and vulnerable.

Sometimes they are the sudden crashing of a heavy spruce into the ground. My body shudders with the strength and fury of the sentences driving deep into my being.

They are words that meet and grow in my heart.

Oh, how I want to write like this!” I think, as I lay the book across my heart, hoping to infuse myself with the talent through some kind of magical osmosis.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a writer. And then I wanted to be a dancer on the Carol Burnett Show. And when I was introduced to the world of plays I added Actor to that list. To me they are all interconnected threads of creativity, cut one away and my entire world begins to unravel.

I feel so at home surrounded by words. Surrounded by the world of storytelling. I grew up the daughter of a broadcaster, playing among sets at the TV studio, appearing in TV shows, specials and commercials. By the time I was six years old I was winning public speaking contests, too young to even know to be nervous. It was as natural to me as breathing.

I wrapped my imagination around me like my own favourite blanket. I still do. Whenever I am feeling lost or alone, I reach for a book and immediately ground myself in the wonders of the world within.  Reading and writing (and acting) are as integral to my spiritual practice as is meditation and prayer.

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Queen of Sunset By The Sea

1J6A6795I’m soaking in bath oil and Epsom salt and listening to the song my house sings. The way the rain sounds on the roof, the three clicks the furnace makes before it lurches into life, the way it somehow, sometimes, strangely sounds exactly like a garage door opening beneath me. These sounds wrap themselves around me like a well-worn quilt, comforting me with their deep familiarity.

I’m moving in two weeks. To my new-to-me little 1938 cottage above the sea. The one that is half the size of my current home and twice as old. The one that I’ve just spent almost $10,000 to replace old clay pipes. Pipes that were so past the time of replacement, so root-bound, clogged and crumbling that raw sewage backed up into the downstairs tub. Did I mention how gross it was? How unsanitary and unhealthy? How incredibly yucky?

Yuck

Yuck

Tree roots love water and sewage

Tree roots love water and sewage

This impending move has already offered me so many gifts of growth. Opportunities to shed the last vestiges of my Damsel in Distress and to realize more and more of my own power. What used to rock me off my feet no longer even causes me to wobble. I am standing strong as the compassionate and benevolent Queen, boundaries firmly set.

In many ways I’ve been preparing for this transition my entire life. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have shivers of trepidation at times. Remember the backed up sewer? I’m about to spend another three thousand dollars, this time correcting electrical deficiencies. Two sudden, large expenses and I can’t help wondering how many more loom in front of me.

I’ve grown solid in my Queendom, my cloak of empowerment is ever-present and rather than feeling anxious and upset at each unexpected discovery, I simply took the steps needed to move forward. Called the plumber. Talked to the previous homeowner. Fixed the problem.

I listen to the music this house makes as I walk through the empty cottage, measuring and taping where my furniture might fit. The creaks in the floorboards with each step I take, the sound of the passing car through the single-pane windows, the rain tap dancing on the bedroom skylight. Soon these unfamiliar sounds will soothe me into a new-felt safety. I’m coming home to my Self.

My new view!

My new view!

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