Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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I feel when he enters the building. I get out of my chair, stand in the doorway of my office in the English department. He comes around the corner. I put my hands on my hips, like a kid, and call down the hallway, “Hey, you!”
She was the one who snuggled with my mother every night, the storyteller who was too sick to run away with her daughter and granddaughter before the SS came in the morning, and who chose instead, after tucking my mother into bed the night before, to climb the stairs of the ghetto apartment building and step off the ledge, freeing them to leave, grief-stricken, without her.
You are the Ancient One. Everything that ever was, is, or will be is part of the dance of your being. You are all of the universe, and so you have Infinite Wisdom; you appreciate all of the feelings of the universe, so you have Infinite Compassion.
It took twice as long as I thought it would, and it’s only half as good as I’d hoped, but the first draft of my book is finished. This morning our cat Zooey walked across my desk and vomited on the manuscript. My first bad review.
I opened the fridge, then closed it. I called a friend and told her what had happened, then called another and repeated the account. I paced the small hallway between my kitchen and my office, then walked back and forth in the living room, but everywhere I went, the emptiness kept coming, and the air felt thin. The hot edge of desperation clung to my skin, making my breath shallow.
No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when my wanting became a problem. Sometimes I think it was at seventeen, when I was a Mennonite girl from a dead-end dirt lane, determined to leave for the Big City, for college, for a career and money and high-heeled shoes and shorn hair, and to have absolutely nothing more to do with the hilltop Mennonites.
Real gurus don’t intend to teach; they teach just by being. The word guru means “one who dispels the darkness,” which is different from giving light. Giving light means giving someone something that they don’t already have. Gurus remove the layers of darkness and show you what’s already there. They peel away the self-hatred, the guilt, the shame, the fear. A guru is someone who has truly conquered all of that and lives only to help people. There’s no edge, no harshness, only complete love and acceptance — and a kind of cosmic chuckle because you don’t fully understand; not laughing at you, but saying, “Come on! Get with it!”
When I signed up for a “silent vipassanâ yoga and meditation retreat” at the Esalen Institute, I didn’t even know what the word vipassanâ meant, but I wasn’t worried about it. I planned to use the week as a personal sabbatical. I’d get up at sunrise and bathe in the hot tubs overlooking the Pacific, then drift into the morning sessions for a bit of yoga or meditation, and spend afternoons writing in the loft of the big blue art barn.