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You and I

It has been a ride so far for me this new year, full of magic and change, frought with detours and hiccups.  Thank you Santa, Universe, Full Moon for the countless opportunities to practice acceptance and compassion.  Even when they look like a lump of coal.

me and mom

Me and Mom, on a warmer day

My year started tenderly- before the new year actually, as I arrived back in Iowa Christmas Day on the heels of my mom having major surgery. I found her home in bed, hurting and frustrated, with my dad taking up the nearly-as-crappy spot: he-who-watches-the-hurting-and-frustrated.  There were sweet and warm and normal moments, before the weather postponed my flight back to Cali for three days- on the same day I went down with fever and my mom went back to the hospital.   I spent my New Years in bed ringing in a pity party for one, kicking off my big annual existential crisis. But the weather eventually cleared just fine, in every sense, and got me home warm in my Big Sur nest soon enough.  Mom has had a rougher go, after four more trips in and out of the hospital with every imaginable complication.  The surgery was deemed a success, but it’s been hard to feel that way, since she hasn’t felt good since.

She was as low as I’ve heard her today when I talked to her.  I wanted to offer support and instead gave advice. I felt helpless so I gave advice to make myself feel better, and the advice I gave her was to quit thinking about what she should be giving for two seconds and focus on receiving the support she needs.  Irony’s always a close companion to advice.  Love you Mom.  Thank you mirror.

I have to say this giving and receiving business is tricky – the balance between both is so delicate and essential. The part of me that needs to be reminded is listening to the me that talks about this all the time when I teach.  One of my favorite things to bring awareness to in group singing is that it’s an intense practice of giving and receiving simultaneously.  You let your own voice fly while at the same time taking in a room full of sound.  I think we can only be as fulfilled in our experience and in our relationships as we have the capacity to do both of these in our lives. Giving is a full loop.  Everyone who has ever felt the bottom drop out after giving a meaningful gift to someone who didn’t appreciate it knows this. So does anyone who’s found relief writing a letter that’s never sent.  Receiving is a gift, and the biggest beneficiary of our giving is usually ourselves.

This Christmas I wanted to give presents to myself and family with a little more depth and consideration than I would with my wallet at the mall.  I was also feeling the poignancy that comes amidst challenge and suffering, that always seems to make the gifts feel more precious.   So I stayed up all Christmas night writing four poems. For my brother, sister-in-law, mom and dad, respectively.  I meditated on each of them before I wrote – felt what I perceived of their essence, and of our relationship.  Then came the business of distilling what I felt into words.  It took all night.  Writing has always been effortful for me by the way – there’s no tumbling out in some graceful array – it’s a searching and wrestling and wrangling till I feel the click.

After talking to Mom again today I’m remembering what I wrote for her, our family warrior. Of the four poems this one took the most wrangling.  How to distill the complexities of this bond between mother and daughter?  The greatest mirrors and teachers to each other, with all the love and crazy that comes with it.

You and I

With one stroke of the brush
She painted a wave of the ocean
And the page was no longer empty

The wave longed for company.
Paint me a whale!
Give me a boat or shore or sky!

And the artist said
You are enough.
We are complete.


We are the painter and the painted.

I cannot know how my maker sees this water-
I feel her brush and the space around me on the page.

I cannot know how my ocean longs-
I trust I have done enough.

We are wide angled portals
One and apart
Creator and created-

Like two stars in orbit, we are bound
and unimaginable.

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The call to greatness

I saw my friend Ani Difranco again last night, in concert this time in Santa Rosa. And I indoctrinated Yossi, who it was a treat to share with, especially since he really liked her. Truly, as I watched I wondered how anyone couldn’t – if not appreciate her music, style or perspective, at least honor her presence on the stage and in the world. What a shining star.

I’ve seen Ani in concert for 15 years, and while it’s been a few since I saw her last, I was prepared for the familiar schizophrenic ongoing internal dialog that invariably accompanies the ticket price.

Audience member Lisa A: “Oh it’s the Becky song! Remember Beck, how you always sang that line “you are by far the cutest?”

Lisa B: “Yes. I was feeling the Texas of my heart today in the car. That’s it exactly.”

Lisa C is busy adding harmonies and riding the guitar picks like electrical surges.

Lisa D: “She is so obviously doing what she was meant to do. Wake up! It’s time for Lisa to be Lisa.”

Lisa E: “She’s existed in the world for a year more than me and has released 21? albums. What the fuck am I doing? Where has my creativity gone? Lisa, you have so much potential and you’re wasting your life. You’re still not even sure who you are. What distinguishes me from everyone else in this anonymous crowd? I hate crowds. We’re all hypocrite cattle, cheering at every cry for rebellion and independence while we’re all sitting here in the dark fantasizing to the tune of “I want her to see and love and validate ME!” If I met her tonight, what would I say? What is my offering? I bet she doesn’t watch TV.”

Ok, I suspect that audience member E. is actually a few voices, but I’ve lumped them together here for the purposes of recognizing that none of what they have to say is helpful. The simple act of going to a concert for me is a complex brew of enjoying the familiar, identifying with the artist, appreciating the music, being inspired, and then tumbling down the hill in comparisons, judgments and self-consciousness.

Fully aware of and prepared for this last night, I suited up for the show with all the resources I could muster after what had been already a long and challenging day. And I managed largely to hold the cruelest forms of “voices E” at bay. I focused on voice D instead. The voice being nourished by inspiration – the voice who in seeing Ani shine felt my own call to greatness. And I knew that true calls to greatness are not laced with barbs and they don’t get report cards. They happen of their own accord, in their own time, each with their own unique manifestation.

I don’t know what happens in everyone else. But I’ve seen and heard enough to believe that the call for greatness is a common if not universal experience. Greatness not being confused with fame or glory, though greatness often inspires followings, but greatness of embodied spirit. It’s a recognition, a flowering, an excavation of the divinity that has been inherent in our beings all along.

I feel the tingling of this inside myself many times a day. And then I see the 184,256 things that are in the way and if I don’t just drown in hopelessness right then and there, I get tripped up by #4 or #58 or #184,255. It takes a special kind of inspiration, or maybe more commonly a desperation, to plow all the way through, which is why I don’t see it much when I look around. But I’m attracted to people who I see making a go of it, and my spirit lifts immeasurably to be present for someone who just hit another six barriers but did it anyway. We see this a lot in people with life-threatening illnesses. People who are adequately nursed with an urgency to go beyond their habitual, self-imposed limitations. I’ve looked deeply at the invitation in more than one dark night of the soul – the stark choice – climb the impossible mountain or deny my life force and die inside.

And last night I recognized all those voices of stopping as being a barrier that keeps me from my greatness. And for some reason, whether inspired by Ani or just following my own evolution, I felt the urgency more profoundly than I ever have. And the urgency dramatically loosens the grip of fear and dread. The voices that normally stab me and sit me down transformed into little stings to brush off.

There is NO TIME TO WASTE. As Ani said in one of her songs last night “We’ve got ourselves a serious situation down here.” There is no time for self-pity and misery and stopping. Today I’ve been visited by at least 238 of the things I do and think that stop me and I haven’t had breakfast yet. But at this moment each one feels like a calling. Beckoning me to climb it, drop it, cut through it here and now because there’s a life I have to live.

It’s tempting to throw it all up in the air together and say I’m done and I’m starting over. I’ve attempted this before and it ends badly. My knowing is that each one of these things is something I have to look at in the face and say no to. One by one. I just have to trust it will all happen perfectly and drop me off in the middle of my greatness on the other side.

On to breakfast.

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Just you and me

I’m alone in a hostel in Sausalito tonight. A private room, as private as hostels go, that smells like a boy’s dirty socks. I’m attempting to remedy this with tea tree and eucalyptus soap-covered tissues that I’ve placed strategically around the room and I feel like a new-age MacGyver. It’s quieting down and I’m fading, but am drawn to write nonetheless.

Hostels tend to bring out my already predisposed leanings toward loneliness. So do going to concerts by myself, which I did tonight before coming here. It’s aloneness surrounded by people, which for me shines a bright light upon the way I relate, or rather often don’t relate with the world. I told my therapist this week that there are two chairs in relationship – expressing and receiving – and that I’ve spent WAY too much time in the receiving chair. I realized later that I actually haven’t been in either chair. I’ve been watching and reacting to other people, and most of the time I’m not only not receptive, but I actively shut down my receptivity from this place – spending a whole lot of time in relationship with myself. And all the watching becomes isolation that turns quickly into loneliness and resentment. So much so that it’s paved a well worn road to depression and despair.

The concert tonight was actually a public lecture – an interview with Ani Difranco at the Palace of Fine arts in San Francisco. She’s been a longtime source of musical, social and personal inspiration – I feel like I’ve grown up with her. It’s bizarre to feel like this with a stranger. A completely one-sided friendship, that on my one side, has been full of complexities and growth and emotion. She’s just a stranger I’ve watched and listened too more than the average person – while I go about having my reactions and relationship with myself. So I decided to really pay attention tonight to what relationship I’m having exactly. I listened, I received Ani’s offerings and felt nourished. And afterward came a strong and natural wave, of hunger for dialogue. I felt enlivened and inspired, and I wanted an outlet to share the new creations that were brewing in me with these new ingredients.

This is my practice. It’s why I decided (and re-decided, and re-decided) to start this blog. To feel fulfilled experiencing relationship in this way – this most basic giving and receiving that has been the primary developmental gap in my life. And I am already finding wells of vitality in me that have been long hidden. Since I started this blog I feel like a fountain has been turned on, and the more I express the more I want to receive and the more I want to express. This is what relationship is. I’m alone right now, writing in a strange, stinky room without knowing who, if anyone, will read this. But in writing I am learning how to find and speak what is inside of me. And if you are here receiving my little offering, it may grow something in you. What else on earth is there for us to do?

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Lisa’s Big Give

I don’t have TV, so I sometimes watch shows online the day after they air. Somehow I got sucked into the vortex of reality TV (kicking and screaming) and have been keeping up with Oprah’s Big Give.

As far as reality TV goes, it’s pretty standard in the whole “how can we create as much drama as possible” bit – the first and last 10 minutes of each episode being particularly appalling examples of our human potential, in my opinion. And still I get sucked in, poo-pooing all along but not turning it off.

They’ve mastered the art of alluring the ego in these shows. It’s “reality”, so they’re just like us – we can imagine we’re in the seat and go flying right along with all the emotional turbulence. And it works. For those of us (me) who watch movies and TV to step out of our skin for a while and vacation in the exciting world of somebody else, we feel every bump and triumph as keenly as if it were our own, while still having the luxury of a second seat in the judge’s box. I’ve noticed all these shows have both participants and watchers. There are the players on the journey, and there are the people watching the players and commenting all along the way on how they are doing.

It’s the quintessential metaphor of our cultural and egoic conditioning. The judges decide what’s acceptable, what’s better than, what wins and what goes home. And just in writing this – in really getting this – the compassion I have for myself is deepening. When I watch this stuff the judgment never feels good. This is what our culture does to us every time we step out the door. And we’ve been in a cultural immersion program since birth, so we don’t even have to walk out the door – we only have to breathe and we’re doing it to ourselves. I do it day in and day out – and I’m usually so in it I’m not even seeing it – which makes a lot of sense, seeing as how the show isn’t fun to watch even when it’s not me. I’m doing it right now.

In this particular show, the cultural repercussions are about subtle as a Vegas sign. From a nice diverse pool of 10 original participants, all but the three richest, prettiest and whitest have been shown the door. In this system you don’t have a chance if you’re not equipped with the right gear. And I spend so SO much time bemoaning the places where I’m not equipped. The many places where I wasn’t blessed with, or nurtured into the impossibly perfect form for brilliant physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual success in the particular place I happened to be born into.

As I write tonight, the judge watching me is taking the form of my teacher Cheri Huber, who is shaking her head and saying “I’ve been telling you this in a thousand different ways, in seven different books, and here you are writing this like it’s some big new discovery. And then writing it as if it’s yours!” I assure you that in my regular, daily reality Lisa show this most compassionate Buddhist teacher does say such things, and I unquestioningly believe – I get hurt and defensive, but walk off stage without hesitation, really thinking “she” is teaching me to be better than I am.

Tonight I’m writing anyway. It is mine to discover, and I’m doing it. And the resolution is like a salve. There’s more to reality TV than the participants and the judges – there’s us watching it. I’m turning it off.

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