Holiday meditation: the gumdrop chakra

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, November 29, 2015

(First published in 2012; back by request.)

Lie down on the floor —arms and legs out, like a gingerbread man.

Imagine you have two gumdrop eyes and a big, messy, icing mouth, the kind gingerbread “men” have. Now tell yourself you are neither man nor woman, you are a spice cake, clove and cardamom and ginger essence through and through. Feel yourself sort of… floating… that unique feeling of a cookie cooling on a marble slab. Soon you will harden completely, but guess what? Your stiffness is perfectly natural, which is one of the delightful things about being a cookie. Your paralysis is not paralysis at all.

Relax deep into the core of your hardening dough. Like glass, you are really neither liquid nor solid but an in-between state. Feel the deep brown of the molasses coursing through your boneless and fingerless cookie hands, your fat cookie legs and then your crown chakra, which is an invisible gumdrop of pale purple sparkly sugar-light coming from a sugar-star about 93 million miles from here.

Imagine that crown gumdrop glowing now and spinning on, like, a toothpick, receiving celestial light… and that this light is infusing you, filling every melded morsel of butter, sugar, flour and spice in your being. You breathe in: clove. You breathe out: clove. This is universal clove. Feel it deeply.

Now, relax your icing smile until it is a flat loop, like a rubber band lying on the counter. You don’t always have to be happy, you know. You can be neutral. Just because you were born with a smile painted on doesn’t mean you can’t be aware of your true feelings. Like how it feels to be used as a tree decoration and then thrown away. Or how it feels when someone who doesn’t like cardamom takes one bite and spits your leg out into a napkin. Or when people lump you in with fruit cake and snickerdoodles. Not that those things have necessarily happened to you, but certainly to many of your ginger-brethren. But what about the regular, everyday stuff, like just a few hours ago when you were thinking to yourself, “Wow, why do I feel so flat inside — is there something wrong with me?”

No, there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with not trying so hard. With having some flatter days. It’s not easy being gingerbread, you know: having to be hard while staying somewhat soft inside — not just for others, but for yourself. Do you really want a roller coaster ride, wind pulling dangerously at the edges of your icing mouth?

Now ask yourself this trick question: “How can I smell clove if I don’t have a nose?” Do you feel your mind stretching as you enter the answer-less state? Now visualize your astral body getting up and walking, walking quietly through what appears to be a spearmint forest and toward what appears to be a gingerbread house, the old-fashioned kind, that has a pretzel gate that your astral fingers unlatch, feeling salt crystals come off in your palm. You stop for a moment, admiring the house, its piped-on architectural details. Then your hand-that-is-not-a-hand reaches for the doorknob and you enter. Tiptoeing on feet without toes.

Inside the house, it is dark except for a light in the kitchen. You feel like an outsider looking in, but you sense your quasi-flat body moving forward on its own, with yourself inside it. Is this duality? Are you observer or observed? Keep smelling the universal clove as you enter the cozy room. There are cookies in the oven, cookies just like you — do you see them? They look so much like you: are they you? They also look like paper dolls, laid out in rows, like clones.  All of a sudden, you are scared, really scared that this is “The Twilight Zone” again and that Rod Serling is going to walk through the side door and tell you it’s all a dream, that cookies don’t exist except in the mind of some giant sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice eating universe.

Be with your fear, breathing in, breathing out, flat heart beating in your flat chest. You are completely safe here and you are real. Look at the cookies through the glass oven door and see them with your mind’s gumdrop eye, going back, as if rewinding a tape, coming out of the oven, going back into the cookie cutters, and then finally… back into the bowl, the bowl of primordial dough from whence all gingerbread emerges, where unity of all confections exists, before hardness and softness even have come into being.

Are you happy? Calm? Of course you are, little cookie, because all is one. Now get out there and radiate your sugar-light in this brand new day.

Princess-of-the-world cat meditation

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sit upright on one of those squares you like. The vintage Navajo rug, or the laptop case, or one of the placemats they hate you sitting on, smack in the middle of the dining room table.

There is no one at home now, no one to try to make you do anything you do not want to do. (Not that they ever can. You on the other hand can make them do many things against their weak human will.) Are you on the placemat? Feeling the sweet containment of the square? Feeling the peace and smugness of being in a place you should not be? You are the princess of the world. Breathe in and out through that little pink nose, moving not a single one of your strawberry blonde hairs.

Now pick a point in the distance and stare at it. The birdhouse? That is fine as long as there is no bird activity, because in a moment, as part of this meditation, you will be asked to curb your tail’s twitching. So why set yourself up for failure? Breathe in order and control. Breathe it in for all 500 million domestic felines on this cat-heavy planet. Now breathe out the sound of the hand-held vacuum your humans use to try to get you out from under the beds. Of course you hate that thing. Release the Dustbuster from your consciousness. Release all loud noises for yourself and for all the scaredy-cats of the world.

Yes, splendid cat princess, breathe in power and out subjugation. Take a moment to squint your eyes in pleasure. Remember how pretty your eyes are, the pale olive green flecked with peridot fire? I’ve seen you admire yourself in the mirror as you drink from the faucet they’ve turned on for you. Let your mind’s eye become your actual eyes. Then use these eyes as gemstone crystals, pulling all negative energy and irritation right out through your eye sockets.

Why let go of irritation, you might ask, when it plays such a central part in your life? Why fix it if it ain’t broke? For a moment, precious tabby, consider this: you may not know how much better a cat’s life could be. Cats, too, cling to their pain and codependency. The irritation cycle can be broken. Say it: the irritation cycle can be broken. Say it again once more, not just for the purpose of this meditation, but being truly open to evolution, for yourself and for your species.

Now you are ready, ready to practice pleasure by squinting your eyes. Using a soft and silent meow, feel the breath at the back of your fish-flavored throat.  Squint and breathe: life is good. Right? Deep meow, life is goooooood. Are you letting go now? Who exactly is letting go? You? You are the squinter. Are you also the spirit observing the squint? Yes, my liege. Release all remaining traces of the hand-held vacuum.

Now close your eyes fully in deep and accepting peace. No one is home. There are no birds at the feeder. There are no family members not doing what you would have them do and doing what you would have them not do. There is just you and an empty house and all those deliciously varied napping places that reflect the diurnal movement of the sunny-sun-sun.

Okay, now: from this moment of acceptance and deep relaxation, twitch your tail one last time. Then simply will…it…to…stop…. Remember your own superpower: the unbelievable and unaccountable mind-melding will of a cat. Use it, on yourself this time, to keep the tail still 100 percent. Yes, it’s tricky. Because pretty much everything has the capacity to irritate you.

But as irritation builds, work with the coiled energy at the tip of the tail. This is your Catalini, not that you need understand the Yoga Upanishads to complete this meditation. Breathe in peace up the tail and into the spine and then breathe out irritation. Repeat. Take a moment to be fully present in the Now. Otherwise known as the Meow. Were you successful? You may have just created your first new neural catway.

Maybe you were unable to refrain from twitching? It’s okay. You are a cat, with thousands and thousands of years of neural programming to overcome. Breathe in and rotate an ear. Breathe out. Slowly, quietly, and without judgment stand up and arch your back in a modified Cat-cow, then return to sitting, to a neutral position.

The sun has likely made its way across the table. Feel the sun on your whiskers, then feel it move across the white blaze on your chest. Let your mind melt into the golden light of the sun as you close your eyes again, breath even, tail still. Beautifully done, princess. Now reward yourself with a nice long nap: isn’t that pile of clean laundry just what the doctor ordered?

Bluebird

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, June 28, 2015

In a blue suit so bright a shard of sky might have fallen to earth and then bounced off the ground into flight, a bluebird, chasing a bicycle down a bikepath, swoops from fence post to fence post as a June day trumpets its particular glory.

Suddenly, the bicycle stops and the rider, a woman in a hat, faces the bird. Though it is just about to take flight, the featured creature, as if its feet were stuck to the post, reconsiders.

MCW: [speaking low] You know, I feel like you’ve been following me. For years, in fact. But. Maybe you do this with every bicycle.

BBird: [in a voice too cute for words, especially English ones] Nope. You’re the only one I follow. [trills]

MCW: I knew it! [dismounts] Since my mother died, right? In 2001? I always felt she’d slipped right into a bird body just to keep her eye on me.

BBird: Jeannine? [micro-sighs] She did watch over you after she died, but only briefly. Remember when that psychic told you she was hanging out in your clothes closet because of how confused she was about her place in the afterlife? Well, she actually was. You wore dresses back then and that sweet perfume: she was in the dresses.

MCW: Wow. [checks bikepath for onlookers] I loved that perfume. Acqua di Parma, Iris. She was in the dresses?

BBird: [ignoring her] And PS: bluebirds don’t live that long. You’ve got humans saying the oldest bluebird lived eight years but it was actually 10 and a half. Another simple little thrush hell bent on fulfilling the mission of monitoring some impossible person’s happiness. Even with all the hospice birds doing their best to lead him out, he just wouldn’t go. Heart kept beating 600 times a minute even with a cool piece of moss laid out on its —

MCW: Wait — bluebird hospice?

BBird: Little blue angels of mercy. Anyway. We all get assignments — missions is what they’re actually called. And I got you — whom your father used to call “the little black cloud” back when you were in high school. Remember?

MCW: A chip off the old big cloud. [putting kickstand down on bike] Nah, I was miserable in high school, it’s true. What kind of mission?

BBird: Are you serious? We’re bluebirds! Who else do you think monitors happiness, day by day, human by human.

MCW: I thought bluebirds brought the happiness.

BBird: No, we’re monitors. Correct taxonomy: “Bluebird of Happiness Monitoring,” but somewhere along the line it got shortened. Not that we’re not a joyful lot: it’s actually built right into our flight pattern and color. Divine genius, you know, building joy right into a bird.

MCW: So, like: you’d be the one to ask about how humans are doing. Right now, for instance, on the planet.

BBird: Where bluebirds reside. Other creatures monitor other places. And of course there are different schools of thought on what makes the happy life. Most bluebirds are Socratics. We believe wisdom, courage, moderation and justice create the capacity for happiness in humans. Personally, I’d throw in joy and the ability to groove to a tune, but otherwise, yeah.

MCW: Wisdom and justice? Yikes. Not sure I want an assessment. Hey, you know those animated bluebirds in the original Cinderella? The ones who —

BBird: Cheer her up and hang ribbons on her dress and such? They’re in Snow White, as well; but in Cinderella, they’re wearing ugly brown hobo shoes and headscarves. Like we’re from the old country or something. Frowsy. But what about them?

MCW: Oh forget it. I mean I’ve got the real thing, right here before my very eyes, speaking to me in an accent of undetermined origin. Sort of Boston meets British. Anyway, after my years of monitoring, what happens?

BBird: Well. [hops to handlebars]. I pass on. But not before having filed the report.

MCW: [horrified] The report? Like a permanent part of the record?

BBird: [laughing hysterically] You should see the look on your face! [shaking wings] Stop, it, Alexis!

MCW: I’m confused. Who is Alexis?

BBird: I’m Alexis. And I shouldn’t be poking fun. Against the rules. Anyway, you’ve got about three years to go on my watch. And I suggest —

MCW: That I take wisdom and justice more seriously?

BBird: Nope. Are you kidding me? I suggest you realize happiness is built into your wings as well. Your shoulder blades, actually. And that you get out there and jiggle them around.  [spreads wings, flies off, swooping] [tweeting over wing] And another thing —

MCW: [shielding eyes from brilliant blue] What???

BBird: Have a bluebird day!

Running with keys

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, August 31, 2014

I am standing on the steps of the Telluride Elementary School watching the six year old in our life step into the same classroom my 21-year-old daughter stepped into a dozen years back. It’s bumper cars on Memory Lane.

Scanning the bare legs and big backpacks and worried expressions, another rubber-bumpered memory car jogs me and I’m back 50 more years, back in my first-grade classroom and remembering a line from Peggy Sue Got Married, a quirky movie from the ‘80s: “You’re just browsing through time, Peggy Sue.” Browsing through time.

It’s 1964, and we’re in Europe on dad’s last tour of duty. The rest of the siblings are in American high school and I’ve already had a year in French kindergarten, which, in their system, is the final year of a three-year preschool program.

Based on kindergarten, I’m not too concerned about first grade. I’ve learned to write in cursive, to memorize poems with words so big I don’t know or care what they mean, and to read. I’ve deeply loved and memorialized recess in the dusty playground, catching bees in our handkerchiefs and letting them go, chasing pals around and collecting piles of fine sand made from slapping the earth hard. Piles of grade-A dirt make us happy. I love kindergarten.

Turns out, things are different in first grade.

The elementary school in the little village of Olivet, near Orleans (70 miles from Paris, where the American military are stationed), has an enormous iron gate that is closed and opened several times a day, a gate painted stone-and-sky gray and serviced with a giant key. It is a school full of girls, as the schools have not yet integrated, and my seat in the classroom is toward the back. I am still known as the “little American with the braids.” We are required to wear a loose button-down smock made of nylon, a cover-up for clothing that might betray the more and the less fortunate of us.

At six, we learn to write with dip pens. The inkwells, in the front right corner of the desk, are filled at the beginning of the day, and we spend a good portion of our time following forms, practicing, blotting, dipping again and learning vocabulary. The wretch behind me likes to take the end of my right braid silently in hand and dip it into her well of purple ink. She does it often. Danielle: She is one of the class troublemakers, a girl whose unhappy face I study as she stands in the front of the room, doing penance, needing — and hating her need — for attention.

At lunchtime, for some mysterious and petrifying reason, I have been given the job — as we file out to walk two-by-two to the lunchroom building a quarter of a mile away — of locking the gate with the giant key and running the key to my teacher whose apartment is up a flight of stairs close by. Every day, I worry that Mme Lafouri will not answer the door in time and I will be left behind. She is stern and I fear her. Every day I survive and catch up with the group, but every next day holds the same worry and trauma. My mother says it’s all silliness, which makes me feel the magnitude of the problem even more, makes me feel that I am utterly alone in it.

In the afternoons, we write out answers to math questions fired at us from the front of the classroom on handheld chalkboards. I’m good at it, right up until the day I am asked to come to the front of the class to write on the big chalkboard, at which point I just cannot come up with the sum. In a searing moment of surprise, I feel the notorious bamboo switch on the back of my own calves, something clearly/confusingly meant to both punish and prod. After a moment of humiliation, I somehow come up with that answer, get a nod, and find my seat, where Danielle is waiting, silently, to pick up the end of my braid.

As I think of my little-people problems — sometimes microcosms of my big-person problems — a fresh first-grader is deposited at a friendly table in a sunny room at a sweet school without any gate at all. The temptation is to compare and contrast the old ways with the new, to look at it all and say, “This will be easier, for sure.” But the fact is, small (and medium and large) people will never cease to have secret challenges; and the best thing to do for them (us) — always — is to listen, acknowledge and validate. It lightens the baggage of life ever so much.