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Wabi-Sabi

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–Photo by Andrija Bloom

 

You remember too much,

my mother said to me recently.

 

Why hold onto all that? And I said,

Where can I put it down?

 

–Anne Carson

I’ve had a lot of strong feelings this week. I’ve tried to allow myself to feel them, to feel the full extent of them, to let it hurt as much as it hurts. I haven’t distracted myself with any of the things that can typically provide escape–exercise, work, food, substances, texting, relationships, touch. I’m not running away. I’ve sat alone with the pain and the darkness. It started with hours. It’s turned into days.

I had no idea how many layers of strength this would take. I had no idea the pain went that deep. Each time I thought I had hit bottom, there was a trap door that opened and there was more underneath.

Maybe there is still more. Maybe I have not yet hit bottom.

But I am staying here until I do.

The Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, rooted in Zen Buddhism, is exemplified by the custom of celebrating cracks rather than discarding the cracked object. If a container is old and worn, cracked and leaking, an artist fills the cracks with gold, showing the broken places, rather than hiding them. In so doing, the container is made distinct and useful again. In this tradition, over time, the vessel takes on a new beauty, and is honored and prized because of (not in spite of) its obvious flaws.

The culture of wabi-sabi celebrates the beauty of imperfection and the wisdom of the experiences that break us. When the cracks are filled in with gold, they are highlighted rather than hidden, celebrated rather than denied. An untrained eye might think such an object is garish or embarrassing, but there is a perverse beauty in dramatizing imperfection. Wabi-sabi embraces this.

I am broken and scarred, but my cracks are where the light gets in.

I like being prepared, so everywhere I go, I carry bags to compartmentalize the clothes and tools I need for the numerous jobs I do. I am a person who over-schedules, over-exercises, over-plans, over-commits, and I have a messy car that dramatizes this. When I’m working on something I believe in, I go all in, focusing so intently, I forget to eat, forget to rest, neglect my friends, push people away, lock myself in a sort of solitary confinement. Sometimes I get physically ill.

But I am more than my worst traits, more than an amalgam of my annoying flaws. Most of the time, I give people my undivided attention, even if it messes with my overbooked schedule. Most of the time, I practice yoga and meditation and peace-making, slowing down, becoming present. I send handwritten notes to loved ones, tend a garden, share the harvest. Most of the time, I follow my heart over my head and actively defy the social barriers of religion, class, gender, ethnicity and age, loving boldly and courageously. I stand up for what I believe in, especially when it’s threatened by something more powerful, even when I know I can’t win. And if what I’m fighting for requires me to go up against something stronger than I am, I step into the ring anyway, and go down swinging, to the very end.

When I lose, sometimes someone will reach down, take my hand, and sit with my brokenness.

Maybe this time, that person is me.

I am loyal, loving, chaotic, dramatic, and broken.

“The world breaks everyone,” Ernest Hemingway said, “and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

 

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Ajna

pexels-photo-270775.jpegIf a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. – Thoreau

For the past few months, I’ve been training with a woman we call J. She’s an accomplished athlete, dancer, performer and business owner, and every time I see her, she pushes me out of my comfort zone.

Last fall, I agreed to dance burlesque and pole with her troupe. Two weeks before the show, right before I knew she was delivering the program to print, I came to my senses and realized I wasn’t ready. I spent hours drafting the perfect text message, apologizing to her for inconveniencing her, assuring her that she could take me off the program and adjust the performance timing to accommodate this beneficial change, thanking her for taking a risk on me, and then apologizing three more times, in different ways, to assure her I knew I had been delusional when I had initially agreed to do this.

I pressed “send” right before I taught my regularly scheduled vinyasa flow yoga class, relieved I had done the right thing, realizing I had jumped in over my head, and was now safely exiting the metaphorical pool before I drowned.

I taught my class, secure in the rhythms of language and instruction, sequenced to my well-rehearsed musical playlist.

After class, I looked at my phone. There was a text message that read, “This isn’t a decision to make through text. I’ll be at the studio at noon. See you there.”

I stared at my phone is disbelief. I became mildly angry. I had done the right thing. How dare she make me question myself. Did she need an apology in person? Why? And how dare she make me any more uncomfortable than I already was.

I typed, “I’m sorry I’m not available. I hope you’ll forgive me for wasting your time. I’ll see you after the show.”

I sat with that for a moment. I looked at my phone. I didn’t press send. Instead, I looked at the time. 10:30. I had plenty of time to figure out a better way to say that. I set the phone down and packed up my things. I changed my clothes. I walked to my car.

I looked at my phone. 11:00. I didn’t press send.

I put my bags and yoga mat in my car and walked to a cafe. I ordered tea and sat down. I looked at my phone. 11:22.

I deleted the text message. I told myself that I respected her as a person and I should be courteous and face her. I decided to apologize in person.

I drove to the studio.

She looked at me casually when I walked in and told me to get dressed, that we needed to go through the routine a couple more times to see what changes we should make.

She told me to warm up.

I fought the urge to argue and didn’t respond. Instead, I walked out.

I stood outside the studio, shaking.

Then I went back to my car, grabbed my pole shorts and changed in the bathroom. She had turned on the music by the time I walked back in and I grabbed a mat from the stack and began to stretch. She adjusted the lights and the tempo and said, “Ok, just let me see a quick run-through so I can gauge where we are.”

I began.

Two weeks later, I put on high black boots, a camisole, and short shorts. I let the girls adorn me with tribal make-up and symbols. I was still shaking, but I performed with the troupe, two nights in a row, to loud applause.

As Sri Aurobindo says, “In order to see, you have to stop being in the middle of the picture.”

J has never mentioned my text message. Neither have I.

Who marches to the beat of their own drummer? Who is the marcher? Who is the drummer?

Whose judgment was I afraid of? And why did I let that the fear of that judgment infringe on my attempt to challenge myself and do something outside of my comfort zone, something I had obviously felt compelled to try?

I worried that the other women in the troupe thought I was embarrassing. I worried about other women in my social spheres who might find out I was doing something inappropriate for my age. I worried I was being self-indulgent and ridiculous. 

We still have subtle punishments for women who insist on who they are and what they want. Kate Manne argues that misogyny is not about hating women, but rather about controlling and punishing women who challenge male dominance. Misogyny rewards women who reinforce the status quo and punishes those who don’t. We are all complicit.

I judged myself for playing whore in a world in which I had previously chosen to play madonna. I didn’t agree with this unilateral bifurcation, but here I was, afraid to upset the status quo by switching roles.

So how do we pay attention to what we want, and listen to our own intuition? How do we support other women in doing the same?

We can consider the space of ajna, the sixth chakra, which engages inner and outer seeing. The sixth chakra is found in the cone-shaped pineal gland, located in the geometric center of the head at approximately eye level, derived from a third eye, which begins to develop early in the embryo and later degenerates. The pineal gland acts as a light meter for the body and is sometimes called the “seat of the soul.” To develop a more intuitive form of seeing, we need to look at fields of energy, not at objects themselves, reaching with our minds to see beyond what we’re accustomed to looking for, developing a wider lens to capture what is outside our ordinary field of vision.

One way we can learn to listen to ourselves and develop clairvoyance is by embracing an art form. At its fundamental core, art provides a vehicle for resistance. While our practice will undoubtedly include supporting professional artists and the work we admire, we must also join the conversation by creating art ourselves.

Oppression exists in so many forms, many of which are not easily detected. Art does the difficult work of identifying those things.

Jeanette Winterson reminds us that “the process of art is a series of jolts, or perhaps I mean volts, for art is an extraordinarily faithful transmitter. Our job is to keep our receiving equipment in good working order.”

J chose to be an artist because it was the only career she knew of that would allow her to speak her truth at all times. Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. She wears hers in the spotlight.

I don’t make a living performing with my body, but I have made a career out of performing with my mind. There’s something empowering about stepping out of that comfort zone, widening the definition of what I think I can do, who I am, how I see and let myself be seen.

I’ve decided to inject myself with the unpredictable, and this new way of moving in the world is a lifestyle I seek and often regret seeking. This tension is part of the discomfort.

The healing power of art is not a rhetorical fantasy. Art opens the wound to clean it, and then gradually teaches it to heal itself.

As Beth Pickens says, “You have something to contribute to anything to which you feel committed. Right now, as you are, with what you already have, you can contribute…. Have a clear view of your relative vulnerability and risk level in the world. Feeling scared does not equal being unsafe. Feeling fearless does not equal safety…”

In the past four months, I have engaged in arenas I didn’t think were possible for me to enter.

I spent my young adulthood thinking I wanted to be with an artist. It’s taken me a long time to realize, I am an artist.

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suspicion

Someone called the police on my stepmother when we were shopping at Smart & Final when I was a kid. She was Mexican and we were white and even though there was no signs of distress, it looked “suspicious.” My father said we should be grateful that people are watching, that others care enough to call. I didn’t feel grateful. Another time, a very large man in Kmart screamed in my stepmother’s face that she should go back to Japan, after a dispute over line order. When we moved from California to Ohio for a brief time, where there didn’t seem to be any other races besides black and white (on separate sides of town, in the 1980s), people openly stared, asked crazy questions. “Do you eat hot tamales for breakfast?” No, but I did eat chorizo sandwiches for lunch. The unfamiliar smell made other kids shift away.

There are a range of reactions to the Zimmerman verdict. Many of my Facebook friends are torn up. Others insist race had nothing to do with it, that guns are still good, that it’s unfortunate, but these things just happen. One implied that the media cares more about dead black people than dead white people.

Earlier this year, we had a rash of break-ins in my suburban neighborhood. No one took anything from us because we don’t have anything too enticing. But the neighbors were very upset. Our next door neighbor, who is nice–with her smile and her curly brown hair and her garden clogs–rushed over to me as we were getting out of the car. She told me she had seen a suspicious man outside of our house. This suspicious man was my darker-skinned, half-Jewish, half-Mexican brother-in-law, who pulled up in a Prius and wore running clothes and a CamelBak. He was meeting me to go on a run. What do you think made my neighbor suspicious? The pouch full of water strapped to his back? Or the extreme wicking nature of his technical shirt?

My neighbor spoke to me about the rash of crime in front of my anxious son, and he couldn’t sleep for a few nights after.

Eight-year-olds aren’t the only ones. We convince ourselves to be scared, even in our gated communities, our stucco tract homes. We buy guns and we practice. We imagine we are heroes in our own movies, that everything we are suspicious of is out to get us. We are stupid, we are isolated from one another. We don’t know what we are really talking about. But people still die, all of the time, as a result.

Zimmerman says he needs his gun now “more than ever.”

Stand your ground laws say you can follow a person, a teenager, into the darkness and terrorize him and kill him and get away with it.

My black friends have black children, black boys, who they know will grow up to be black men who will be in danger because someone will always be suspicious of the color of their skin. And that someone might have a gun. He might imagine himself to be some arbiter of justice and safety, as Zimmerman did. And he might be wrong, as Zimmerman was, but it wouldn’t matter. My sister, too, has a black son. This is my nephew Cameron:

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Let’s be honest. We have a race problem in this country. And we have a gun problem, too. And there are lives at stake. Stand your ground laws and the verdict in this case and all of our own suspicions, legitimate or not, guarantee this sort of thing will happen again.

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Night Running

Just before I smashed my face into the raised concrete edge of someone’s driveway last night, I was thinking about how I shouldn’t have been afraid to run at night. My legs felt warm and light. I looked up at the sky, which seemed light for this time of night, and saw Orion behind some bits of cloud. It was cool outside, but not too cold, so I unzipped my jacket and tied it haphazardly around my waist. The air felt good against my skin. I was listening to this song for the second time:

And then suddenly, my mouth smashed into an edge I couldn’t see, snapping my head back. I instantly knew I was missing a tooth, and my tongue glided through my mouth, surveying the damage. Warm, salty blood filled my mouth. I was on my ass, and I was shaking. It was really dark and I knew I needed to call someone. I usally don’t take my phone with me when I run, but this was my first night run and I decided that it would be a good idea. My fingers fumbled through my jacket, searching for my phone.

There are a lot of reasons not to run alone, at night, to not go to any dark places or any places at all alone, especially if you are a woman. But I don’t think it is fair that I have to be concerned with going places alone, and, worse, I think it’s a loss if I let fear control me. I like to go places by myself—it helps me clear my head—and I especially like to ride my bike and run by myself. I also have an upcoming half-marathon and marathon, and not a lot of time in the daylight hours to train.

Ryan had a bad feeling. He asked me not to go. I pointed to my reflective vest and blinking light and phone and told him I’d be safe. My friend Tricia had told me about a man who had jumped out of some shrubbery one time when she was running at night and, leering, told her, “Run for me.” Of course, I hadn’t told Ryan this story. I wondered what I would do if something similar happened. You would think that something like this happening would be rare, and I’m not going to cite any statistics, but in my experience, it’s not. I’ve had exactly two serious stalkers in my life, one of whom threatened my life. Nearly all of my female friends have been sexually assaulted to varying degrees at some point in their lives. I take some solace in the fact that I have had some martial arts training and am also a large woman. But what if someone had a weapon? What if they really, really wanted to hurt me? There are legitimate reasons to be fearful. I’ve entertained the idea of wearing a knife strapped to my leg, and, as I began my run, I renewed my promise to go to the military surplus store and buy one of those. Just in case.

About 3 miles into my run, those fears had become distant. I had run past several people, mostly men, but one other woman, and they had either ignored me or said hello. My blinking light had popped off and broken, but I still had my vest on, and it was beautiful outside. I felt like I was gliding, anonymous. It had been a very long day and I could feel the stress draining from my body.

Moments later, I was trembling and unable to get the touchscreen on my phone to work because my fingers were wet with blood. I staggered into someone’s driveway, thinking I would ask to use their phone, but finally got mine to work. I called Ryan and he didn’t answer his cell (lesson: we are getting a land line), so I called his dad and he came to get me. I sat under a streetlight and waited, crying fairly hysterically, as a few carloads of people paused at the stop sign, noticed me, stared, and continued on. A man from one car yelled something at me, but I can’t remember what they said. I don’t think it was kind.

I have promised my father-in-law, my mother-in-law, my husband, my dentist, and my doctor that I will not run at night again. There was indeed a reason to be afraid last night and it had nothing to do with men in bushes. It had to do with an uneven sidewalk and, probably, my inherent clumsiness. I am not sure, despite my promises, whether or not I will run at night again, and that makes me a little sad to be honest because it really was beautiful. I am very grateful that I didn’t hurt myself worse, that I can still run, that I have dental insurance:

Before:

After:

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