Intimacy With Everything

“Enlightenment is intimacy with everything.”

-Dogen Zenji, 1200-1253

Even arsenic in rice?

The report was released in September. Arsenic is turning up in rice samples ranging from organic rice baby cereals to breakfast cereals to white rice and brown rice. Something about the indisputability of arsenic’s profound toxicity catches my heart and hits me with a thud. “There is no safe level of arsenic,” says the FDA. It isn’t that I’m surprised, or even aghast. Quite the contrary. I’m grimly accepting, albeit with great pain. For several days I look at my children through a different texture of gaze: seeing the food on Rowan’s plate in a renewed light. Even rice has become a potential poison and this time there is no disputing, no arguing, no escaping through the denial of endless industry funded studies. Arsenic is a poison and it is turning up in American rice.

How to be intimate with this news? It is ultimately the icing on the cake of a month of activism around the endocrine disrupting chemical Bisphenol-A and the floodgates of knowledge being open regarding the harmful effects of seemingly unavoidable chemicals inundating our daily lives through air, water, food packaging, couches, clothes, baby mattresses, blankets and the like. We’ve turned too much of our world into poison. There is nothing like the precious vulnerability of a baby to help me see the vast cruelty of our society’s experiments and there is also nothing like the unavoidable revelation that there is no escape. I often say being an environmentalist is a hard place to be. It requires open eyes and heart amidst the constant barrage of bad news as well as acceptance of the adage ‘what we do to earth we also do to self.’ We as a species still haven’t managed to get the memo: this too is interconnected. Arsenic in pesticides even 100 years ago comes back to haunt us today, creeping into grains of rice and kids’ juice boxes and infant formula.

My mind turns to the Hindu deity Krishna. When traveling in India I was told Krishna’s skin was blue because he ingested the poisons afflicting humanity and was able to transmute them. (Not only did he transform humanity’s poisons, he also drove venomous snakes away by vehemently dancing on their heads). His power to transform poison points to a lesson in integration: radical integration of what is, even what is profoundly toxic, as a path to transformation and healing. How much poison can we sustain? Perhaps that isn’t the question to attend to, but rather how much can we integrate in our hearts, minds and souls in order to be fully sane? If Enlightenment is intimacy with everything, how intimate can we be with our poisons?

Perhaps Krishna also points to the lesson of radical integration as a path to no resistance. Rather than resist, run from, fight and try to avoid what is ultimately unavoidable, perhaps we can practice a sane, relaxed response. As my husband tells me in the midst of my worrying spells: “Relax into the mess.” This doesn’t mean inaction or avoidance or denial. It doesn’t mean apathy or an “oh well” disposition. This means radical integration of the mess and radical intimacy with the mess. From a place of intimacy, with eyes wide open, we can make meaningful decisions from the heart. We can feel the pain and let it bruise us, and we can try to love the bruise. Instead of a “fight for life” from a place of fear, we can surrender into the flow of life, even life’s messes which cause both physical and emotional cancers.

As a mother I want to protect my children. The heartbreaking truth is that in many instances I cannot. Ultimately I cannot create an island that is safe from the poisons of our mistakes, especially the mistakes beyond my sphere of influence. I can however create an enclave of sanity, a launching pad of the relative health grounded in the understanding of interconnectedness and the accompanying intimacy of this perspective. And, I can choose to not cultivate fear and dread, instead moving beyond fear into the realm of integration, which is ultimately Truth. This situation is just True. This hell bending situation just IS. Pesticides dousing soil with neurotoxins and carcinogens, arsenic laden soil giving life and food but also a dose of wake up America reality.

Still, we are called to action and activism, even in light of living into a practiced acceptance. Intimacy calls us to love! And love calls us to protection and preservation. Beyond fear and avoidance is the realm of Love. So surrender. Let this break your heart. Look at your child and wonder what the future holds. Marvel that lessons of our interconnectedness are served up poignantly on your plate. No surprises. Fully integrated awareness, bestowing a calm authority, we move on, vowing to enact our own gestures of transformation.

Practice Bell Equals Baby Crying

Dedication to practice is easier to access when rested and sane – not at 1:53am after a long day.  I keep feeling “I need a break” and “there is no rest in sight” (1:53am thoughts) and then proceed to self medicate with chocolate and toast and tea.  At 1:59am I finally come to face that the only break I need is from the parts of myself that resist the present moment arising, that resist staying with any given moment (for example the baby crying at 1am).  The ‘break’ needed is actually from parts of self not yet integrated, like the part that wants to toss myself out the window when Rowan won’t sleep (exaggeration, but you get the picture).  This part is completely devoid of patience.  Fed up.  Reached a boundary and can’t feel a way out.  The irony is that daily I work to eek out small spaces for other parts of myself (the writing, hiking, yoga parts) – but all along the hidden quandary is that I need more space for the parts that think they need a break and are at the edge.  In other words I need to spend more time with the moments of perceived “break-needing” in order to, through more intimate self understanding and acceptance, move through these spaces to a deeper freedom and peace.  This is the fertile ground of practice.  As my yoga teacher often says:  “The only way out is in.”

Earlier today my mantra was “practice bell equals baby crying.”  The idea was spawned by reading from Lama Surya Das’s book Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be, where he suggests choosing a recurring sound throughout your days and designating it a ‘practice bell’ in order to cultivate moments of greater mindfulness.  That of course was fine during the day but less fine at 1am.  The irony did break through as I recalled the practice bell mid-sleep cycle, yet instead of finding the dedication I went straight to “screw this!”

Rowan’s sweet confusion at my bad mood breaks my heart.  I leave the room after helping him to sleep, ready to face the parts of myself that ignore the practice bell and ignore the great pause before acting, ignore the vast reservoirs of love and patience that are truer than anything else in the world.  I am so exhausted and so ready to give up and give in to this realization.  Giving up means letting go into the lessons unfolding even in uncomfortable places. In this instance, giving up means surrendering into Truth of the parts of self less faced.

Rowan’s midnight cry is a mirror for where I choose to shut down or not.  The cry shows me my reserves of compassionate loving response as well as my edgy restlessness that has had enough.  Both are true.

2:12 am calls me to returned sanity through sleep and a closer examination of just what it is I am so “tired of.”  Really, when I sit here and spiral deeper into this surface truth of ‘I am tired.  I need a break,”  it is actually empty.  At the core I am actually tired of nothing.  It is all a story on the surface, and if only I remember to heed the practice bells of existence I will stay seated in heartbreaking love of this life – every precious moment.  I’m only tired of the parts of myself that can’t yet sustain this awareness of pervasive love recognition.  Without the delving this truth too would continue to be obscured.  Really, all of this is just profound light shed on parts of self that aren’t utterly dissolved in Love – even love in the midst of shrieking 1am baby.