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.

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Love Is A Practice

Braeden is 3 months old and I pause to take note of the threshold beyond ‘newborn’ that we have crossed. These months a “toss up” quality prevailed: rootless structure, flailing at times under a hot sun that broiled my new mama brain to smithereens. The combination of summer heat and light coupled with new family dynamics often gave way for disorientation and chaos to bloom, even with love simultaneously taking root. The frenzied moments of adjustment were like hot flashes in a pan. There were hard moments of truth to move through. Tears shed. Voices raised. Rowan reckoning with wanting to send his little brother back to the belly (“Mama, next time, could you please try to put Braeden back in your belly so I don’t have to feel so alone?”). Then, all of the sudden, a lot of angst and confusion was metabolized, burned up and giving way for something else to take hold. Staying with difficult emotions and not forcing them into underground shadows, suddenly we’ve turned a corner into a new realm of emergent fondness between brothers and an accompanying deep sigh of relief amongst parents.

Love is a slow and steady practice, particularly in these early days of family bonding and adjusting. As parents we can help foster this practice of love amongst siblings, even when love doesn’t always look as we expect it to. We don’t typically fall in love overnight. Instead, an experience of love takes time, weaving through peaks and valleys and often complex terrain. Can we love what we want to initially push away? Can we practice seeing a reflection of someone like ourselves in those we don’t like at first? Every time Rowan acts out towards Braeden, I tell him to look at his eyes; I say again and again “this is a person! He gets sad just like you!” Staying in connection, empathy begins to surface. Love begins to show a face that is more compassionate and less edgy.

The early days of welcoming a new brother for Rowan showed me that perhaps the practice of Love integrates everything. Love moves its way through the shadows and pain to emerge in a place of more integrated acceptance of what is, even with resistances still present. It is here that I find myself and it is this place that Rowan reflects too. Both of us do the dance of love and surrender and love and resistance in different ways, together. Me resisting the myriad expressions of his challenges and he resisting the presence of his new brother and all the implications therein. Family becomes the hard crucible of transformation that so many of us want to run from. Try as I might, I can’t seem to get away. Day in and day out I am up against the ever-present challenges of required guidance and patience. I slowly enter into a new realm of practiced love between family members, where I catch glimpses of Rowan smiling at his little brother in the rear view mirror. Like a slow blooming plant, the cultivation of love is underway. The key is to keep nourishing the roots of kindness and compassion, even when other emotions may be taking the reins.

So too with other situations in life: we can stay connected, practice love – watering the roots of slow growth into a familiar comfort of being. Rather than proverbially pining for some other thing or condition, we can let go into what is in order to radically transform.

New Year’s Butterflies…

The idea came to me in a glimpse, the way important things often flash in an instant and you might miss it if not paying attention. It was New Year’s Eve with four generations gathered to celebrate. Navigating the needs of a 2-year-old and a 95-year-old can often be complex; and then it struck me: butterflies! Change, beginnings, transformation, metamorphosis…We could celebrate all these things on a quiet afternoon together, steeping ourselves in a warm pavilion of fluttering wings and caterpillars crunching through their awakening into something new and unexpected…

How amazing it was when one attached to my mother for the duration of our stay – all eyes on her back, waiting for a glimpse of its glorious blue wings when open. The butterfly is an iconic creature – so many connotations to serve as fodder for the imagination. Spirit, soul, emergence, something of the ethereal. As Avia Venefica says, “From egg, to larvae (caterpillar), to pupa (the chrysalis or cocoon) and from the cocoon the butterfly emerges in her unfurling glory. What a massive amount of transition this tiny creature undergoes Imagine the whole of your life changing to such an extreme you are unrecognizable at the end of the transformation…Herein lies the deepest symbolic lesson of the butterfly. She asks us to accept the changes in our lives as casually as she does…” For us, the beauty of the butterfly reminded us of the gift of life and togetherness: A kiss of Spirit and a pause of quietness in the flow of time’s passing…

Shedding Your Skin

With a deep sigh I slowly settle into the rapidly changing reality that is pregnancy. (Yes, baby two is slowly forming in its 18th week of existence!). I’d been thinking a lot about snakes quite a bit, seeing four of them in a 48 hour period the very week I got pregnant. So it was no wonder when crossing the street a few weeks ago (while in the throws of resisting the transformation that IS molding another being) that I tripped over a snake skin. Flattened by the pressure of cars passing by, it was still light as a feather to pick up. Rowan and I examined its exquisite detail while internally I marveled at life’s capacity for prolific metaphor. Here I was in the early months of pregnancy, and although this baby was a hoped for presence in my life, I was nauseous, tired, gaining weight just by looking at a piece of food – and profoundly resisting the changes underway. I kept telling myself to surrender, let go – and all the other wisdom clichés swimming in my being, but I was like a wheel stuck in mud. Wanting to go back to what it WAS. Not wanting to flow with transition. Moving toward the refrigerator 10 times a day with dread: I was clearly NOT shedding my skin.

So I crossed the snake skin’s path at the perfect moment. A reminder of the great transformation that is creating another being, I dedicated myself to shedding my skin in honor of stepping into a new one. I recall my first pregnancy and how it taught me that each woman who gives her body over to growing a new life undergoes a crash course in dealing with attachments; We are forced to let go of who we think we are in light of becoming something different. As our bodies and souls undergo vast changes, we are invited into the realm of letting go of attachment to particular appearances, with a quickening of change and ‘aging’ as we morph into new, expanded skin. All of the sudden I was faced with a lifetime’s worth of bodily and emotional change condensed into 40 weeks: a wake-up call to how life and time work on us, whether we choose to pay attention or not. All of the sudden as mothers we are older, transformed, wiser in some way from going through a rite of passage. A true metamorphosis occurs if we surrender into the gifts of change. Just like a snake shedding its skin, or a caterpillar becoming a butterfly in one of the most miraculous moments of metamorphosis – we too can open ourselves to the blessings of change.

For some reason this pregnancy journey has harkened more resistance than my first. As a new mother I was perhaps protected by my naivety. Not knowing the dramatic process upon me, I went with the flow not realizing how much I would be changed both physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. This time I know with the companion of subtlety and certainty that I am in a crucible. I know I am about to be split open in a myriad of mysterious ways. There is something protective in newness; This time around I am perhaps more relaxed and confident in some ways, more anxious in others. Will I gain 50 pounds again and will it take another nine whole months (or more) after birth to return to an experience of physical strength and feeling a new ‘normal?’ During labor will I push for four hard hours in the shadow of doubt? Will my second child be up every 2 hours for two years like my first? How will I manage taking care of TWO? Or will I simply surrender into the grace of what is, moving seamlessly through this life transition remembering Buddhist teacher and practitioner Pema Chodren’s wise dictum of “No Big Deal…?”

No big deal, AND a huge deal. All at once I dance around the utter normalcy that motherhood and pregnancy is, as well as the vast and seemingly miraculous (immense) mystery. A deep breath brings me back to the present moment where baby in the womb is fluttering about in a seemingly secret realm only I can feel. Like butterfly wings brushing back and forth inside of me, the soft pitter patter of tiny new limbs makes me marvel at the mystery of life. Pregnancy brings us into the realm of the great Unknown. Until we give ourselves over to the process of unknowable change, and choose to accept fully the unfolding of each moment (even when uncomfortable), we miss out on the potential for radical and positive transformation. Shedding the proverbial skin can be difficult. The key is to not hold on too tight to what has been, and to trust that you are leaving behind something equally lovely as the beauty and mystery of what is to come.

Shining Roots of Easter

I woke up this morning in Evergreen, Colorado looking out the window at snowy green trees bathed in wintery fog, pine needles iced with snow.  Immediately remembering that it was Easter, I felt a quiet pang of being drawn to participate in an ancient acknowledgment of resurrection and new life – Earth’s ushering forth of Spring alongside a sacred day marker of Jesus’s rising from death. Death and Rebirth.  Darkness and Light.  Winter into Spring.  New life.

These themes cycle themselves over and over again throughout the year and throughout the ages – so many stories giving rise to an understanding that transformation is always possible.  From death new life is also possible.  From the dark soil of winter rises new life.  The purple wildflowers bursting forth under snow in mountain forests offers testament to this truth today:  freezing hands touching soft petals under ice as songbirds fly overhead.

Spring emerges both within and without – my bones beckoning me to call forth again that which is drawn towards the Light.  What has been in hiding in the recesses of my experience becomes more illumined and I make myself available for a thaw into the heat of transformation.

The word Easter took root from Eostre and Ostara, names of a Germanic goddess who was celebrated prior to the 8th Century in northern Europe during the month of April (formerly known as Eostur-monath or Eostre month).   She was a goddess of Light, Dawn and Spring with her name deriving from the root austro, which means “to shine.”  She marks a season of new beginnings, returning light, beautiful early dawns…

Today, celebrate Light and the great shining forth of realization that invites the body and mind to be pervaded by radiance.  Remember the fire of transformation that moves everything from one condition towards another – and the possibility that a dying of one self gives rise to a less bounded capacity to shine.