Birthday Surrender

My birthday is 15 days away. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect each year as my birthday draws near. This year, I feel as though I am tumbling into the imprints of a year of particularly big events to reflect upon. Since my last birthday, I have quit my full time job, starting freelancing again, become a full time care provider for my toddler, moved to Philadelphia, & started founding a school. My grandfather has also moved to an assisted living and a family friend, diagnosed with cancer in November, passed away four months later– only a couple of weeks ago. June was my mother’s age, her daughter mine, and that daughter’s son nearly my own son’s age.

Any of us can make a list of the external events that have marked the passage of time– that list can be ongoing and eternal, depending on how many details and moments we wish to catalog. Filled with delightful moments of awakening and joy like watching my son’s excitement about knowing that the rounded red diamond shaped fruit with small black spots is called a strawberry (pronounced with 4 and 1/2 syllables); moments of intense insight like acknowledging  that the hollow at the pit of my throat when I hang up with one particular person is because she actually sees me and I miss her;  any number of huge life events (death of a loved one, moving, illness);  mundane instances  like the fullness of the first swallow of each morning’s pot of cream earl grey tea with milk.

The details matter. And yet, too, it is the spirit and energy behind them & inside of them that holds them and threads them to one another. And it is that bond between these things that I feel today–right now in this parenthetical pausing. It is like stepping outside and feeling the rain coming –it’s an undeniable awareness that something is happening as a result of pressure and circumstance preceding that moment. It is a particular and absolutely powerful instance of presence connecting the past and the future right here, right now.

When I move deeply into that presence right now, I see a tightness releasing. Like suddenly, at 33, all of the many moments leading to this one have come together. They have been pressed hard into one another and they are about to unfurl– to spread back out. In college I studied the Diamond Sutra through dance with one of my still beloved teachers. The essence of the movement I experienced in that study comes back to me here– translated via the commentary of Thich Nhat Hahn: “this is a rose; this is not a rose; this is a rose.” It is the returning to something we have forgotten and now know anew.

Rilke, speaking to the creative life and the writing of a poem in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge says it this way:

“Only when they [memories/experiences] have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves– only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their  midst and goes forth from them”

Does this make any sense? It is deeply profound. And yet instantly lost. I am here now, and then I fall into the sense of despair that is always right there waiting to take us deeply down into dark. And I alternatively reach high up towards some sort of spinning ride of pleasure. It is difficult for me to sit with the quiet, with the peace that I am beginning to sense is really real. On a cellular spiritual level, I am beginning to sense what the Sutra and Rilke refer to. What is different now from 12, 15 years ago, when I discovered these things, and believed in them is this: the joy and the loss between then and now.

It is  the apology email (many many years later) to Steve, an ex boyfriend, who in his words, I “unceremoniously dumped”  (see his blog post on love and relationship) that arose unsought one morning and was in the form of an email by the time I sat down with a cup of tea on that same day. It is the belated  thank you that I sent the woman whose yoga training I did & resisted often.

It is my grandfather, always an inspiration and a strangely imperfect hero of mine, now in an assisted living with Parkinson’s. When I saw him last, his pants were dirty and all of his extra pants were missing. The blond woman in her pink scrubs and jeans with the nervous laughter came back to his room after searching for ten minutes; she was carrying pants to him where he was waiting on the toilet. They were burgundy pants with an elastic waste wide enough for me to fit into either leg. “They are too big” she said, and bounded in to dress him. They were too short too– and I wondered if his shin bones were cold in the draft from outside as I sat with him, trying to think what to say, and choosing to sit there and breath with him instead. Even then, in that space, there was so much love for this man, and so much sorrow.

All of this stands between then and now– all of this and an unending catalog of other moments, forgotten, not yet retrieved, not yet poetry. All of these things and the sense that I understand now the truth in the fact that there is much we  simply cannot change.  And yet, showing up to those things we cannot change with our hearts open is a must. I watch my uncle show up to his father in a nursing home with anger. I have no way of knowing how I will show up when my father is old, should I have the privilege to know him so long, but I see that closing our hearts in these instances does not serve us– it only destroys us. And though there is much we cannot change, there are choices we have to make. And the freedom from that which we cannot change seems to me to be in the choice to shift what we can, even when that often requires more work than expected or desired.

This is all deeply personal for me, not some theory I am espousing, more a thinking out loud about where I find myself, now on the verge of 33.  A subtle shifting back to something I have always known but have forgotten, and in that, a coming to something new I’ve never known.

I can speak to it in terms of work too. I have worked so hard in my life. I have a lot of energy. Passion. A drive to achieve. A need to work well– to accomplish, to complete. I have vision, and I pay attention to details. Recently, I have noticed that others want to work with me and that sometimes, it is the details they want to give me, and that they want to hold the vision. I have seen how much of my life blood it takes to work this way, or any way. And I have begun to say no to things. THIS is new for me. Saying no. Shifting and striving to invite the space for knowing how to use what I have. Seeing that there is a limit to what I can give and asking for guidance and insight for knowing how to share what I have to share.

Perhaps the place I am in with work is one of not knowing and I have to wait until I forget this or get distracted from my overthinking it and then  return to it with a renewed wisdom. The wisdom and peace that is subtly present in the sadness and joy of my relationships– as granddaughter, daughter, mother, wife, friend, x-friend, new neighbor– are giving me a new faith in what I have sought to know and understand for nearly 15 years as I’ve carried both the Diamond Sutra and Rilke’s collected works around with me everywhere I’ve gone (& I have moved a lot in the last 15 years).

Another line from Rilke, from the 1st Elegy in the Duino Elegies,seems fitting here on the eve of my birthday; I offer it to myself, again, for the millionth time, as a reminder to show up for the hardest practice I know, that of surrender:

“Don’t you know yet? Fling the emptiness out of your arms

into the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds

will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.”

“Weisst du’s noch nicht? Wirf aus die Armen die Leere

zu den Raeumen hinzu, die wir atmen; vielleicht dass die Voegel

die erweiterte Luft Fuelen mit innigerm Flug?

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