Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.
I am thinking about love.
I am thinking about the giddy couples I saw across the bar tonight, more possessive, more tender, than usual.
I am thinking about the morose couples I saw across the bar tonight, resentful, silent, simmering in obligatory celebration.
I am thinking about the young couple arguing over their martinis, and him slapping her, and the man across from him calling him out on it, and him leaving, drunk, and her crying.
I am thinking about sitting in the sun today on a bench with peeling green paint at Washington Square Park, sun on my face, leaving traces of burn, soy chai in hand, shoes kicked off, eyes closed, listening. And how that felt like love.
I am thinking of a roomful of yogis Saturday night, eyes closed, seated in half-lotus, right hands over their hearts, breathing, in and out, inhaling, exhaling, Ujjayi breath, and how that felt like love.
I am thinking of anahata chakras, anahata the Sanskrit for "unstruck," as though no pain, emotional transgression, heartbreak, sorrow or disappointment has ever occurred.
(I am thinking how we all have broken hearts. Every one.)
I am thinking even more of anahata and the power of it all, the power of being new in every moment, the power of opening and softening and offering and softening and opening and offering over and over and over again in spite of those already-broken hearts. The power of stepping into every interaction, every conversation, every exchange, brand new. Unstruck.
(What broke yours? Or who? It doesn't really matter. That's not so much the point.)
I am thinking about over-and-over again breaking, of the reality of being alive in a body that means constantly learning about change and loss and sorrow and impermanence amidst flashes of joy and grace and beauty and immanent divinity. I am thinking about namaste-ing Ryan and Jenny across the bar tonight, knowing that the next time I see them they'll be Mr and Mrs. I am thinking about how in so doing, in drawing our palms together at the unstruck sternum and bowing our heads ever-so-slightly, the divine in me salutes the divine in you. And how really quite radical that notion is, that assumption of immanent divinity, that assertion of shared sacrality.
(I just said sacrality on a blog. Officially a theology nerd.)
I am thinking about the crazy man, certainly on drugs, definitely cracked out, who took his mangy dog swimming in the fountain this afternoon and then, shaking, tried to heave a chair at the floor-to-ceiling glass window while we just stood and watched, dumbfounded, in disbelief. I am thinking that he needs to be loved. Hard. And well.
I am thinking about my sibs, far-flung as they all are across these many time zones, and how gorgeous they are, and how my love for them exceeds any other love I could ever imagine, and how they share not only blood and good genes but memories and experiences no other could ever understand, and how rare and incredible that is, and how they light my life like the sun, and how I would go to the ends of the earth to care for them, and how inadequate our words really are to express that going, and how easy it is to take them for granted.
(Sorry, guys. I will try to hate the phone a little less.)
I am thinking about how my rad baby bro will be here in SF in just a few short days and for those few short days our lives will share the same sidewalks, our lungs will breathe the same air, and how proud I am of him for growing into the man that he is, and again how rare and remarkable these sibling relationships are.
(Even though I still will never understand his joy in talking to strangers, nor his lack of interest in reading books.)
I am thinking that I love the differences that make us all our own.
I am thinking that love is a many-splendored thing and love, love changes everything and love me or leave me and love is for the way you look at me and our love is here to stay and love walked in and smoke gets in your eyes and since i fell for you and more than you know and like a lover and some enchanted evening and people will say we're in love and what I did for love and sorry, grateful and being alive and embraceable you and misty and my one and only love and damn, are there a lot of catchy musical theater-slash-torch song melodies out there about love. Tonight the guys played a swingingly smoky Embraceable You and an equally sultry Misty and I sang under my breath and realized I was at work getting paid to talk to people about their divorces and long-lost loves and their most beloved bad cocktails and I realized then that life is really quite great if I'm getting paid to hum Gershwin under my breath.
(Even the Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yes, even the Andrew Lloyd Webber.)
I am thinking about the power of out-of-the-blue texts like that from B last night or K this eve and how they can change your whole day, shift a moment, light an evening. I am thinking that I'd love to be better at that, loving simply and unexpectedly, in a random text, in a random scrawled handwritten note, in a random delivery 3000 miles away to an unsuspecting and too-long-since-seen old love or soulmate or godchild.
(I am thinking that I've gotta get my ass in gear and get those goddaughters' Valentines in the mail or they won't realize how much they've been on my mind. Even all the way from California.)
I am thinking that love changes all the time, our loving and the colors it takes on and the shapes it shifts into and the names and faces it swells into and that is perfect, that is good, that is so very much all as it should be.
I am thinking about leaning across the bar tonight across from F and talking with him long after close as the bar languished in disarray and I didn't care because there were his accented stories of love and loss and the one love that ended and the other that bloomed and now its subsequent dissolution and the seeds that were planted in both which have since blossomed into one very incredible gift and a few weeds and several very interesting flashes of tangled and twisted glory and pain. And I am thinking of the beauty of how easy it is to connect with a stranger standing there behind the bar open and listening and just offering space wherein he can tell his authentic and true story, sans masks, and to listen to him and really see his pain and sorrow and regret and yet in the very same breath, with the very same eyes, see his relief and his sensibility and his reason and his oh-so-honest and accurate sense that things are as they should be.
I am thinking of how this F will be spending Monday night alone, perhaps with a martini, and how he is at once so relieved and so sorrowful and equally perfectly content with that state of things. And I am remembering his complicated and yet oh-so-common story and nodding my head even more in the realization that our lives are one big long thread of loving and letting go and learning and listening and leading into waters unseen knowing the same cycle will just recur and yet doing it anyway
that's the point
and what do you have to lose?
I am thinking of 20 yogis in Camel Pose (Ustrasana for you Sanskrit lovers), Camel Pose which cracks open the sternum and as I always like to imagine releases the doves of your thoughts and their fluttering wings that have been flying around chaotically, frustratedly in the ribcage that is your heart for these long moments and so you lean back and drop your heavy head so that your eyes glimpse the back wall and press your open hips forward to deepen the bend
and therein lies that perfect (perfectly elusive) balance between strength and softness which we yoga teachers are always harping on. Soften the jaw, soften the shoulders, soften your grip. Strengthen your quads, strengthen your arms, strengthen your resolve to stay, stay, stay.
I am thinking of how you start with Camel - how you see the newer students clenching their teeth and squeezing their butts and tightening their jaws and their shoulders and scrunching up their chests so the idea of leaning into a backbend becomes truly laughable because everything in the body is so damn tight and constricted and closed off. And I am thinking of how, over the years, with practice, day by day, every day, opening, you learn to stop fearing it, you learn to lift up out of your low back and soften your heart, you learn to crack the sternum and drop the head back and revel in the tenderness and the exposure and the ultimate vulnerability that is evidenced in exposing the whole front side body until even the head drops back and, arms reaching, you fall back into Kapotasana, that deep full backbend, softening, strengthening, finally there, finally open, finally arrived.
(And how then you breathe for a sacred 30 seconds or so, and feel the rush of blood to the head, and the release of every fear you've ever held close to your chest, and the wild edge of total cracked-through openness that comes to the very lucky few.)
And how then it's time to press up out of it and your jaw fights to clench and your mind rushes to fear and your back will certainly break and every vertebra fuse because they're so damn compressed and you'll never get up again and you're stuck here with a convex torso for the rest of your life and you forget to inhale and suddenly every breath is frightening and you're stuck stuck stuck and then you remember and slow down and calm your breath and take a big deep one into your belly and reach your arms to the sky and before you know it
there you are.
Back at square one. On your knees. Practicing gratitude. Bowing down to neutralize as fresh blood rushes into your woozy head out your triceps all the way down your forearms and out of your fingers like a waterfall. Every thought you've ever had flooding out through those fingers. Softer than before.
And then you go about your day and you come back the next and the whole fear-open-fear-open cycle hits all over again. On the mat. Off. Doesn't really matter which. It's the same practice. The same clenching, the same constricting, the same fear, the same gritted teeth. Until you remember the softness from last time, and the great opening from which that came, and the mad wild rush to the head, and how alive and renewed and reborn and human you felt, fresh, and so you stand across the bar from F and listen to his story about the marriage he knew he shouldn't have made but he did it anyway because, well, he loved her, yeah, as a good friend, even if they never touched, and there was the whole green card thing, and now the deportation, and well, fuck, whaddya do, really, whaddya do, but keep practicing, and keep falling back into that Kapotasana and trusting that you'll be able to come up out of it this time?
I am thinking about love and St. Valentine's Day and how silly it really is to take a day to think about love because actually we are swimming in it all the time and not ever knowing it. I am thinking about love and how bhakti brings it to the fore, bhakti with its emphasis on love and devotion, with its understanding that we take care of ourselves on the mat so that we can better take care of one another, that we practice being kind and reasonable and measured and non-reactive on the mat so that we can roll it up and walk out the door and be kind and reasonable and measured and non-reactive with the curious dude on the street and the miserable middle-aged lady across the bar ("I'll have water, ahem") and the crazy man outside throwing chairs at your window and yes, even the broken lost confused guy who slapped his girlfriend tonight right there in front of you. We practice the bhakti on the mat, in our singing, in our breathing, in our asana, so that we can make it real, make it live, make it breathe, make it bend in real life.
And you don't need a day for that. You don't need commercialized shit with corn syrup and red cellophane wrapping. You don't need glittery cards or bad puns - though both can be fabulous for sending to the little girls in your life, for sure, those sweet little ones who cannot be told often enough how very much they are loved. You just need a mat, and an intention, and a mind willing to be emptied, and a body willing to be stretched, and a heart willing to be cracked open.
Anahata. Unstruck. As if no transgression, heartbreak, emotional damage, or sorrow has ever occurred. Try it. Walk around with this lightness, this openness, this softness, this radiant core of lovingkindness, as if you've just come up out of Kapotasana. It's really quite remarkable, the compassion that can spew forth.
I am thinking about love. I am thinking about not posting this. I am thinking I'll do it anyway. I am thinking that hearts are made for breaking, and the broken heart is the luckiest of all.
I am thinking about that perfect Joanna Macy quote that has come in and out of my life at the most apropos of times over the last decade, falling out of dusty untouched books, scrawled on a piece of scrap paper that hasn't seen the light of day in eight or ten years:
The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. Your heart is that large. Trust it. Keep breathing. Through our deepest and innermost responses to our world - to hunger and torture and the threat of annihilation - we touch that boundless heart.I am thinking of standing onstage at Mitchell ten years ago tonight welcoming a sell-out crowd eager to hear monologues about vaginas. I am thinking about sitting in the back of a tiny bar in 1998 in London's Islip as a naive 19-year-old kid hearing Eve Ensler recite those monologues herself, six or eight of us in the room. I am thinking how grateful I am to have models like Macy and Ensler and Rich and Lorde and Walker and Heyward and Ruether and Spong and Althaus-Reid, thinkers and scholars and writers and theologians who've really demonstrated what a passionately political and activist and social justice-oriented, whole-world-directed love looks like.
I am thinking about all the people I love spread out over all these corners of the earth and how sometimes my heart feels too full, too short on time to give all of these folks what I'd like to give them, too short on time for phone calls and long letters and emails and packages and trips.
I am thinking what a good problem that is to have so many people to love that I don't know how to do it all well.
I am thinking: just be well. Be love. Be in love, not necessarily with any thing at all, but really in it, in the middle of it, swimming in it, surrounding yourself with it.
I am thinking of Peter Walsh and Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway, and how all these years after first meeting those two characters, they're still to me such fond friends, representing the simultaneous beauty and sorrow of complicated loving, the kind of love that draws you together and shoves you apart and never quite fades but never quite blooms, no matter how many years or miles pass, and how Virginia Woolf's perfect understanding of the eternally complicated and unresolved state of loving speaks the truth that so many of us have felt.
I am thinking of Lawrence Selden and Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, and of Edith Wharton's beloved line wherein Selden, in a flash of realization, understands that he'll never wholly be able to sit quietly with the idea of Lily, and of how some 12 years after first reading that, it still stays fresh in my mind, emerging from time to time when it's most relevant, and of what a beautiful gift it is to us humans to be so touched by another that we will never quite be able to sit quietly with the thought of that other, no matter how long ago the flame of passion has itself died. And I am thinking of the dear ones in my life for whom that inability to sit quietly has meant great inner turmoil, great suffering, and I wish for them silence and peace and stillness and some measure of resolve, and gentle release.
I am thinking of the yogis in that raw unhewn sunlit studio in North Beach this morning, right hands over their hearts, and their quiet steady breathing, and the warmth of the noon sun on my back, and the way I could feel their hearts thumping across the room.
And I am thinking, wow, that really is enough.