august, green & undeserved

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I am now a person who burns incense. According to many, this makes me some kind of hippy. According to the product packaging, I’m opening up to warmth and sensuality (patchouli), wealth and riches (red ginger) and sanctuary (French lavendar). My own sense of what’s happening is that I’ve been craving ritual, the idea of transforming ordinary moments into sacred spaces and the practice of envisioning — and honoring — what I want my life to look like.

I’ve considered trying it for years, but some old voices (parental? patriarchal?) held me back. Even though I burn candles most days, incense seemed a step too far. Whatever that means. Is it even a big deal? It’s not. It just had baggage for me — spiritual connotations I had no right to, stereotypes that didn’t apply, a self-consciousness that plagues me about so many things, other people’s ideas about who I am and what I do and don’t do.

But here’s to letting all that, and more, go.

Because for as long as the fragrance hangs in the air, I find my breath, which is something my Very Good Therapist keeps trying to help me do.

That breath — intentional, slow, deep — allows me to sit with things that I’d otherwise rush past to avoid feeling. Other times, it helps me pause when I’m feeling things too much and may be at risk of spinning out. Either way, it restores a kind of balance that so often evades me and helps to erase (even briefly) the micro-traumas that arise on any given day. Instead of white knuckling anxieties, I try to imagine safety, peace, abundance, expansiveness. I try to mother myself: Here, right now, you’re OK. You are capable. You have the wisdom and strength you need.

I split time between my house (when I have my kids) and my partner’s house (when my kids are with their dad). Inevitably, I forget something when I pack. One morning last week, realizing the particular something I’d forgotten was necessary, I drove back home to get it. This is rare because the round trip is nearly 1 1/2 hours. On another day, I’d have raged and cried about wasting my time, but for whatever reason, I took it in stride. On the way over, I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition, and on the return trip, podcasts.

The app on my phone served up an episode of Krista Tippet’s On Being. Specifically, an the one with Gregory Orr in which he reads Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” — “What did I know, what did I know /of love’s austere and lonely offices?” I’ve heard and read that poem dozens of time, but this particular morning, it made me weep.

I’m forever in awe of poetry’s ability to do that: to tap into what paces beneath the surface, anxious to be seen. Maybe it was the stuffed-down stress of the morning, but the weeping felt like something larger: a true connection. At the heart of the poem is the idea that we don’t or can’t always appreciate — or even recognize — love when it’s given to us.

What good medicine gratitude is.

Like opening the windows wide to get a cross breeze going through the house.

Last week, I had the good fortune to participate in a poetry open mic via Zoom. All readers were poets that I’ve been honored to know for years through the very active Albany poetry community. It was glorious and joyful and a reminder of why I loved the scene so much as a regular in it.

After the reading, when speaking with Jill, she said it helped her feel like herself again. Yes. Exactly. So, so much ourselves.

More good medicine.

A ritual of showing up and honoring one another and what paces in each of us.

All of this breathing and gratitude and poetry sits within the context of extreme unease. Yes, it’s partly the pandemic (which is really a story of how capitalism continues to fuck us over). Yes, partly the outsize space a career claims for itself (see also “capitalism”). Partly hormones. Partly politics and parenting. Lions and tigers and bears.

In the words of the great George Costanza: “SERENITY NOW.”

The experts (including my own Very Good Therapist) say we’re all struggling with the tensions and uncertainties of this moment layered on top of our normal dramas and difficulties. What we can do, they say, is to recognize it and be kind to ourselves.

This morning, right after I sat up out of bed and put my feet on the floor, I looked out the window and down below saw the doe with the two fawns again walking through rows of soybeans. The deep green seems like a miracle after a really dry June and July. I wasn’t sure anything at all could grow. And yet, the field is crowded with plants. All the surrounding trees are fat with leaves.

This lushness feels unearned. Certainly, it’s undeserved. And August? How did we get here? All my offerings? Of course not. Which is to say deer in the field with or without me.

And nothing at all could I say to dissuade them from their vigilance.

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