the Just World Hypothesis

I’m here to offer yet another plug for aging. Getting older can be so marvelous, because you start to see with clarity. (Not everyone; I’ve known some bitter, small, mean old people who became concentrated nuggets of ignorance.) But if you’re lucky — or whatever, however this works — you understand more and more. And the funniest thing is that your understanding gets simpler and simpler:

 

  • It’s all one thing.
  • You are who you are.
  • Life happens to everyone, and we all die.

I think it all boils down to that. Just because it’s so simple, however, doesn’t mean it’s simple to talk about. And just because it’s so simple, that doesn’t mean you can just tell other people, younger people, what you have learned and suddenly they have the same complexity of understanding. For me, anyway, it has taken living my years to be able finally to see this.

Simple complexity, impossible to say clearly, but I’ll try, and I’ll start with a social psych principle called the Just World Hypothesis. It’s a more elaborated idea than this thumbnail, but basically it’s a deep belief that we get what we deserve. That if we’re good, good things will come to us. Bad people get what they deserve. Etc. It unfolds into a whole ethical landscape of implications, but at the center that’s what it is. Like me, I’m sure you’ve frequently heard people wail, “Why me???” And then they provide the list of explanations for why X shouldn’t have happened to them. If it’s a health thing, the list includes their health-related behaviors. If it’s an accident, the list includes the ways they are always so careful. If it’s about their child, the list includes the ways their child was innocent and they were watchful parents.

Undoubtedly because of my childhood, the fact that I was born to a couple who wanted to destroy everyone and everything, I was disabused of the belief in the just world. And one freezing night, in an alley on the wrong side of town in Wichita Falls, I thought through it very carefully and solidified my understanding: shit just happens. Life happens to everyone. In a larger way, it’s all random.

And it’s all one thing: Life happens to everyone. Why would we ever think, even for a second, that only “good” things will happen to us? (And yet we do: Shelley Taylor’s work showed that people don’t believe things like house fires, bad car wrecks, serious illness, etc., will happen to them in their futures; that we all believe we’re above average (leading another psychologist to dub this ‘the Lake Wobegone effect,’ when the law of averages alone proves that we cannot ALL be above average.)) We must believe that because of some deep, unexamined reliance on this just world hypothesis.

And so once again I have to leave space for the possibility that I was luckier than most people to have the childhood I had. That’s not Monday morning quarterbacking, or brave, chin-quivering denial, it’s an understanding of the way it’s all one thing. My life is a whole, the experiences I’ve had all along the way are so woven into the cloth of who I am that it’s impossible to pull out a warp thread, a weft thread. It’s impossible to sit here, in my chair at Heaventree, and even begin to entertain some fantasy of what it would’ve been like to have had a loving mother, a father who didn’t try to kill me. A safe home. Security. It’s impossible to do that, the entire cloth of me disintegrates and there could be no “me” sitting here to ponder that question.

Whenever I hear someone ask, “Why me?” my only thought is, “Why not you?” Of course I never ever say that, because at that moment the person asking the question needs compassion and help, and this fact of “why not you” is completely irrelevant. There may come a time in their process when it makes sense to gently talk about it, if it helps them realize that they aren’t being punished, or whatever they are thinking, but never at that first wailing.

But really. Why not you? Why not me? Life is just happening, and often we are just in the wrong place. A knot forms in an umbilical cord. A car veers into the oncoming lane. Cells take a left turn and start dividing wildly. Myelin disappears, plaques form, bones honeycomb. Unexamined parts of ourselves commit an act of sabotage or treason and we won’t recognize it for years. And as impossible as it is to grasp in the thick of it, it’s all of a piece and the landscape of your life, and yourself, are bigger and more vast and complex, and this is one warp or weft thread in your tapestry. When I was a child, of course I had no perspective to understand this, and I mean that literally: those experiences did not have the context of life that followed them, they were my endpoints at that time, and they represented the bulk of my life. Assuming we survive the terrible thing that happens, and have the good luck of living to put it in perspective, there are good things to be drawn from it; we are changed by it, and to some degree it’s up to us how we are changed by it (emotionally and psychologically, at least) (and I mean to some degree it’s up to us).

When my life fell apart at the end of 2012, I was coincidentally reading a book about trauma survivors (one of my favorite topics) called When You’re Falling, DiveI really recommend the book to everyone, because if you are a magical unicorn and nothing bad ever happens to you, then at least you are going to know all the rest of us to whom bad things will happen because we are not magical unicorns — so you can learn a few things to be present with us. I highlighted dozens of passages in the book, but I share these two with this post, and encourage you to click that link and get the book:

“Survival doesn’t really mean anything without acceptance,” John explains. “That’s the paradoxical part. You have to take the thing that’s wrong and own it. Make it into something that has meaning for you. If you try to hide or negate it, it will just eat you up,” he says. “If you’re hoping for things to be other than they are—constantly wondering how or why something happened, or how to fix it—you’re lost. You’ll completely miss out on the graceful time you have.

“When people are in need, you must be present. When people suffer, you must let them know you’re suffering with them.” “The good side of bad acts?” I say. “I would not say that from horror comes goodness. That would be giving horror too much credit. But goodness prevails in spite of horror.

I’m not in the midst of trials in my own life, at the moment, so I acknowledge that it can feel like “easy for her to say.” But if you’ve known me long, you know that I say this even when trials do come my way, and this is part of the clarity of understanding I’ve gained as I’ve gotten older. It’s all one thing — the “good” and the “bad,” who we are, how we live, and that we are who we are with that entire context in place. We came into the world exactly who we are and we live the life we live and it’s all one thing.

It’s fascinating to me how utterly complex simplicity is, but that it can still be simple. Something to ponder on a beautiful Friday, the first day of autumn. xoxoxoxo

bookie book book – Eileen

Blogs evolve (obvious-est statement in the world #1). Sometimes a blogger takes a hard left and changes it whole cloth, and sometimes it just shifts like a riverbed. Mine has been so many different things, including for a while a knitting blog. Usually it’s a personal blog, as you know already. Always I mention books because, aside from my kids and grandkids and my traveling life, books are the most central and defining detail of my existence.

Now I am a book ambassador for Little, Brown, a publisher that’s one of my favorites (along with Graywolf, and Vintage, and Picador, and FSG, and Penguin). All this means is that they’re going to start sending me books (hard copies, I think, which means I can start to rebuild my personal library that I had to decimate when I moved to NYC in 2005) and if I like any of them, I write, post, Instagram, share. No requirements, no expectations beyond that. I can do that, and happily.

I already review almost every book I read on GoodReads, and mention books in passing here, but thought I might start writing about them a little bit more on my blog, whether for Little, Brown or otherwise. SO! I just finished reading Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh, and it’s almost indescribable. It’s disgusting. It’s gross. It’s creepy. It’s awful. It’s wrenching. It’s unbelievable unless you’ve lived aspects of her life, which I have, so I know that it’s believable, even if you don’t think so because you are luckier than I have been.

I’m known in my former book club as a trauma book junkie. The joke about me was that if it was my turn to pick the book, it would be about the Holocaust. I guess to a large extent that’s true, and it’s that I am most fascinated by what people do when their backs are against the wall. That’s when you see who they are, and that’s what fascinates me. Who breaks, and how. Who comes through, and how do they do it. What are the consequences. Those issues fascinate me, along with questions of post-traumatic growth. If you’ve made it through hell, and you find a way to flourish, how do you do that, and what can it look like?

So in this book, Eileen lives in Xville with her late-stages alcoholic father, who is an ex-cop, and quite vicious, especially and almost solely to Eileen. Her mother has died and she wears her mother’s frumpy old clothes, hides in them. Her sister, favored by her father, is something of a fluffy, trampy woman who just shows up on occasion, gets praised by their father, and leaves Eileen to the mess. At the end of the first chapter, which sets the landscape of Eileen’s truly miserable existence, we get this:

So here we are. My name was Eileen Dunlop. Now you know me. I was twenty-four years old then, and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes—a prison for boys. I will call it Moorehead. Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate. In a week, I would run away from home and never go back.

This is the story of how I disappeared.

Eileen is a gross young woman, her life is disgusting, the house she shares with her father is DISGUSTING and filthy. She takes large doses of laxatives, doesn’t bathe or wash her hair, eats like a furtive rat, and drinks too much. Moshfegh is extraordinary at providing the specific colors, textures, smells, sounds, to gross you out. I often felt nauseated by the description. Now, don’t you want to read it? Reviewers on GoodReads talk about how ugly it is, how dark, repellent, filthy, etc., and they aren’t wrong. But I still recommend this book, as long as you go in knowing this about it, because:

  • No one else could have written these sentences. It isn’t that they’re especially eloquent, or beautiful (obviously), or filled with lyrical description (obviously) or great vocabulary. It’s just that they are unique, and specific in their observation, and again and again I’d read something that just made me sit up because I’d never read a sentence like that. Or I’d never read that point of view, or observation, even though I knew the absolute truth of it. This is one brief passage I highlighted because it was like a spotlight hit me with the truth of it: “When poor people hear a loud noise, they whip their heads around. Wealthy people finish their sentences, then just glance back.” I have been that poor, and even though I’m not that poor now, my head still always whips around.
  • Moshfegh is a brave storyteller, and I admire that. Right from the very beginning you know something dramatic happens, right from the outset you know there is a crime, she leaves, but you don’t learn what it is until 85% into the book. I kept thinking she was about to reveal the twist — “This was my last day at work, even though I didn’t know it,” etc — but then on the book would go, tripping along with all these lasts, each digressing into story but never getting to the twist. That’s brave storytelling, trusting that she had the chops to keep you reading. Around 20-25% I started to get frustrated, and would scan ahead thinking the thing was surely just about to happen, and finally I decided just to trust her, and go with it. I’m really glad I did. (I’ll read the book again, for sure, and will be more relaxed about this.)
  • Nothing is simple or black and white, which is my FAVORITE thing in the world since nothing is. The catalyst character, Rebecca, is not well sketched-out, and the longer I thought about the book after I finished it, the more I realized I was unsatisfied by her. I think she was the least successful — not because of what she did, which was dramatic and odd and unexplained, but because I was not given enough about her to even craft a vague explanation for her. I didn’t need to understand her completely, or know her back story, but she was a bit too much of a cipher. Still, the way her part of the story ended was certainly not black and white, and if the book had been written by a less confident writer, it would’ve been. It would’ve been like any TV drama, and the book would have been less satisfying.
  • The end story for Eileen is beautiful and I just felt such relief for her. It’s funny; it reminded me of that old Steve Martin joke about how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes (“First, get a million dollars. Now, forget to pay taxes.”) — wait! I want to know that first part! In Eileen’s case, her whole life after she leaves Xville is glossed over and not at all part of the story. You don’t get to know how she got there, from here. But you get to know that she did.

I’m not a reader who insists that things be nice. Characters don’t have to be nice, or clean, or simple. It always surprises me to read reviews that are critical simply because the reader hated the character. I’m glad to hate a character! I’m glad to feel squidgey, to feel squirmy, to feel uneasy, to feel like perhaps a shower would be good right now because the story is that gross. If that’s the world of the story, and the writer does a good job with it, I’m all in.

So I recommend this book as long as you know it’s going to be gross. It’s going to make you uncomfortable. You’ll never read anything else quite like it, I can say that for sure. Here’s the Amazon link, if you’re interested.

see! saw! see! saw!

seesawDid y’all call these see-saws or teeter-totters? I grew up hearing both about equally, but I think in North Texas, in the very small towns, we were more likely to call them teeter-totters. Anyway, I realize that the last few days I’ve been up! Down! Up! Down! I’m better, yes! I’m exhausted, no! I’m back to myself, yes! It’s too much, no!

And there may still be seeing and sawing to come for me, but my steps forward are getting me somewhere, despite the steps backwards.

Tuesday night my poetry group met in my house, and I was not feeling it, I was too lost in the pain and so tired from my extremely early flight back to Austin — but the group means so much to me, and I want to hold the space for it even on the rare nights I don’t feel good. About an hour and a half into the meeting, Rebecca read this poem by Anne Carson, from Plainwater:

Town of the Sound of a Twig Breaking

Their faces I thought were knives.
The way they pointed them at me.
And waited.
A hunter is someone who listens.
So hard to his prey it pulls the weapon.
Out of his hand and impales.
Itself.

Hunters, prey, that topic pulled at me in a specific way, of course, but as we talked about the poem, as we tugged at it and loved it and saw it this way and that, the endless loop in my mind was broken. Poetry, art, beauty stopped my obsessions and struggle and just opened up my mind, filled in the grooves, and gave me space to breathe.

After yesterday morning spent with my beloved little Oliver, who is now a complete chatterbox, last night a genius friend of mine gave me a GENIUS task. I was telling her about my rage and fury and hate toward my hateful, psychopath mother for what she did to us, and for how she destroyed my brother, and she told me to just kind of go with it. Indulge it, fantasize. Go all out! It’s just a fantasy — how would I do it? No, really, play it out! It started dawning in me, and it bloomed and blossomed.

grendel
this particular monster, my old nemesis, my imagined Inner Other

I’ve always been so afraid of my anger, afraid it was just my father lying dormant inside, me as him maybe, and that if I gave it any slack it would all be over and I would be the rampaging monster, destroying everything in my path. I’ve written about this before, this is old news. But fantasy, it’s just fantasy! I realized I could write it out, a chapter, a whole Tarantino bloody fantasy — and then I could edit it and elaborate even more. “And this one’s for my brother!” “And this is for this, and this one’s for that!” The Jews had Inglorious Basterds, the slaves had Django, and my brother and I would have my little bloody fantasy chapter. It might unnerve you to know just how much pleasure I am taking in writing this showdown.

Of course my genius friend also had a lot of other brilliant ways to help me, ways to help me think through some of the aspects of my brother’s life that were particularly tormenting, and she listened in that way she has, and held me safe, and I have to say: I feel so much better. Just so much better.

So much better. So so much better. Nancy called my name over and over and over. Cindy listened and understood and encouraged me to run with it. Friends all over the world reach out to me, extend hands, poke me, check in. I grapple and struggle, I cry and suffer and then take a step forward. I guess this is what it looks like. Teeter. Totter. Poetry. Friendship. And murder fantasies. 🙂

 

just real tired

hillbillyI’ve been reading J. D. Vance’s excellent book Hillbilly Elegy, in part because it’s supposed to provide a window into the angry, poor white Trump voter. Another reason I wanted to read it is because I suspected it would feel very familiar to me, and it does. The immediate and easy violence; the shouting rage and broken doors, windows, dishes, faces; the threats of murder that aren’t always just a threat; the ‘with us or against us’ mindset — yeah, it’s all just so very familiar.

And coming squarely on the heels of my re-encounter with my past, and my fear, now, that things are going to explode in that old violence and some or all of my childhood family are going to get caught in it, I just feel so tired. (I seem to have a knack for reading exactly the wrong book at exactly the wrong time — A Little Life when I was suicidally depressed, and Hillbilly Elegy when I’m dealing with this stuff. Hmm.)

When I was first involved with Jerry, who I would later marry in 1979, he was once complaining about his junker of a car. It needed work, and it would still be a junker. Without even thinking about it I said, “I can get someone to steal it for you and set it on fire.” I didn’t look up because, you know, this is just how things are done! Perfectly ordinary, every day, the clear solution to his simple problem. I did look up when he remained silent, and I saw that he was pale, and his eyes were big and he was licking dry lips, swallowing hard. Huh? Why? What was wrong with him? Later he told me that my remarks had scared him — what if I got tired of him, what would I have done to him? (I didn’t tell him the answer that would’ve been obvious to me.)

But his response was an eye-opener for me. Huh. What’s that about — he seems to be horrified. And that began my re-education, at the age of 20. I remember being so bewildered, and having to ask him tentatively what would be a normal response to this thing or that, for a very long time. Years.

My long-lost family member who just contacted me has not been re-educated, and in fact he has more than 50 years of that life under his belt, all with this kind of framework and reinforced by years in prison. And I’m so tired. Because it feels like no matter how far I go, no matter how far away I run, no matter how much I change myself and my life, no matter how many years I put between us, this family I came from is going to win in some way. I’ve completely forgotten how to live watching over my shoulder, taking a big breath before leaving the house and dashing to the safety of the next place, watching parked cars with suspicion, scanning all perimeters and all people, and fearing that it won’t matter because it’ll come from the person or place I least expect it. I used to know how to live like that, to the point that it was just second nature. I forgot that, and I’ve forgotten how to tolerate the constant fear.

I also no longer live among people who understand any of this, so people respond to me with bewilderment, with a version of “buck up!” or with a side glance that says they believe I’m being overly dramatic, crazy paranoid. They don’t know, and so I feel all alone with it. I never lived in a hillbilly holler, but I did live among people who all knew the rules, as insane and unstable and explosive as they were, and that’s at least something. Now I live among straight people, and as I have always felt, I feel the outsider standing in a bleak world, looking in the windows of Technicolor rooms of calm, sane people doing ordinary things.

And it’s exhausting, it really is.

the wave

Hokusai's wave
Hokusai’s wave

It’s a matter of perspective, there: Fuji is just off in the distance and so therefore foreshortened, but Hokusai played with that to show the power of the wave, the power of that force, big and strong enough to crush a mountain.

The Japanese know about tsunami; Haruki Murakami’s fabulous story The Seventh Man tells about a young boy whose friend died in a tsunami wave and he remains ever haunted and afraid. As he finishes telling his tale around a campfire, he pauses and says,

‘They tell us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself; but I don’t believe that,’ he said. Then, a moment later, he added: ‘Oh, the fear is there, all right. It comes to us in many different forms, at different times, and overwhelms us. But the most frightening thing we can do at such times is to turn our backs on it, to close our eyes. For then we take the most precious thing inside us and surrender it to something else. In my case, that something was the wave.’

I linked the story title to a translation that appeared in Granta, but I prefer the translation that was performed at Symphony Space, and I heartily recommend that you listen to this magical performance, by John Shea. There’s a brief introduction to the program (which comprises two stories) and then Shea starts reading the story. If you can listen in the dark, at night, it’s all the better. Here it is, so amazing.

I’ve recently been knocked down by a tsunami, an experience so thoroughly unexpected that I don’t think I could’ve been any more surprised if my 34-years-dead father knocked on my door with his bony skeletal hand. It hadn’t been anything I’d been fearing, because I didn’t think it would ever happen.

Even more, I didn’t think the consequences of it could happen to me anymore, I didn’t fear them because I felt safe from them, past them, healed. The thing was the fiery, violent reappearance of a long-lost family member, but the consequence was being thrown right back to how I felt as a child, all the terrible, terrible feelings I had, the body states I had, the terror, the up-is-down version of reality and how confusing that is. The word-twisting, where X is said to me and then hurled in my face as something had said. (“But wait….you’re …. I didn’t say that, you did… but wait….”)

I’m coming up on 58 and felt solid, stable, reasonably sure of who I am, and I’ve been working so hard for 36 years to rout out all the poison, to drain those wells, to discover who I am, and to have enough time and distance between me and them so they couldn’t destroy me. I thought I’d done it. I felt strong. And then it was all gone, swoosh.

I’m a little bit grateful for what has happened because it put me right back there and I am a grown-up now, fully remembering how it felt to be the child I was, in all its horror. I’m taking notes, trying to bear the feelings which do not feel bearable, and weren’t bearable back then. They are now, even if they feel like they aren’t. I learned a lot about the lost family member that makes me feel even sadder. But now I know all three of them, my birth family, who they are, and nothing mysterious remains.

And so I move forward knowing that I can still be taken back, no matter how strong I feel — which is itself a kind of better strength, I guess. Feeling invincible just begs for the knocking-down, perhaps, and so knowing that I can be knocked down forces me to stand a bit loosely so my legs can absorb an unexpected hit, to stand with my hands open at my sides inside of in fists at my waist, all invincible-like, which might let me be knocked over. And importantly, knowing that I can be knocked down softens me and keeps me open. I would much rather all this hadn’t happened, no lie, but since it did, and since I survive, there are good things to take from it.

A *very* important thing I learned — well, wait, not learned but was reminded of once again — is just how good people are, just how quickly they reach out, and in so many ways. How quick they are to do anything, even if it puts them at risk. How quick they are to tell me who I am, who they see, which I really needed in this instance. I called this ‘self-knowledge by reflection of consensus’ and by that I mean that a large, global choir of people tell me who they know me to be, and so (a) because there is a large, global choir that itself means something about me, maybe, and (b) who they know, and how consistently they describe me, means something too. Maybe it means something about them; maybe it means that kind, loving, generous-hearted people surround me, and I know that’s true. And so again I remember that we need each other, I need you (and desperately), and I’m grateful for each and every one.

xoxoxoxoxox

it’s true what they say

“Breathe, Lori!” My kids used to say this to me all the time (but with thicker-than-usual accents, breathe, Lo-ri!) because I would suddenly gasp and take a huge breath. My body did that; it wasn’t that I thought I should take a breath. I’d go a long time without taking even a shallow breath, and when I did breathe, it was the shallowest in-out-in-out of breaths, staying up at the very top of my lungs.  Periodically I’d feel seriously air-starved and I’d try to take a deep breath, but couldn’t. I wanted to breathe into my full lungs but couldn’t get ‘over the hump,’ as it felt.

breatheWhy was it so hard? I think most people don’t breathe well, but some of us really just don’t breathe. People who have PTSD, for instance, cannot breathe. When you live in fear, you take shallow breaths or hold your breath. (Here is a link about teaching soldiers back from military service how to breathe.) It goes with a whole physical experience: shoulders up next to your ears, holding your breath, body tensed and alert. That was my entire childhood, and it all just kind of stuck.

On top of the simple need to breathe and get oxygen into my body, it also left me with its own kind of sorrow and shame. I can’t even breathe right! What’s wrong with me! Please, just let me get a breath this time…  I never could reliably breathe well. I had starvation-level breathing, enough to keep me alive but not one molecule more.

When I started all this new stuff 10 months ago, I did think about my inability to breathe, and hoped it would help. I didn’t set out pointedly to learn how to breathe, but figured it went together with other things I was doing. (It still just boggles my mind that all this unfolded — and has stuck — because I started doing one thing at a time.) Being present (so not being trapped in the past), meditation (ditto), and yoga, all that surely might help me breathe.

And oh my goodness has it. I can breathe. I breathe all the time, full breaths. Lung-expanding breaths, which I never did, ever. Slow breaths, deep breaths.  And whenever I want, I can take full lungs of air. Whenever I want. Once in a blue moon I can’t get over that hump, but 99% of the time I can breathe fully whenever I want. I think it’s rare that I don’t breathe fully when I’m not thinking about it.

Every single time I notice it, every single time, I feel such wonder and gratitude. Gosh, I can breathe. Feel that, I can breathe! Ah, that delicious breath. I wonder if some day I’ll just get so used to it that I take it for granted. I think not, but it’s something we do. I don’t think most people even think about their breathing, but for those of us who do, it’s a huge wonder and gift.

Breathe, Lori.

there’s always more than one way

you can find any image on the Internet
you can find any image on the Internet

Hey, yesterday’s post was number 1,400. What a nice number, and how nice to notice it, like when you happen to see your odometer rolling over a nice round number. And wow, 1,400 posts, that’s a lot. Posts from my old blog, Thrums, have been pulled in here (and wordpress just categorized them all as “big picture stuff” instead of taking the categories I’d originally assigned), and from the previous Queen of the Pillbugs blog over on squarespace. Even though I ebb and flow, and even though my blog has shifted focus — it used to be primarily a knitting blog — I am always glad to have this place to record my thoughts, and my life. So here’s to the next 1,400 posts. OY.

Over the years I’ve tried in spurts to do meditation. I wanted the benefits I heard about, wanted the stillness, wanted to find the clarity that meditaters seem to have. And of course it’s hard; people will say, “I tried, but my mind kept jumping around.” Yeah! Of course, that’s exactly the point! Your mind keeps jumping around. They call it monkey mind. That’s the point, learning how to discipline your monkey mind by noticing that it’s doing that, and bringing it back — no matter how many times you have to do it. I found it hard in a different way. When I tried to meditate, I dissociated or had flashbacks. It was very frightening, actually. And it’s not just me; many people with trauma histories cannot meditate.

I heard a very moving piece on NPR in 2009 about a psychiatrist named Michael Grodin, who works with traumatized Tibetan monks. Meditation is obviously such an enormous part of their lives, but when they tried, they had flashbacks to the torture they’d endured by the Chinese. Regaining the ability to meditate was essential to them. Eventually he found a technique that lived within their own experience. They held a singing bowl in their hand and gently struck it when they began to meditate. Of course that’s part of beginning a meditation for so many people, but not IN YOUR HAND. What it did for them was to connect them to the moment, to connect them physically to the moment. The bowl’s vibrations linger in the hand for a long time, and feeling those vibrations allowed them to remain in their body and in the moment.

So yesterday afternoon I was doing my daily yoga practice and had an insight. I was moving from upward facing dog to downward facing dog and my body felt like it was moving at “the great hinge,” which is how I experienced my hips in that movement from one pose to the other. I felt so fully in my body …. that’s not right, it’s more like my insides and outsides fully meshed or something. That’s not right either. I don’t know how to say it. Maybe it was just a different way of being fully present.

I’ve always had a very strange relationship to my body. It was invaded so frequently when I was a child and a young teenager; it was not my private body. I kind of separated myself from it in a strange way. Here’s an example: sometimes I’d say, “No don’t worry, I’m not crying, just my eyes are crying. It’s just my eyes crying.” It was so separate from me, and of course it makes great sense that I would come to feel that way during my childhood. So what occurred to me on the mat yesterday, as I felt so wholly connected in and with my body, is that being fully present during yoga, bringing my mind back when it wanders, back to the movement, to the pose, to the position, and being present right there with my muscles and bones, blood and heartbeat, well that’s a mighty good way to learn how to be present too.

So if meditation is hard for you and you want to get some of the benefits, you might try yoga — and keep bringing your wandering mind back to the pose. My mind wanders like this: “ooh, look at how the skin sags above my knees now, like my grandmother’s used to do…” Back to the pose, Queen. Mind back to the pose. Of if yoga’s not your thing, find another. There is a Zen saying, “Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.” Lots of ways to find your way to being awake.