IN PRAISE OF GREAT WOMEN
The most recent journey in a Summer of traveling was to the East Coast for a couple of shows and then a few days with my mentor in upstate New York. She has been a part of my life since I was 22, when I was living in New York City and bouncing like a ping pong ball from identity to identity. She was my teacher from the moment we met. I wanted to know what she knew, that easy and joyful way of being in the world, the seeking mind, the deep knowing. I wanted to be on the same path. I was too naive to know what that meant, but it was instinct to follow her influence.
We now joke about being from the same planet. On our planet, the view of reality is rarefied and illusory. We communicate deeply with animals, and there is an appreciation for birds. A sort of laissez-faire attitude toward life prevails at the same time that we are deeply invested in the big picture. We were put here on this planet in these bodies, and we assume that whatever put us here will care for us. We’re ready for whatever that means. Even death, in which neither of us believe. There is a streak of joy running through beings from our planet that makes itself known early on in childhood, and which makes itself more apparent as life persists.
I welcome her teachings with a heart that opens so much I can’t imagine it opening more, and yet still there is so much to learn. We sit and drink Skinos cocktails and she laughingly catches me in my traps of mind and story. We tell stories of the past only as a way to release the stories forever. We both feel a sense of speaking of someone else when we revisit our lives before now, even the one that we have shared.
I felt delivered to her doorstep by fate, on a Christmas eve long ago. Now, I am again delivered to her doorstep in the same way, and with every visit I awaken more. During the days of my visits, nothing much happens. We quickly fall into sync. I drive her around in her cluttered white car, we coordinate our food and sleep patterns, and spend a great deal of time with her family of cats. It is easy, and I wonder what it is like for people who are strongly attached to their egos and who need things to be just so. It seems like you wouldn’t ever get to relax like this. A visit with my mentor is a feeling of floating. Meanwhile, the whole time, I am learning. Learning to let go of the ego, learning to take power away from the things that try to steal my attention.
She asked me to bring up ideas and situations in my life that I have given power to. Body image, identity, financial situation. I played with setting each issue out in front of me and taking the power back. As I did this, I felt my center open wide and fill with a renewed strength that was also no strength. What are the dualities we believe? When we take power back we feel strength, but true power is to become more neutral, steady, even. What if real strength lies in letting go?
I came home and then two days later my mother arrived in San Francisco, in the middle of the raging heat wave. It had been too long since I had seen her and I begged her to come, and I was so excited that she decided last minute to visit. I won the family lottery at birth, and I look forward to seeing my mother and sisters so much that I become fluttery before their arrival.
My mother has come to visit me at most iterations of my life: she visited the college student me and rode around on my boyfriend’s scooter and was one of the girls; she visited the studio apartment in Seattle where she slept in the closet; and now on this miserably hot day, traveling in the band van to a festival south of San Francisco, watching me set up my drums with concern.
We both got heat stroked, and spent Sunday on the couch, watching movies and trying to feel better. With my mom, even this was a blessing, as we got to just hang out, not run around San Francisco looking at stuff, but just lie beneath the fan, side by side on the couch, together. Even feeling crummy, my mom is joyful, easy, light, funny and non-complaining.
When I was a teen, my mother’s positive outlook drove me crazy. I was reading Rimbaud and Camus and Dostoevsky, and life seemed so much wider and darker than she knew. I thought I knew so much better with my dark vision of the world. Now, I only aspire to her way of being, this light and joyful way of meeting every moment in life and seeing no point in dwelling in the darkness. In times of difficulty, I see her batten down, get ferocious. When she was ill many years ago, I saw her jaw set and meet the illness with a kind of steel will. Then, after it was over, this happy spirit bounced back and prevailed. She is happy at her center. What else could you wish in a life?
These two women, just a couple of years apart in age, are currents. I am a buoy, carried along the river, sometimes pulled under, sometimes caught in the turbulence, but underneath are these influences carrying me along, both joyful, both awakened in their own ways. One carries me along the path of profound knowing. One shows me that simplicity in being is the key.
I love the story of Ram Dass and other seekers from generations ago, who traveled to far lands to find their gurus. I love the story of Robert Thurman and how when he arrived at the house of his guru his legs stopped working as he walked up the driveway, the anticipation of the meeting so profound. I love the stories of the instant knowing, the overwhelming connections, the lightening bolt of finding what you have been seeking without even knowing you were looking. Neem Karoli Baba manifesting as an old man on a train, guiding the students to him; Ramana Maharshi traveling to Arunachala mountain because he knew beyond knowing that this was the incarnation of his guru.
I guess it doesn’t happen so dramatically all the time. I guess what happens for many of us is that our spiritual teachers are around us already, and often we get them at birth. Sometimes teachers are found in a series of circumstances that make for a great story later on. Sometimes, you realize that the people in your life have already been teaching you the most profound truths all along: joy, faith, and above all, unconditional love.
You can hear me read this on Soundcloud HERE and on iTunes HERE.