Gero-Punk Meditation: Smile at the gap

shrineBreathe in.

(Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.)

Breathe out.

(Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.) 1

Breathe in.

(Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in and my breath is forced.)

Breathe out.

(Breathing out, I smile at my forced out-breath.). 2

Breathe in.

(Breathing in, I know that I am hearing a sound. What’s the sound? Let sound be sound.) 3

Breathe out.

(There’s that sound again. I think that I am hearing a song sparrow. Oh, wait: Let sound be sound.)

No breathing. Just the gap between breathing out and breathing in. 4

Breathe in.

(Breathing in, I sort of know that I am breathing in. I also sort of know that I am beginning to think about things other than my breath.)

Breathe out.

(Breathing out, I know for certain that I am thinking and what I am thinking about is my daughter Isobel.)

No breathing. Just the gap between breathing out and breathing in.

Breathe in.

(Breathing in, I know that I am thinking about Isobel who is soon moving far away to New York to begin college.).

Breathe out.

(Breathing out, I know that when I am thinking about Isobel moving far away I feel what is called “anxious” and “excited,” and also “ambivalent.”)

Breathe in.

(Breathing in, I wonder what it will be like when it is time to say goodbye to each other. When we were having brunch the other day, I asked her what her thoughts were about our upcoming trip to get her moved to and settled at college. Isobel requested that we only say goodbye once and that we don’t draw out our farewells longer than necessary, as she’ll be feeling very tenderhearted. This means that after I help her move into her dorm room I will probably leave campus immediately, missing the parents’ reception and other events. This means that once I leave campus, I won’t see Isobel again for four months. This means that I will be missing Isobel.)

Breathe out.

(Breathing out, I feel my mind slide to the side. I feel my cheeks flush. I feel my chest cave in.)

No breathing. Just the gap between breathing out and breathing in.

Breathe in.

(Breathing in, I know that I am gulping for air. That was a big gap between out-breath and in-breath! But the big airless gap between out-breath and in-breath saved me. The gap urged me back from my story about saying goodbye to Isobel to the immediacy of my breath. I smile at the gap.)

Breathe out.

(Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out. And I giggle because I know that I replaced the story about Isobel with the story about the gap.)

Breathe in.

(Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Wait: What’s that sound?)

Breathe out.

(Breathing out, I wonder, is that the sound of Isobel stirring? Is that sound the sound of Isobel waking up? Is that sound the sound of Isobel waking up on one of the last mornings she’ll be living here with me?)

No breathing. Just the gap between breathing out and breathing in.

Breathe in.

(Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Let sounds be sound. Let Isobel be Isobel.)

Breathe out.

(Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out. I smile at my out-breath. I smile at Isobel.)

 ***

1. This instruction — “As you breathe in, you can say to  yourself, ‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.'” — comes from the Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn.

2. This instruction — smile at your out-breath — also comes from Thich Nhat Hahn.

3. The statement, “Let sound be sound,” is attributed to the Buddha. It is meant to remind us to practice being present and attending to our raw experiences rather than engaging in conceptualizations and stories about our experiences.

4. I learned about the significance of the “gap” or space in between an out-breath and the next in-breath from teachings by Chogyam Trungpa and Pema Chodron.

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Gero-Punk Preoccupations: Spotting in the Spin

An essay by Guest Gero-Punk

Stephanie Lillegard

stephanie

You know what’s a funny word? “Spot.” Spot is a very funny word. And don’t stare at it too long, or it will stop looking like a word altogether. Fair warning.

Spot can be a dog, of course. I know this because I work in a public library, and also because Eric Hill started publishing books in the early 80’s, and that was when my children began to enter our family.

wheres_spot__fullThis Spot goes in the “board book” section of our library, where things are not alphabetized unless some new or randomly zealous employee gets a sudden fit of Straightening Against the Chaos, ignoring the fact that this will be the shortest lived straightening possible. Board books are like the beings who love them – they are joyously unstraightenable.

Spot can also be the thing you’re trying to eliminate when you’re doing laundry. (Please use something nontoxic for this spot removal.) Or, spot can be something you do (“spot the error”) or it can be something you have to live with (the spots in vision that tend to come with age are called “floaters,” for example). There are also spot lights, spot fish (also called the “spot croaker,” a saltwater fish). And people sometimes pause for a spot of lunch. See?

It’s a very funny word, spot.

Spot is also a ballet technique. That’s what keeps going through my head lately. Spotting is a ballet technique that combats dizziness.

balletOur teacher taught it to us in the class full of little girls who were also learning the five positions and the plié. It goes like this: you find a spot – a place across the room, or a room’s corner or something on the wall – something that remains stationary – and you keep your eyes on it while you rotate your body in a turn … until you can’t. When you begin to lose sight of it, you whip your little head around and catch it again. When a dancer is “spotting,” the head turns faster than the body, even though both head and body turn the same number of times.

You can try it if you want. It’s not that hard if you do it slowly enough at first. Go ahead. Try it. (Did you try it?)

Feel that?

Feel how the management of the dizziness sort of causes its own disorientation? In order to remain upright and to continue to spin, one kind of dizziness is exchanged for another – the debilitating is exchanged for the deliberate. And lately I’ve been thinking that this is exactly how I feel. I feel like a little kid again, trying to stay on my slippery slippers instead of ending up on the floor, while I spin. This is a familiar sensation.

By now, I’ve had to learn to spot while spinning a lot of times. I’m in the middle third of my fifties (never mind how a decade gets cut into thirds), and every few years since I was one of the little girls in that ballet class, I’ve had to learn it all over again in my life.

One of Louise Darling's wonderful drawings done for the Beverly Cleary books; this one is from Beezus and Ramona.

One of Louise Darling’s wonderful drawings done for the Beverly Cleary books; this one is from Beezus and Ramona.

When I went away to college for my first degree, I had to learn to spot the certainties of my family and friends at home in order to keep my balance across the country as I spun into my adult life. When I got married, had babies, lived at 12 addresses in 15 years (my husband was in school and we moved a lot), I kept my eye on what would hold still so that I would not end up spinning out of control. My husband held still. My faith (usually) held still, even if my practice of my faith learned to twirl, and to leap, and to take new positions. In the first five and a half decades of my life, I learned to find the place of stillness and whip my head around just in time to keep from falling.

But now something has changed.

Health problems have converged with healthy aging, and financial problems have joined hands with new opportunities, and new habits that will have to be learned are butting heads with old habits that are hard to avoid, and it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but that’s not because the old dog can’t learn. Old dogs have a problem with new tricks because every new trick has to fit in with the old ones and there are so many old tricks when you’re an old dog.

Lately life feels as if we’re all living in a shoebox diorama, and the diorama has been grabbed by one of the children in the board book section, so that our whole world seems to have shifted. The dollhouse furniture of our lives has toppled over again. Our little mountains and our glitter stream are acting like the paper and glue they’re made of. There have been so many changes so rapidly that I’ve just written a paragraph with far too many metaphorical images in it because the particulars are still something I’m avoiding and they’re not holding still – or not still enough so that I can keep them in view.

But really, the particulars are somewhat of a different question, right?

I mean, if you’re spinning, you’re spinning.

What I learned to do when I was a child was to find the thing that did not move, and then to move myself while keeping the still things in view. Children who do not have the privilege of stability all around them cannot learn this. The human brain rebels. The chemical imbalance begins. Attachments are more difficult because in order to grow roots, the soil has to remain where it is for long enough for a growth cycle to complete itself. I had that. I had enough stability to have enough of a childhood that was enough like a child’s ballet lesson that I learned to spot stability in my life.

And then, while I was concentrating so hard on staying upright that the beads of sweat gathered on my face and shoulders, while my sweat turned into little streams that dripped into my leotard, I grew up.

Did you know that when ballet dancers get more advanced, they learn to spot off each other? The dancers learn to find stability in movement. I found that out today when I began to research the whole skill and phenomenon of the ballet dancer’s spotting, because I had wondered if I could discover some technique for avoiding the dizziness. The metaphor is a good one for me. It explains things to me. I searched the sensations in my body, trying to remember where this particular kind of disorientation had been felt before, and eventually I thought of the ballet lessons of my childhood. So I looked it up. And it turns out that to learn to dance – to really truly dance – is to learn to find stability in movement. That’s the new trick I’ve been trying to learn. That’s the name of it. I’ve been trying to learn spotting in a part of my life when everything has been set in motion. (It’s a relief to know why I keep smacking into things and falling over lately – metaphorically, of course – well, mostly metaphorically.)

A spot can be a dog, and a spot can be an eye floater or something you have to take care of before you put your shirt into the washing machine. A spot can also be a place on the wall on the other side of the gym, or it can be another dancer, or it can even be a star so far away it almost disappears from view if you look too hard. And a sky full of those spots, all in motion, all the time, is how a sailor finds a way home.

star chart

Stephanie Lillegard is a writer and teacher, living in the Columbia River Gorge. She has recently graduated from Marylhurst University with an Interdisciplinary Studies major, and is looking toward an MFA in Creative Writing. In the meantime, she keeps finding ways to spin and keep her balance – mostly.

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Gero-Punk Lexicon: Legacy

Legacy can transcend the bounds of time-place-space.

Legacy can be transmitted through a fig. Or a raspberry.

Legacy goes in all directions, is deeply, fundamentally relational, and encompasses much more than mere material resources.

By “all directions,” I mean that legacy is trans- and inter-generational and not exclusively about transmission of something important to younger generations from older generations. Legacy can be transmitted in the other direction, as well, and in all directions at once.

By “fundamentally relational,” I mean that the creation of legacy happens in the context of cultivated, on-going relationships (And between both the “living” and the “no-longer-living”; that is, a member of a legacy-creating relationship may no longer be alive but still very present and influential to others, such as the role my friend Fred plays in my life); it is an expression of deep, consequential connections between humans.

By “encompasses much more than mere material resources,” I am pushing back at the perennial idea that legacy should be primarily about the transmission from elders to “youngers” of material resources: money, property, possessions.

A larger-mind view of legacy is that it is about intentionally creating the conditions necessary for a vital present and future life for not only our family members and other closest-in people, but for all living creatures. As such, members of multiple generations traveling through the life course simultaneously join together to pass-around (rather than pass-down) resources. These resources certainly may be material in the traditional sense of legacy – money, property, possessions – but also ethical, intellectual, spiritual and emotional (for example, “ethical wills,” spiritual traditions, creative projects, family traditions and practices).

Legacy may entail carrying on the traditions and practices of another person who is no longer living (or perhaps whom we never met in person but only through stories told about them), as well as adopting – embodying and enacting – their quintessential characteristics or commitments: a particular habit-of-speech, a jaunty hat they always wore, or their singular role in a larger system. In this way, the special person continues to exist but in a different form, and we are forever changed – and changing — because of our relationship with them.

Lastly, a larger trans-personal view of legacy encompasses non-human creatures, the planet, and our universe, as well as future humans whom we’ll not know because we will no longer be living, but for whom we care nonetheless (and who may someday in the future learn and care about us, their ancestors, as well.).

 

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