Jul 6, 2016

July 6, Baton Rouge, LA

While I was up late at night writing my last post, only a few blocks down our house something terrible was taking place. A man standing outside a convenience store was shot to death by a member of the police force. Someone caught it on video, and today it was on the national news. The two police men involved were put on administrative leave today, and the case has been handed over to the Justice Department who are carrying out an investigation. 

Scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed this morning, I felt an immense wave of desperation washing over me. The suicide bombings of the past few days, the continuing war in the Middle East, the refugees, the state of the environment, BREXIT, the U.S. elections...and a whole lot of hatred and division everywhere in the comments sections, media outlets and particularly palpable today in our town of Baton Rouge. Has the world gone mad, or was it always this crazy? 

All I know is what I saw on the video and what is being reported by the media. I do not understand what happened. I really can't say what was in any of those three people's hearts or minds. I cannot judge them. I really can't bring myself to, nor do I want to. It's not my job. I have been reading other people's opinions all day. They sting, they hurt, they offer no solace, no understanding, no healing. All they do is fill up a bleeding space, that could be filled with our hearts instead. All I know is how I feel. 

I feel incredibly, interminably sad.

Today I found myself heeding my own advice. I took my tomato meditation from last night and tried to apply it to the man who was shot, to the police officers, to the community, to the whole city. I realized how much I do not understand.

I  feel the anger, I feel the pain. I feel the complexity of the problem Baton Rouge and the U.S. as a whole are facing. It is multifaceted and historical. It is layered and branches out like a tree into all areas of society: judicial system, family structure, education, economy, housing market, banking system, police culture etc etc etc...so many of us are involved in the above social systems and structures yet when it comes to incidents like this we want to boil it down to a simple matter of 'this or that', 'us and them', 'a cop and a black guy'. We externalize our own fears, traumas and failures to two or three players "in the game". Remember "the tomato is the sun, and the soil, and the rain...?". Now look: the policemen and the man were their motivations, and their childhoods, and their parents, and their schools, and their teachers, and their neighborhoods, and their pastor and their church and the this and the other, and you...and me. 

I hit on a wall of sadness, pain and guilt. Why?

I left one divided city, where I grew up and had a home, and came to another to set up a new one. Different place, different people, different circumstances, but at root the causes of division are the same: fear, alienation, isolation, fanaticism, hatred. I am haunted and chased by the divisions in the landscape, I am haunted and chased by the divisions in myself. 

I grew up on the Green Line in Lefkosia. Its barbed wire sliced my neighborhood in half. Riding my bike to the end of the road I imagined what life was like on the other side. From my window I saw a mountain I was not allowed to touch or climb. I saw houses inhabited by people I was not allowed to meet. I lay awake at night thinking about my grandmother's stories of the summers in Lapithos, the lemon trees, the sea, the open fields. I dreamt of being an ant that crawled under the wires, past the soldiers and around the landmines to solve the great mystery of that mysterious place that lay beyond. I pictured fairies and secret forests up in the mountains and castles with princes. I pictured fruits on the trees all year round and golden wheat as tall as myself for miles and miles around. 

Later, at school, my imagination was chocked up in clouds of stories of brutal killings, rapes, and occupying armies that descended from the depths of Anatolia with their scimitars and turbans, ugly monsters with huge teeth and stomachs who wanted to devour everything in greed and gluttony. I quickly grew scared of what lay beyond the 'dead zone'. I rallied my teddy bears for evacuation drills and bomb drills under the bed, like we did at school. I anguished over which of my belongings I would take with me should a war break out, and fretted over my old and frail grandmother making it out in time. 

At the time, somewhere inside of me a line was drawn, and fear burrowed like landmines deep in the fertile soil of my psyche, waiting, waiting, waiting for the time in the future when someone would set a foot and blow up to pieces.  

Luckily my parents were rational people, and peace-loving people, and they worked in themselves and in their community to pick apart the lies from the truth and the hatred from the suffering. They were compassionate. They did not see religions or ethnicity or skin-colour as a basis of judging people. They taught us to be fair, to treat people with respect, to introspect, to be students of history, seekers of truth. 

Luckily where those seeds of fear were planted, they never took root. While school and the media were busy wiring our brains up for intransigence, my parents took time to carefully detonate the explosives and set our minds free.

When later the checkpoints opened, my mother and I were among those who rushed to stand in line to cross, because I was neither afraid nor angry. When later my high school welcomed Turkish Cypriot students, I was happy for our country, because that was progress. People always belong together and are stronger together. I see it now. It's how we were made to be. 

I work now in my own self to expose the dark, poisonous, uncompromising places still inhabiting my soul, to get rid of my judgments for myself and others, to become freer and freer still, to hopefully cast a light on the world instead of a shadow. I admit, while old friends are working on the front lines and bringing change to the world, and peace to our country, I have ran away to a corner to meditate on my life. It is not enough, but it is the least I can do. It is the least we can all do, so that we may emerge stronger and kinder, and more loving, to do our part better and more effectively for our loved-ones, our communities, the world. 

Though we may feel powerless to change the situation right now, in Cyprus, in the U.S, in the Middle East, in the World, we can try and understand it better, by looking inside ourselves. Then maybe our anger and hatred will turn into compassion, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, and we will not want to fight with each other, or kill each other anymore. It is a long and difficult road, but it is the only one. 





Jul 5, 2016

Tomato Meditations

Yesterday my friend told me the tomatoes I gave her were the best tomatoes she had in a very long time. "I did not cut them up and put them in the salad, I just ate them like an apple". My heart! No salt, no vinegar, nothing to change or add or mask; she ate them just the way they were, she ate them whole. That's why I love her.

When I look at my harvest of tomatoes now I see the sun, the rain, the soil. I remember the plants when they were but seedlings. I remember staking and pruning, chasing away the stinkbugs. I see all the tomatoes that didn't make it to my lap, the ones that were eaten by slugs so that the others would survive. I see the spider that spun a web among their flowers to catch the little flies. I see myself, singing and walking around the garden, barefoot. I see the mourning doves and the cardinals, feeding under the plants' shade. I see Mark turning the faucet on from the other side of the garden while I shout "Thank you!". I see the dog chasing bees in the soft grass with her tail pointing straight to the sky like an arrow. 

When I look at our tomatoes, I see them glistening in the morning light from afar when I peer through the foggy kitchen window. In the midday heat and humidity they look sweaty and bright red.  Then at dusk they seem lovingly wrapped up in the last golden rays, serene and swollen with the day's growth. 

I see people's eyes widen when I say after the last bite "They're homegrown!".

I see Mark engrossed in his book while swirling the last forkful of pasta in the homemade sauce.

I see myself placing them carefully like babies in the bottom drawer of the fridge after washing and drying them off. 

By growing tomatoes, I have come to better understand Thich Nhat Han's teaching of looking deeply, and of inter-being. "Nothing can exist by itself alone". It is a good practice that I am trying to extrapolate to the rest of life; inanimate objects, plants, animals, and harder still, people. My God, people are so complex and shrouded.  People are their parents, their siblings, their children, their traumas, experiences, dreams, homes... Yet if I put in the effort, I have no excuse for no compassion, I have no excuse for judgement. This is very hard to accept, because being stuck in anger, jealousy and judgement seems now to be my choice.

Every time I catch myself forming a judgement or losing my temper I know I have to "look deeply". I barely do it. I'm not there yet. I come home to my tomatoes and I sit with them, I ask them to teach me. Tomorrow I will practice biting one whole, like an apple, and see what its smiling seeds have to say.

Jun 18, 2016

Blue blue sky

Okay. I see it now.

The silence that stills the mind.
The freshness of the moment.
The death of time.
The green of the grass.
The blue of the sky.

I am awash with the love of a million mothers.
I have forgotten my name.
The fly is my brother.
I stare at its rubbing legs and compound eyes in awe.
Inside I see myself.

Movement has slowed down, my heart is beating slower.
I feel like everything has taken on a crispness.
Sharp as if my lens has been adjusted.
The sun is irradiating the grass blades - oh how they glisten!
The wind is blowing through the branches slowly,
deliberately, as if knowingly, as if a spirit in itself.
My brother too.

How strange all this! I feel at peace.
I have a tinkling hope somewhere - or is it joy?
It is at once curious, amused, quiet, calm but also excited.

I have to meet a friend. I get in the car.
The sky is blinding blue. I can't stop staring.
I don't turn the radio on - this silence is delicious.
All these cars around me are fascinating
and inexplicable - these people around me: why are they upset? why are they rushing?
Can't they see this sky??
I feel so at peace. I park and sit down at a table, outside, I wait for my friend.

I look at the people sitting here too. I feel okay about them, with them.
They are animated and fascinating. This flesh that moves around in space, the voices that come out,
the colour of the clothes. I feel a warmth, a kindness.

I'm staring at the sky. She comes through the gate. She smiles.
Her energy is beautiful. She is beautiful.
I notice the beauty marks on her face.
Her hair is supple. I tell her what I am experiencing.
I have a tinkling fear somewhere: that she will not believe me.

It dissolves.

Hours pass, I do not know. We talk about the most beautiful things.
Our relationship has shifted somehow.
I love her. She is my sister.
I go home.

I forget when my mind returned.
I have not felt this since then but for a few moments of grace (daily, almost, yes. many times just deep gratitude). It has been a few months.

I wasn't sure what it was. I was meditating, I had been meditating consistently for a few days, doing self-inquiry, I was determined, and then it happened, all the noise disappeared suddenly like down a vortex, and then the silence and peace and crispness sort of melted away the next morning when I got up for work. I never mentioned it to anyone else. My meditation practice fell away. I got consumed with life. Things happen that suck me in. My mind sucks me in. I am distracted. I fall back into suffering, desperation.

But I see it now, I think it is a choice. Letting go is scary, I think I'm still holding on to my-self very tight, I know it is a choice ultimately. Practice of making your mind stop helps, but I think you have to be determined.

There is a small fountain at the funeral home at the entrance. It makes a wonderful gurgling sound when they plug it up. Above, on the wall, Mark's mum stuck a vinyl decal, a quote from the New Testament:

"But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life."


Oh my God. It has been staring at me in the face every morning when I go to work.

Is it possible that the answer can be so underlyingly simple yet so damn elusive, for all the sticky attachments we have piled on top of it?

Is the difference between heaven and hell just a matter of unclenching my mind's fist and unclasping it from my consciousness?

 (whoa easier said than done)








Jun 16, 2016

Domestic Goddess

I am a goddess among tea towels, hand mixers and ironing boards. I battle with dirty dishes and recipe books, piles of clothes looking at me forlornly from the laundry room corner. I listen to audiobooks about Zen Buddhism while sweeping the floor. I watch TV in the mornings.

I am not good at this, I know. I am a wild creature, whose soul inhabits a tree. At night, I dance around the forest, holding my translucent dress up to show my swirling ankles to the moon. Nobody knows. They see me in the morning, with dark circles under my eyes, begging the coffee machine to brew its magic poison. They call me Sleeping Beauty, another name for Bad Housewife. I pin sadly the invitations for baby showers on the fridge, and feel my skin crawl at the sound of "Girls' night. You should come. It'll be fun."

It isn't all pedestrian. Being a goddess of the house has its upsides, too. I have my loyal followers: My husband, performing his worship rituals of chocolate offerings, kisses and Sunday grill sacrifices, and the dog, who follows me around like a royal attendant for a blessing of rawhide treats. Even the potted herbs on the windowsill regard me with adulation, for they know the powers I have over their leafy lives. 

Oh, that the house would clean itself with a snap of my fingers, like Mary Poppins...


Jun 4, 2016

Demeter's Face

Lately I have been feeling a shift in myself, as though I am finally coming up from the underworld where I have sat in the dark for three years listening to the dead recount stories, as though the fog is being lifted. I am no longer feeling entirely lost or hopeless, yet at the same time I have found myself thrust back into the world somewhat violently, as if spat out from the bottom of a well into the dizzying, buzzing metropolis of material Life.

Ahh yes I remember now
the whistling kettle just a kettle, and a bird song just a song. 
The plants at the windowsill gone mute. 
The colours retracting their open palms.
Red is a clenched fist, no longer.
Green is eyes in the trees, no longer. 
The planks no longer sigh beneath my feet. 

I recognise this world, it's simple and facile, like an ice sheet floating atop a vast and abysmal ocean.

For the most part, I have been dragged back kicking and screaming. My days have been filled with tantrums, arguments, self-hatred and stomach knots. For a month I stopped eating, dropped a couple sizes. The grief of emerging from grief.

Yet, my heart, what's known cannot be unknown.The secrets of the dream world have stayed with me. In my womb I have carried back some formless and mysterious seeds from the realm of the inner earth. I don't know what they are but I know they're there.

Some days the idea of them scares me, some days it thrills me and fills me hope.

I think it was the psychic woman. No really, she wasn't full of it, I know she had a gift. I felt her opening up softly, in a room full of constricted, clamped up women. She led us to the source and asked us to drink. She opened up the ample silence and nudged us in, told us to explore. She was gentle but assertive. Sincere but loving. I questioned her motives manifold, but when I closed my eyes I sensed she cared deeply in a free and impersonal way, like a cool summer breeze.

I learnt a lot that day. I could swear she instructed me to let go, but maybe it was my soul speaking. I told her I was afraid of destroying the world, absolutely terrified, and a bubbling laugh sprang up from her belly: "I have destroyed a few myself!"

When I went home that night, after having reconnected with long lost images of my childhood (my uncle's lemon tree, the chalk stones we used to pick up and draw in the street with, our water well that my dad used to water the garden), something inside me cracked open. A few days later we made a trip to the store and bought soil and seedlings. We toiled in the back yard all afternoon shoveling dirt, mulching, planting. Somehow my body remembered how I used to sink my fingers in the soil in our back yard in Lefkosia as a child, planting potatoes, onions, herbs. My nails and clothes were always dirty, my shoes always muddy, but my parents found great amusement in my agrarian obsessions. My body remembered the thrill of digging for potatoes and pulling them up to the surface wide-eyed, as though a precious ore.  When my mother made a potato stew out of them and we all ate it, I felt pride and fulfillment.

My body remembered. That afternoon, hunched over, with the sun behind me casting a shadow, I scooped up a clump of soil to make space for my tomato transplant. At the bottom of the dark earthy planting hole, there it was: Demeter's face, lovingly smiling up at me.

Since that day in late March, I have been going out there at the edge of our plot where our garden is to check on our plants, removing bugs, providing compost and algae food, caressing the leaves and coaxing them gently: grow, grow and be happy, grow grow and bloom, be friends with the sun and drink of its light and give us fruits and give us life. I even find myself singing to them day after day after I come home from work, as my old flatmate Fotini used to sing to our houseplants, who seemed to thrive and revel in her presence and happiness. And out of the deepest depths of my memory came strange songs from a happy childhood, like these (yes, I have sat on the grass in the Louisiana wet heat singing these):





And day after day I watch the eggplants bloom, and the cucumbers sprawl, and the tomatoes plump up and blush. Day after day I feel my body come out of the ether and mould into the shape of a woman. Day after day I feel my roots growing deeper into the ground. Day after day my mind is cast to my cousin and her children, who are turning two this year, who day by day seem to grow taller, whom she sings to and coaxes gently and gives of herself, so that they may grow, grow and be happy, grow grow and bloom, be friends with the sun and drink of its light, and give us fruits and give us life.

Apr 4, 2016

Spring seedlings

I am trying to remain

  Open.

A spacious word.

That Great Big
O
which contains
Everything.

Within this
O
everything
is allowed

Space

and

Breath

and

Life

and

Existence.

Even the
terrible
horrible things
and

The Things We Do Not Like.

It's the one that hides in Love
cushioned deceivingly
between the softness of the consonants.

We forget
 it holds the wOrd from
collapsing in on
itself.

If we wrote

lOve

maybe we'd remember how
sublime
it really is.

It's the same one that hides inside our 

sOul.

The one that that holds the 
wOrld 
from
collapsing in on
itself.