Bludgeoned by Joy

I know I’m wired a little differently, but I gather that I’m not the only one for whom a good Flu produces hypersensitivity. As an immune battle cycles through its symptom phases, there is that prolonged passage in which every cell seems to sing in a symphonic ache, which swells the senses beyond their standard boundaries. And sight, hearing, touch,  taste, smell, and yes, even the sixth sense of psychic acuity, are as if flayed open, their skins stretched finer than a film on water. Even the teeth ache, their enamel stretched too thin.

As what they call a “Highly Sensitive Person,” my normal state hovers closer to that experience, and a Flu trip can be quite an entertainingly phantasmagoric ride. Regardless of one’s perceptual sensitivity, though, these dramatic episodes of immune mobilization are a workout for multiple systems of the body. I find they often have a unifying effect.  As the conflagration subsides, it’s as if everything is washed clean, more finely tuned, reconnected.

As I rise and meet the morning after fever breaks, everything is vivid, freshly fond and wondrous. And I am freshly innocent.  It’s as if the nervous system has molted its old skin.

Today was just such a morning, as I stepped out onto the porch into the fresh and drizzle-dampened air; air I drew cool and deep into my still feverish lungs, welcoming consciousness back into my body, and feeling the experience as both fingers and glove.  I stood there for a gentle and meditative QiGong practice, savoring all the inner sensations, but appreciating the outer scene, super crisp and clear, even in the diffusing effect of the falling mist.

At a certain point in this practice, I bent down and performed a maneuver facing my knees for maybe thirty seconds. When I unfurled my spine again and came upright, it was snowing. During my moments upside down, contemplating the tartan legs of my PJs, the rain had turned to snow. In my heightened state, there was something so magical about this. And everything tuned and cleansed from the preceding hours of synchronized throbbing now suffused with an osmotic joy.  

I was enchanted by the sublime choreography of the 10,000 snow drops– fluffy, white paratroopers– descending past the color and taste of the caramel adobe wall behind. …Rhapsodic entertainment, all because of a simple virus, a miraculous immune response, and because I’d finally gotten enough rest to let it in.

I could not help but contrast this with an experience I had only days before with another magical presence descending from the sky. I saw Mary Poppins Returns.  I suspect that this, too, might have purported to be an experience of charm, merriment and innocence.    Alas, our world has become so relentlessly over-stimulating, running at a pace beyond sustainable for many, that even Mary Poppins was powerless to rein in her runaway train.

When I emerged from the movie, the only words I could muster were: Bludgeoned by Joy. There were some great songs and performances; Emily Blount was, of course, superb; and the songs were very clever. But it was too much: too loud, too fast. The pace just breathless.  No room to digest the content.  

When showered with such a barrage of even the most appealing eye and ear candy and mirth, the nervous system cannot help but defend itself, thus getting precious little of enduring value from the experience.  The result was that I scarcely remembered the film as we walked out! 

Pity; there was plenty there I might have gladly savored, if I’d been able.  All that work, time and resources to create the charming image of Mary Poppins landing her poised pumps upon the cobblestones, and what will ultimately linger with a deeper impression upon my tender heart and memory is the landing of snow flakes against mud, snowflakes that would melt before I finish this sentence….Simply because there was space for the experience.

When I was young, my parents took me to California from our land-locked home, and they made sure to take me to Disneyland, because every child wants that, right?  And we spent a good long day there, about which I remember almost nothing. After that we found dinner somewhere near the ocean, and, afterward, we strolled out on a pier and I became enthralled with the experience of watching and feeding the gulls hovering all around me on the thick sea breeze.  That I remember. My parents realized, and observed aloud, that they needn’t have endured Disneyland; I’d have been entertained all day just doing this. It’s as true for me now as it was then. 

What about you?


Joyeux Anniversaire

It is January 5, 2019, the 54th anniversary of my birth. It is a New Moon, and also a solar eclipse. The year is  four days new and counting. Two days hence will be the 8th anniversary of my father’s passing.  These are like coordinates to help us locate the day on a map, but what do they really tell us about the day, about this unique and timeless moment? To know that, we must put down the map and references, and we must put down the clutter of thoughts in our head about past and future, and just open, notice. If your surrounds are familiar, it may seem like any other moment. And in its timeless origins, it is. But to experience it, we must first allow and include every subtle quality that makes this day, this moment, its own: the light of this day’s angle of the sun, as it filters through the echoes of yesterday’s business, the subtle smells of today’s breakfast, and the nutrients of yesterday’s lunch beating your heart.

By year’s end, we can hardly remember all the moments that made up the preceding year. We might recall a few pivotal moments, a few impressive experiences, probably because those were the ones that stopped time long enough to place a bookmark or significantly swivel our trajectory.

We partake of top ten lists about the favorite or most significant pop culture creations or events. But how often do we just get still and ask our inner selves to recall the moments that quietly linger distinct in our consciousness without ceremony or apparent import? Impressions that stay with us, like the fabric of a seat cushion after the rest of the room as faded?  These moments cling to the contours of our deeper selves, reassure us of our essence, of our innocence, which hovers diaphanous in a deeper, quieter place.

My birthday tradition is to travel to an upscale hot spring that gives a free day pass on one’s birthday. I soak all day, gratefully, and remember who I am as the torsions of this constitution loosen their grip on bones and soul.

Today, however, I have the flu. So I soak only in my own juices today.  I let go of the day’s plan more easily than I might have expected. Nothing to do now but rest–sleep, drink, pee, repeat–and float in the heightened sensations, occasionally composing a little rhyme upon the rhythm of the body’s throbbing. It is curiously comforting to drop into the simple witness and observe the miraculous immune system run through its paces. In the center of all the sensation looms the one I Am, when all doing falls away.

It is a returning.

Sitting up in bed a while, after 14 hours horizontal, I have a little time on my hands, but I have in my gauzy mind no complete and polished Top 10 retrospective for 2018 to set forth. Mine is an amalgam of a trillion subtle and powerful moments, like atoms in the ring of a tree or a layer of sediment, the most memorable of which all probably share one feature: they brought me home to my Self.

An incomplete list of these would include the following, which can be found on the World Wide Web:

Song:  “Nina Cried Power” (Hozier)

Film:  Albatross

Radio: Generally the On Being podcast; specifically the rebroadcast of Krista’s interview with Poet/philosopher David Whyte.

I know there were so many more. But I’m onto this new year now.

I am revisiting The Presence Process (Michael Brown), and it is a profound and affirming homecoming.  When I originally reviewed it for a magazine (about 14 years ago), I called it one of the most important books of the century so far; an impressively lucid gift. A strong statement, maybe, and  I understand it is not for everyone; but for me it carries the song of my home star and emboldens my own true song.

I leave space now for all those moments in the sediment of my experience for which I give thanks but can no longer give name.

And I leave space for you and your thanks with them.

Bless us every one.


New Year Weather Report

January 1st, 2019…

It is cold enough….

There are clouds enough,

but I can not tell if that is fresh snow falling from them,

or if these are last night’s snowflakes still dancing in the new year,

riding  the drunk and reveling wind in from last year somewhere.

They fly and swirl so lightly before the underwater eyes of this hungover head,

defying the undertow that draws everything to ground

and me back to bed.

These could be yesterday’s clouds.

The clock says it is morning, 

and I’m willing to pretend–

I’m well practiced.

But I’ll not be convinced

of this new year, this new day

until the sun’s scepter turns the garden to melted butter

and Heaven’s clear blue gravity

lures my heart from behind the clouds.


ML 1/1/2019