November 2013


The man who brought her downstairs and attended to her was not her husband.  Not her lover either.  It had been a long time since, you know, there had been someone like that in her life.  She had been worried that it would be cold – too cold to be sitting still in the wheelchair outside.   He had reassured her, let her know once again that withdrawing from the world wasn’t so healthy.  She remembered thinking, “What does he know?  How does he know what’s healthy for me?”  But she gave in and let him adjust her hat and gloves. Then he left her sitting in the walkway and went inside leaving her here, waiting.  At least, she thought, when I’m in my apartment I don’t feel like I’m waiting.  Out here in the street I always feel that I am waiting for something to happen.  And I’m never sure what that is.

Hoping to distract from the process of waiting, she began deliberately noting what was around her.  A woman, younger than she, stood leaning against the wrought iron fence in front of the house next door.Afternoon Sunlight on a Greenwich Village Street - New York City-MShe was tapping words into her phone, but Sara could read the signs.  This woman was clearly waiting – while pretending she wasn’t.  Why the pretense thought Sara.  She probably doesn’t want to appear to have been left, to be without purpose.  Wait until she ages a bit more thought Sara, she’ll have ample opportunity to explore purposelessness.

Across from the woman in the wheelchair is a car parked with the driver inside.  It’s a black limo but not a big one.  The driver too is waiting, not so much for something to happen, but for the man and woman to return from the cafe across the street.   He knew it would be a considerable time before they would be ready to leave, and then probably on to a club or two.  More sitting and waiting.  He got out of the car and opened the door on the other side, shifting and straightening what had been left there.  Then he grabbed a bottle of water from the trunk and got back into the car.  He wasn’t much interested in what was happening around him,  choosing to listen to music.  He would just settle in, maybe nod off a bit.

Sara noticed the car, but barely.  She didn’t see the driver – not because he was out of her line of vision, but because he was a chauffeur.  To her he was basically a non-person.  Even if she had taken notice of him, he would have been of no interest as a driver sitting in a car.  Only if he were her driver – then there might have been attention to giving him some direction.  Someone to notice only to the extent that he is useful.  And Sara didn’t even notice that she hadn’t noticed.

Jared was used to not being seen.  He’d been driving other people around for a few years now.  He knew it wouldn’t be forever; he knew he’d go back to school.  He just wasn’t sure when, or where for that matter.  He was gathering experiences in the meantime.  Amazing what you can gather when not being noticed.   People show themselves more easily when they feel no one is looking.  Especially in the back of his car.

But there was some restlessness in him this evening that made it difficult for him to settle.  Maybe he was really tired of sitting and waiting.  Maybe it was time to stand up and do something.  While chewing on this thought, he became aware of the agitated energy behind it.  That’s when he happened to glance in the rear view mirror.  And there, standing in the street, was a man painting with palette and easel.   What the hell, thought Jared.

Well, so much for not being interested in what was happening around him or his restless energy.  Jared’s whole focus landed on the artist in the street.  Had he just beamed in from Paris’s Left Bank?  Had he actually been there when Jared pulled into this parking spot?  Why does a guy set up his easel in the street?

The artist continued painting, oblivious to the questions being launched into the universe by the nearby driver.   He wasn’t exactly standing in the middle of the street but taking up his own parking space in between two cars.   His gaze shifted from his canvas to the restaurant he was facing.  He applied paint then looked back toward the cafe.  Why was he painting?  Who was it for?  Such an oddity even by New York City standards, especially in that the artist wasn’t part of a performance piece.  He was simply absorbed in the canvas in front of him.  Yet, typical of this city, passers by didn’t seem to notice him, his canvas and his easel there in the street.  Perhaps if he’d been naked…

So,was he there hoping to be discovered?  No, he was simply painting restaurant fronts in the hopes that tourists would want to purchase a souvenir of where they had a romantic dinner with someone special.  Set up in the alley entrance nearby was a display of several of his paintings, each of a different restaurant in the Village.  It didn’t seem that he’d been too successful selling his work unless he had a big store hidden elsewhere.  Stephen wasn’t really all that interested in the sale of his paintings as much as in the act of painting itself and, of course, the exotic image of himself as an artist.  He knew he would continue painting until he couldn’t lift a paintbrush anymore.  Sad, but true, he thought to himself.  If he’d been more concerned about earning money, perhaps his wife would still be with him.  She had been his muse when they were much younger, until it wasn’t enough.  It was several years since she had left with another artist – one who was younger than he and considerably more talented.  Yes, one who even earned a living selling his work in New York galleries.  It bothered  Stephen, and yet it didn’t bother him.  He missed having a muse – restaurant fronts were not that inspiring.  He didn’t mind being alone though, he kept himself good company.  He really did like himself.  He thought that most people he knew didn’t seem to like themselves very much.  They all wanted something different from what they had.  He didn’t – he really appreciated that he could spend his time painting.  Even without a muse, he was happy painting, no matter what.

Stephen didn’t see the driver in the black limo, nor was he aware of the woman in the wheelchair.  He was focused.  As was the woman who was tapping words into her cell phone.  She was absorbed in writing about the artist, the driver and the woman in the wheelchair.  She was creating a story, something she did quite often.  It was easy, especially in the city where the were so many people and situations to witness.  So, here she was again, waiting for her companion to show up for dinner at the nearby restaurant (the one in fact that Stephen was now painting).  She was waiting for him outside, there being not much room in the crowded cafe and the evening being rather warm for November.  And while she was there, noticing the three individuals around her, she had begun to make up a story about each one.  They were not unreasonable stories, but fabricated nonetheless.

Her attention was unexpectedly interrupted by the manager of the restaurant who had come outside to tell her that now there was room at the bar should she want to come inside and wait for her companion.  Nice of him, she thought.  So she left her storied threesome in the midst of their tales and went inside.  Sipping a glass of wine, she wondered if the artist could see her through the window and might she appear in his painting.  Of course, that might just lead to another story…

Consider the quality of being present in your body right now.  What is the quality or character of that sensation?  Is it in fact a sensation – or something else?  Maybe you’re curled up in a chair, computer in your lap, maybe sitting on a train reading the screen on your cell phone, or sneaking a moment for yourself while at work – notice whatever posture you find your body in right now.  Take a moment, this moment, and focus your whole attention on what is happening in your body.  Don’t wait for the instructor in yoga class to coach you there or the teacher at the meditation center to offer guidance, you can take this trip yourself any time you want.

Sometime the simplest action can generate the deepest awareness.  It doesn’t always require special equipment and herculean effort.  You are, after all, in your body.   Should it be a big leap then to inhabit it fully, to be totally there?  If you are caught up in thoughts, don’t be thinking that you are in your mind and not in your body, because, as my former teacher used to say, “Your mind is part of your body, isn’t it?”  Perhaps you can be in your mind and body at the same time, fully present to both.

Usually the act of bringing focus to the body means noticing the purely physical sensations that are happening.  Pain, constriction, fatigue, hunger or sometimes what seems to be neutral or without clearly articulated qualities.  I often wonder that what draws our attention are the primarily negative or neutral characteristics, not the energized or “feeling good” ones.  Don’t these last speak loud enough to be heard?  What might be the quietest sense you can tune into?

Now make the shift to notice what kind of feeling state is inhabiting your body in this moment.  We don’t often acknowledge that feeling states are in our bodies, but they are also physical sensations and certainly manifest in the body.  We don’t simply walk around with concepts of anger, sadness or joy in our minds.  We experience them in a physical way.  The heart can seem to be the locus of feeling for us, but is it a source or a container for what’s circulating through our bodies?  Perhaps it simply feels like the center of who we are.

Imagine your heart is this center and holds you in the space between being grounded in the earth and reaching for the sky.  Stand with your feet hip distance apart, your spine long and arms stretched down, held away from your sides with palms facing forward.  Inhale and slowly bring your arms overhead so that your palms touch.  Exhale and bring your hands down to the level of your heart, palms still together.  Stay for a moment and receive another breath.  Then give your breath away and stretch your arms down and away from your sides again.  Breathe in and continue to bring them overhead so that palms touch each other.  Repeat this sequence a few times and see where your attention goes.  Does it seem that it fills your entire body?

Notice that with these movements you have created the peace sign with your body.  Rest in that awareness.

 

Welcome change!  Where would I be without you?  Well, think about it – I wouldn’t be alive, that’s for sure.  Yet looking in the mirror, I find myself wondering who this is looking back at me.   There is some part of me that must have expected that I would continue to look the same.  It would be the familiar face of me, the one I’ve become used to over my adult life, always.   Interesting that now I think back to adolescence, which was certainly a time for changes in my body and appearance.  But not the same as now.  I believe the difference then was the sense of excitement that accompanied what was happening.  Even if I wasn’t pleased with a particular change, the overall sense of it was looking forward to what was to come.  There were plans and goals and new experiences to be met.  Changes then may not always have been greeted with open arms, but the energy in them was about moving forward.  Why is it that, in the later years of life, what lies ahead can often feel more like sliding down a slippery slope than rising to meet challenges?

There seems to be more attachment at this point to what was.  And perhaps years of perfecting the voice of judgment within.  This voice is the one that is not liking what’s happening, wanting the body to stay the same, considering desperate measures or placing blame for what’s changed.  All as if these shifts in one’s body could be avoided.  

Where are our role models for growing old, for aching joints and sagging skin?  Even if a role model exists for us it isn’t his/her body that is the focus of inspiration.  It is more likely what he or she is accomplishing in spite of the physical body.  Maybe the bigger question is how to show up fully human with all that’s shifting and changing and be ok with that.  We are a culture that relies on reflection – not the inward kind but the mirrored image of who we think we should be.  It’s generally a full screen representation of who we want to be or the image we desire to project to others that drives the ability to accept changes in our bodies.

So how do we turn the mirror back on itself?  Would it even work?  Imagine a world without mirrors – where the only option to “see” oneself is in someone else’s eyes.  We might then have to accept a new level of vulnerability – the reality of being seen by another.  Mask – less.  It may seem more difficult than what we do now, but somehow I think not.    This could be a practice that leads us to the wonder of feeling connected to other human beings in a way that doesn’t easily happen now.  It might help us realize that we are all the same, we all change and that change has the capacity to reveal to us who we truly are.  How bad can that be?