When future generations discuss my work in university classrooms, I want them to say,
“She was renowned for writing exquisite e-mails.”
In the yoga studio she centers herself as instructed by the teacher. She is not certain if any of what she is doing is real, so to speak. She is instructed on aligning her chakras, and she positions her body in the ways she is told to do. She breathes deeply and focuses her mind on the sensations here and there — in the center of her head, in her heart, in the socket of her shoulder joint and what have you — but she is not sure if she can actually feel or otherwise sense energy. She’s told the brain itself has no feelings but rather is responsible for perceiving and distributing the sensations of the rest of the body. What, then, is it that she experiences when she obeys her teacher?
The instructions are like this: First, sit. Breathe. Be here in the present moment. Let go of thoughts about other places and other things. Feel your body. Experience being in it. Sit up straight with your spine aligned from the bottom up like a tower. Close your eyes. Bring your attention to your forehead, the area of your third eye, sense the active energy there. Now, pull your attention back inside. Bring your attention to the center of your head.
At this point in the directions, she feels a place of quiet open up in the center of her brain. It has a bluish color, but it is not cold. It’s a restful place. She feels as though she has drawn all of herself in to this peaceful place, which is really a state of mind rather than a physical place. She is not hallucinating. She does not believe herself to have been physically transported. She knows she has activated something within her own brain.Some chemical must have been released, some synapses set off in a particular pattern. She lacks the vocabulary for it but understand this is a miraculous thing the body does. But what is this sensation? If the brain cannof feel, why does she experience what feels quite literally like a gentle opening within her own skull? She imagines it is how the air must feel when a flower blooms. The air naturally and painlessly moves out of the way for the blossom. It is at once sensual and cerebral. It is one of her favorite feelings in the world, and yet it’s too elusive to get attached to. It’s so hard to pinpoint that she cannot even become addicted to it.
She has heard of people who became addicted to meditation. She doesn’t understand that. She doesn’t like to sit still very much and can only do so when instructed by her teacher, and then often for rather short periods. She has considered taking classes for meditation or joining a group or even a church, but she is simply not that motivated. She feels vaguely guilty for her lack of interest in enlightenment. But then she shrugs the thought away. Who cares?
Enlightenment would be pretty nice, she guesses, though she’s not sure what it means. She thinks of people who strive toward enlightenment, who meditate obsessively, who preach the power of zazen with evangelical fervor, as spiritual jokes. She finds it unfortunate that they take themselves so seriously as to fail to see the irony of their behavior. They preach non-attachment, they don’t drink alcohol or eat meat, and … mid-way through the thought, she finds herself being as judgemental as those people are. She figures it is best to avoid philosophy. Hypothesizing about the spiritual is hopeless, but still she wonders, what is this sensation? What is this opening in my brain?
Tonight is the longest night of the year, also known as the winter solstice. Before the day’s tasks caught up to me on this shortest day of the year — the longest night does come with the shortest day, you know — I made a list of 10 ways to celebrate the solstice. I don’t feel like posting them now as it’s a bit late to schedule a marshmallow roast among friends to help weather the longest, darkest, coldest night. Well, maybe it’s not the coldest, but it’s close.
But while we celebrate the new year on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, I think of the winter solstice as the real New Year’s Eve. After tonight, the sun starts coming back to us, the days start getting warm again, and we start moving toward summer again. Summer is my favorite time of year. It’s when I feel most at home in my own skin — sweating, getting dirty, and playing hard the way I was born to do. Summer reminds me of home, mud, first love, long days of swimming and crawfish, and all the best things in life. In fact, most of what I remember about childhood is summer. I guess that’s part of the territory when you’re from the Deep South.
My first winter was awfully rough. I moved to Maryland in April 2006, and that winter I felt very much alone, even though I lived in a crowded apartment. I was a stranger in a strange place, for sure. But over the past few years, I’ve learned how to cope with winter, I’ve made some friends who keep me warm at heart, and I’ve learned to dress properly for snow. I’m shocked to say now that I’ve actually enjoyed the cold weather so far this year. I know there’s plenty cold left to face, since December 21 is technically the first day of winter, but knowing that the sun’s coming back gives me hope. As the days get longer, we’ll be able to stay out longer, get more exercise, see more, do more, and before you know it, we’ll be sweating in the sun once again.
Now when I think of summer, I remember home, but I also remember my first summer here. I remember going to Gunpowder Falls with my new friends and running half naked through the woods. I remember people coming to visit us and how happy I was to share my new home with them. There is so much more to look forward to this year. This is my new year, and I am beyond ready to ring it in.
Welcome! Come on in, get cozy by the fire. Get naked if you like. Here’s a drink. Lets have fun. You are amazing and beautiful and full of potential. I can’t wait to see what kindof magical thing you will become.
Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. I hope you will celebrate it by not getting AIDS or HIV.
Does that sound flippant? Let me try again.
Tomorrow is World AIDS Day, please use condoms.
If you won’t use condoms, please don’t have sex.
If you are in a position to educate others about safe sex, please do.
If you have friends, encourage them to respect themselves and their partners by practicing safe sex.
Yes, that includes abstinence, but people need real information to work with … just in case.
If you know someone who has AIDS or HIV, love them. Let them know you love them. Let them know they are not diminished by their disease.
If you are donating to a research fund for the treatment and prevention of AIDS and HIV, good for you. I’m glad you’re doing that.
But remember that there is no replacement for human love.
Does that sound crazy?
We do this research because of love. We love humanity, and we don’t want each other to suffer.
Show people your love by protecting them from diseases — through safe sex, through education, through testing and generally responsible behavior.
Show your love by knowing there is more to love than sex.
Show your love by being a friend no matter what.
I think the greatest value of art, and maybe the only real value of art is that in it, we find comfort, and through it, we can reach out to one another. Art is the epitome of what makes us human, and when we practice art or appreciate it, we are making one another less alone in our humanity.
A friend suggested I should write a letter to my younger self and read it every time I start to beat myself up about the past. Yeah, well … I’m working on that. But until then, here are some songs.