Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gratitude, root canal and 2010

Well, this very challenging year ended with a crown that broke while I was away in the country and a root canal this morning.  

My days in the country with my friends were relaxing and fun and the root canal was totally easy.  

Interestingly, years ago, when I was in my twenties, I needed a root canal when I was visiting NY.  My friend Ruthie knew an endodontist who was just starting his practice.  He didn't even have his own office, he was borrowing someone else's so he could fix my tooth.  I don't even remember his name, but I do remember that the office was cluttered and he was nervous.  He screwed up the root canal and a big box fell off a shelf and landed on my head.  All in all, it was a pretty depressing experience.

This time, I went to my friend Maxine's husband, Dr. Paul Rosenberg.  He's been an endodontist for many years, probably close to forty.  He teaches at NYU and travels around the world giving clinics and speaking.  He did the root canal in less than an hour, there was no pain, no discomfort, he suggested I get a milk shake afterward since I had forgotten to eat breakfast.  I went to the Shake Shack and got a chocolate shake with peanut butter and he just called to check on me - I haven't had one moment of discomfort. 

Mike, the therapist I've seen over the years, said to me today, "Robin, you have been swinging through the jungle this year grabbing vines" (hands, warm and friendly hands).  I love this metaphor because Sheena, Queen of the Jungle was my heroine growing up. I used to put my mother's bracelets on my upper arms and watch the show every Saturday night. 

Having this blog as a record of this past year and writing through the pain has been incredibly helpful.  Meditating and praying has changed my life.  Gratitude keeps me grounded.  (Even as I fly through the jungle.) 

I hope that I have been as helpful to my friends over the years as they have been to me. As they say in Friends In Deed, quoting Pema Chodron, "things fall apart and things come together."  

I feel like I'm coming together, slowly.  To everyone who's read this blog and commented, thank you for the interest and support.  


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Et tu, Susan and Tim?

Last night I heard the news: after a twenty-three year relationship, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins are separating.  At least they don't have to get divorced, since they never got married.
Yesterday, someone told me that in a recent NY Times op-ed there was a statistic that something like eighty percent of people in their "middle ages," whatever that is, are married.  But in New York City that number is dramatically lower.
I have heard of more couples separating in the last year than I can ever recall.  I also know of many people who are not happy in their relationships, but aren't going to leave.  The reason I know this, is that when you announce you are getting divorced, suddenly everyone confides in you.  I also heard from a friend yesterday, that out of her four grown kids, two are now getting divorced.  
Another friend recently told his wife if their relationship didn't improve he wouldn't stay.  Another couple hasn't really spoken to each other in about a month. 

I think that the myth we are sold on marriage is distorted and also that people show one face when they are dating, and after they get married, they very quickly become who they really are.  I do know couples who deeply love each other, and think about how they can show that love, and are supportive and genuinely enjoy each others company.  What a gift. 

I don't know if I'll find someone to share my life with again.  I know that my living arrangement with my friend has taken the edge off and I feel more relaxed about the future.  I wonder what Susan and Tim would say about their separation - did they grow apart, as so many of us do?  Even with the perfect life, the great careers, the multiple homes, the money, all the kids, and the fame?  Did one of them find someone else?  The message is we're all basically the same...humans struggling, trying to find connections and good lives.  No one is immune from loss, sadness, illness, death.  Even Tiger Woods has to do some major re-evaluating of his life choices. 

As difficult as life can get, it's also fun too, and the difficult times pass.  It's been about a year since I first mentioned the idea of separation and each day gets better.  I keep going where it's "warm", even when the wind chill is fifteen degrees.  Going where it's warm is about turning to friends who are supportive and really care about you.  I am grateful for the friends I have, every one of them. 

I'll be away between Christmas and New Years, up in the country, enjoying nature.  This has been a very difficult and extremely good year for me.  I hope that Susan, Tim and everyone else who is going through these major life changes can find peace even in the painful times. 
Do you think Tim Robbins will post his profile on 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Years ago, Michael Eigen wrote a book called "Toxic Nourishment."  I've been thinking a lot about toxicity these days.  It seems to be everywhere, especially in our government, in the lobbies, special interests, all of it seems to be so anti-humanity. 

I was having a discussion yesterday with two friends after seeing another really good film "Invictus."  (At least they are still making some really good movies.)  We were talking about how after all the years of talking about preventive medicine, doctors still don't counsel people seriously about the need for regular exercise, eliminating processed foods from their diets, meditation, cutting back on the prescription drugs in favor of at least trying other remedies, i.e. amino acid supplements, tryptophan, roots, B vitamins, Cod Liver Oil (I'm serious) for vitamin D, etc., using acupuncture, yoga, chiropractors, as a way of maintaining our health. 

I was also thinking about toxic relationships.  Maybe they don't have to be toxic if people could communicate their true feelings, but the toxicity builds up over time and eventually there doesn't seem to be much you can do to fix it.  As my friend B reminded me, in the not so distant past, most relationships didn't last that long.  Women died in childbirth, people died of cholera and the plague or whatever fatal disease was around.  It wasn't unusual for someone to have multiple wives or husbands in the course of a lifetime that averaged fifty or sixty years, if they were lucky.   

I guess what I'm trying to say is...what?  We poison our bodies and our minds and then we're trapped, trying to figure out how to let go of those toxins.  Awareness is the first step,  acceptance, and then action.  I'm not sure which is the hardest. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Yesterday afternoon I went to a screening of the movie "Precious" and after the showing, there was a question and answer session with the writer of the screenplay.

I haven't been able to get the movie out of my mind.  I just watched an interview with the young woman who played Precious, Gabourey Sidibe, who had never acted before.  She was so astonishing and heartbreaking and seeing her on a talk show, she couldn't have been more different than the character.  The story is about a 16 year-old, illiterate, obese girl who has been abused by both her parents in such a horrific way that it breaks your heart.  She's pregnant with her second child from her father, and her mother is monstrous.  The film was adapted from a novel called "Push" by a woman named Sapphire, who worked with young girls and wrote using stories she heard about their lives.  

The writer of the film, Geoffrey Fletcher, did a wonderful job of adapting the novel.  He incorporated a number of dream sequences and one of the things that works well about the film is the rhythm, it could feel unrelentingly horrible, but by interspersing these fantasy sequences, it lets us breathe.  The cast is fearless and surprising.  I won't tell you who is in it, part of the pleasure of the film is seeing people you wouldn't expect to be in it.

It's so powerful, moving and devastatingly honest.  It brings up so many prejudices and shows us the kind of abuse that goes on every day, all over the world.  

I don't know what else to say but see it.  It isn't easy to watch, but it's necessary.  And it's unforgettable. 


Friday, December 18, 2009

The divorce diet

I promised someone that I would put a bikini shot on my blog.  The best thing about a divorce is that no matter what you eat, you lose weight.  So here I am in a bikini in South Beach, after not wearing a bikini for over twenty-five years.  At least.  There's always a silver lining.  
p.s. I'm sure I'll have hundreds of followers now.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The sorrow and the chocolate

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. ... Kahlil Gibran

I heard that quote and it resonated for me.  Most of the sadness I've felt this past year has been for people and situations that have given me delight and pleasure. 

It's natural to grieve those losses and also natural to move on when they are no longer there. I am comfortable living in today - even though today actually was a bit stressful.  My wonderful loft mate, Abigail, has bronchitis and was seriously dehydrated and nauseous in the early afternoon. After several conversations with her doctor (fortunately he's my doc too), we got her some Gatorade and compazine and by around 6 pm she came back to life and we were able to watch three episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."  I fear I am becoming too much like LD.  Seriously.  Standing on line at the drugstore (three different ones to get the Compazine suppositories) - only to be told (erroneously) that her health insurance had been terminated, it was all I could do not to have a LD kind of fit.  But fortunately for me, I was able to bring up some detachment and get everything worked out before I had to yell at everyone in the entire drugstore. 

I did have to stop off for a giant chocolate chip cookie at the new City Bakery Birdbath, which is in the old Vesuvio's on Prince Street. I love NY. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Today is my anniversary

...or it would have been if we were still married.  (Well, we are legally, but not in reality.) You know what?  It's good!  We loved each other when we got married twenty-four years ago, and we had a beautiful daughter and a good life. And now it's over and we're each living the life we want to live and it's all exactly as it should be.  I have had a great day so far, I worked on a video for a friend about global warming and alternative energy sources (she interviewed people and asked us questions - it was fun and challenging.)  I met a man for lunch and I'm going to meet another man for a drink.

I'm happier than I was a year ago and I'm sure my ex is too.  All I need is an income, for my play to get produced, my dogs to live a few more years, love in my life, my own home, my daughter to continue thriving and for the economic situation in this country to turn around.  Peace all over the world would be very nice too. 

I am so grateful for all the miracles in my life and for my friends and the love and support I receive every day. 

The lovely man I met for lunch today had a heart attack a year ago at 55.  He is grateful to be alive.  It's a reminder that each day is a gift, even the challenging ones.  

p.s.  I met a nice man tonight from and then I spontaneously stopped by the Apple store and Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker and Marc Lawrence happened to be there to talk about their film "Did You Hear About the Morgans?"  They took questions from the audience and I asked Lawrence which filmmakers inspired him and he said the same ones I love: he said Billy Wilder "The Apartment" is one of the best films ever made, Woody Allen - "Annie Hall" a perfect film and James Brooks' "Broadway News."  These are all my favorites too. And Hugh Grant is so charming and funny, it was a pleasure to see them all.  

The bottom line is I had a very happy un-anniversary. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gratitude, even for the cold

This morning I took the dogs out for their walk and the wind chill must have been about 1 degree because it really sucked out there.  I had on many many layers of clothing, my down coat, a warm scarf, a hat and gloves and still it was really really cold and bitter. I was trying to get them to do their business, I was feeling a bit well, angry, that living in the city in the winter and having two dogs to walk is not exactly what I would call fun.

And...I love my dogs and they are my family and I worry about their health and they are the most loving creatures in the world.  And funny and excellent company.

So when I came home I was doing my readings and one of the things I read had to do with affirmations.  Sometimes I get really tired of people's positive affirmations and their constant cheerfulness.  It's boring, honestly.  Sometimes I want to say "haven't you ever heard of a kanahura?"  (Spelling?)  It's a Yiddish word that means roughly, if you brag too much and talk about something great, your life will turn to shit.  As in "My husband and I have the perfect marriage.  He loves everything about me."  That means in six months you will find out he's been schtupping your best friend for the last seven years.  Or "My ankles haven't been bothering me for months" and then the next day you break your ankle. 

Still, in an effort to ward off the evil thoughts that have been consuming me as I walk the dogs in the wind chill of 1 degree this morning, and in the spirit of the reading I did, I will share some positive affirmations from Melody Beattie's book "The Language of Letting Go." 

"I love myself....I'm good enough....My life is good....I'm glad I'm alive today....what I want and need is coming to me.... I can...."  

Now say that out loud and then spit three times and toss salt over your shoulder.  Or is it pepper?  

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In the company of women

I love when women feel safe enough to be really honest about what's going on in their lives.  My Mama Gena "Pod" - the group of "sister goddesses" that was created when we all took Mastery last year is the only "pod" that has stayed together past Mastery.  I think that is due mostly to our leader, N, a Harvard Business School grad who has created a supportive and caring climate that has enabled us to continue meeting every few months and have group phone calls.  Many of us went to Miami last month and we just always have fun together. Opa, the Greek restaurant where we all danced on the tables, remains one of our favorite experiences. 

Every one of us has challenges - two of us are going through difficult divorces, one has a husband with a serious and undiagnosed illness, one is starting up a new business and it's been a struggle in this economy, one was out of work for a few years, one is learning how to date after being divorced for several years.  We have the tools we learned in Mastery - to call each other for support, to "spring clean" (pick a topic, talk about it for fifteen minutes, get everything out and have one other person listen without judgment), to make gratitude lists, take dance breaks, be of service, seek pleasure in each day and allow ourselves to sit with sadness, if that's what we're feeling.

But last night there wasn't too much sadness as we all got dressed up and met at the Harvard Club for a delicious dinner and shared our stories - and were reminded how powerful sisterhood is.   

And I had Hasty Pudding for the first time in my life.  It's made with cornmeal and molasses and I don't know what else, but it was pretty tasty. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Out of the cold

Well, not quite a hundred percent out of the cold, but much much better.  These viruses are hard to beat, I'm grateful that I didn't have to go to work (since I don't have a job) and could rest most of the time.  I had absolutely no energy, but today I walked a bit and vacuumed and went to Friends In Deed, so it was a very productive day.  And I am feeling better, just not completely.  I'm missing a party for the Writers' Guild tonight because it's on 125th Street and I don't have the energy to schlep that far. Tomorrow night, a group of my Mama Gena women are getting together for a reunion at the Harvard Club and I want to feel well enough to go to that.

I have to say that I'm on and it struck me today, as I was reading some profiles, how difficult it is - and also brave I guess - to put your "ad" for yourself on-line and hope that someone really special finds you.  I know that many people have found their partners on these websites, but I'm just not sure it's possible.  

I do have good news...really good news.  It appears that our play that had the reading this past summer in the Berkshires is going to have another reading in Manhattan this coming March.  The director, Matt Penn, is going to direct again and I don't know who the cast will be, but I'm sure they'll find great people and I'm looking forward to it.  They're searching for a venue that will hold about 150 people. 

I'm looking forward to feeling healthy again - walking the dogs in the cold, with a cold is not fun.  I enjoy walking them most of the year, but December - March is really rough.  Today, Lucy dragged me into the jewelry store Me & Ro (she has excellent taste) and I had fun trying on some very lovely jewelry.  Mary Louise Parker wears all their jewelry on "Weeds" - so I guess I'd have to be a drug dealer to be able to afford it.  

I would think that there would be many people in the city who love dogs and would love to take them for a week or two during the winter?  No? 

Friday, December 4, 2009


Okay, I have to admit after 5 seasons of grudgingly and only occasionally enjoying "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and after reading my friend Mia's strong support of the show on her blog ("Under the Stinkwood Tree") - I ordered season 6 on Netflix.  And since I have a cold which is slowly improving, I thought it couldn't hurt to laugh....but would the show actually make me laugh?  Or would I just find him annoying as I often do? 

The first episode, Larry and his wife invite a family, who have been displaced after a huge hurricane, to move in with them. I laughed my ass off.  (Which actually isn't hard to do, since I've lost about twenty pounds this year.)

But seriously, this is funny.  Thanks, Larry.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How do you just have a cold?

A good friend of mine, C, came down with a cold the same day I did and we've been talking on the phone.  Last night, we both had fevers and felt terrible.  I was completely stuffed up and had chills.  I went to bed and slept pretty well, but at 6:30 a.m. my dog Lucy needed to go out for a walk, so I got out of bed and walked her and Lola.  It was a beautiful morning, the rainstorm last night had passed through the city and we enjoyed the walk.  I returned to bed and slept past ten a.m.  I can't remember the last time I slept that late.  But I woke up and felt markedly better, no fever, less stuffy.  I think I'm doing better, but I just spoke to my friend C and she sounded really terrible.  She went to the doctor and he said she has a sinus infection and probably the H1N1 virus.  He put her on an antibiotic and suggested chicken soup and tea and rest.  Then another friend of mine, M, called just now and she was knocked out for three days and went back to work today. 

I am not used to resting this much, but I discovered the show "Glee" and have watched a few episodes.  My brilliant daughter Zoe recommended it to me.  I watched Larry Gelbart on the Archives of American Television and it was fascinating to hear his opinions on all the people he worked with.  I even watched a little bit of the tree lighting in Rockefeller Center.  I'm trying not to panic about work and what I'm going to do.  

First things first: heal myself.  This year has been a rough one and I'm quite happy that it's almost over.  I can't keep up with the news right now: more troops to Afghanistan (not pleased about that) and the health care debate in the Senate, and everything else I've been too distracted to pay attention to and too tired to stay up and watch Jon Stewart.  

At least I can breathe.  Literally, being able to breathe is a big deal.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Letting go

This entire year, when I thought I couldn't take any more stress and I'd probably get sick with something at any moment, I somehow managed to avoid colds, the flu, whatever was making the rounds.

But this weekend, I finally couldn't dodge the bullet and now I'm dealing with a pretty bad cold.  I picked up plenty of chicken soup at Zabar's on Sunday.  I've tried Sambucal, Zicam, Sudafed, Umkca, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, my nettie pot, tea, showers, steam, and my conclusion is it just has to run its course.  I feel better after using the nettie pot, but half an hour later I feel terrible again.  I have no energy and I always get depressed whenever I get sick.  

To fill up my time, I've been watching long interviews with Tom Fontana, Carl Reiner and Mary Tyler Moore on a fascinating website called Archive of American Television.  The interviews are between 4-8 hours.  I even watched a few minutes of the interviews of the headwriters of "The Young and the Restless," one of the soaps I used to write.  I couldn't take more than a few minutes of Bill Bell and Kay Alden, but I do find these long interviews fascinating.  Tom Fontana wrote two of my favorite shows, "St. Elsewhere" and "Homicide, Life on the Streets" and someday I'll have the stomach to watch all of "Oz."  And Carl Reiner's advice from his watchmaker father was: never force anything.  If it's not working, stop trying, turn it around, give it some time, think about it, let it go. I like that.

I guess being sick is a bit like that, you can't force yourself to get well, you just have to let go and stay with the discomfort. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Feeling blue, then not

Well, I have to say, thanks to the wonders of the telephone, what started out to be a pretty depressing night, turned out to be quite fun.  I'm alone tonight - my apartment mate Abigail went to see "Wicked" with the company who's staying here.  So I've been home alone with my two dogs and I spent the night on the phone with several friends, who were also home and we laughed and I was able to remember just how grateful I am for friends and for my new home and for all the blessings in my life.

I've been listening to music and really enjoying how beautiful our living room looks - I promise to add a photo soon.  My camera died and I have to get a new one, so I'm looking around for an inexpensive point and shoot camera.  

I'm looking forward to our little Thanksgiving gathering tomorrow - no family, just friends - and plenty of good food.  I am so grateful just to be alive and to have survived a pretty rough year.  

As Cy O'Neal said to me in Friends In Deed, and my friend Joe said the same thing tonight: I have a blank canvas and I am now starting to fill it with everything that I desire: caring friends, a lovely home, my dogs, an always loving relationship with my daughter (even when she's WORKING and BUSY), writing, my community, an interesting future.  

I'm grateful to have this blog to write and for living in a great city, a city I love, filled with so many fascinating people.  In February, I'll be whining about the cold, but for tonight - it's quite perfect. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A new thanksgiving

For the first time in many many years I will not be having Thanksgiving with any member of my family.  We used to go to my mother's ... and I have to admit after a few hours, I couldn't wait to get back on the Long Island Railroad and go home.  But I also looked forward to the gathering every year and the conversations and even the arguing.  

This is the first Thanksgiving that my mother is gone and I miss her and I really miss my daughter, Zoe, but I am so proud that she found a job in San Francisco.  
I am so grateful that I can cry now, after so many years of keeping a lid on all my feelings,  because there was too much to deal with.

Right now though, there is so much to be grateful for, so I'm going to list my top ten:

1. My daughter
2. My health
3. Our newly re-decorated home (which looks amazing)
4. Abigail (my wonderful loft mate)
5. All my wonderful friends and family
6. Michael Eigen
7. Friends in Deed
8. Pema Chodron and meditation

9. My spiritual practice

10. My writing

Here's a quote from "The Wisdom of No Escape" by Pema Chodron:

"The first noble truth says that if you are alive, if you have a heart, if you can love, if you can be compassionate, if you can realize the life energy that makes everything change, and move and grow and die, then you won't have any resentment or resistance.  The first noble truth says simply that it's part of being human to feel discomfort."

Thanksgiving can be a very discomforting day.  It's rarely the perfect family photo op we all imagine it will be.  But I think if we focus on the gratitude for what we have, it usually works out pretty well.  At Friends in Deed I love the idea they talk about that the glass is neither half full or half empty, it is both.  And that the quality of our lives is not determined by the circumstances. 

So I hope you have a good Thanksgiving, wherever you go or whatever you do.  And I do suggest pants that stretch.

Friday, November 20, 2009


George Bernard Shaw:

"Life is no brief candle to me.  It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it to future generations."  

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm so tired of being earnest

I think it's time for me to be completely silly.  My sense of humor seems to have deserted me these past few months.  It's been seven months now since I've been on my own really - and five months since my mother died - and it's starting to feel a little better.  I know that the grieving isn't over, but it's slowly starting to lift.  I don't want to quote Pema Chodron, or my book about grief, or anything serious. I just want to say that life is pretty good right now and though I can't think of anything funny and I'm desperately trying to, I am grateful to be feeling optimistic.  

Tomorrow, Abigail, my loft mate and I will be moving across the hall to our friend Sandy's photography studio, as we have the loft re-decorated in time for company to arrive for Thanksgiving.  I'm excited to see what Michael, our "re-decorator" does.  He takes what you have and completely re-arranges it and every apartment I've seen him do is great.

The holidays are definitely a challenging time and probably they will bring up some sadness for me this year - since I won't be with my family - but I'm excited that my daughter Zoe has a job and I'm hoping to visit her sometime this winter.  And I'm grateful for my dear friends and for being a size 6. 

I'm reading an excellent book: "My Stroke of Insight" by Jill Bolte Taylor - "A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey." And I better read a little before I fall asleep.  

I did read that David Lloyd died a few days ago.  He wrote for pretty much every great sitcom of the 70's and 80's and his most famous show was an episode of Mary Tyler Moore called "Chuckles Bites the Dust."  

"A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants."

Sometimes there's just nothing better than a really good laugh.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Welcome to Miami

Our trip to Miami with 320 women coming together from all over the world to attend workshops with Regena Thomashauer (aka "Mama Gena") was fantatic.  The time spent with the women I met last year in my pod was also very healing.  The message that we get at these gatherings is about women following their pleasure in all areas of their lives, their work, their relationships, their connections with other women, taking time to play, taking care of ourselves, supporting and helping each other to achieve our desires. I took a Nia dance/exercise class with Debbie Rosas, who created Nia and that was fantastic.  We went back to the Greek restaurant Opa again and brought more friends and everyone danced on the tables (including my friend's seventy-something mom) and we all had a really fun night.  We swam in the ocean and the pool every day.  The weather was perfect.  Anthony Bourdain, my favorite foodie was at the hotel.  I haven't felt so healthy in a long time.  My headaches disappeared and I stayed up late and my appetite came back.  It was a fantastic four days. 

And then last night, back in New York, my friend Emily and I went to see Robert Kennedy Jr. speak at Town Hall about the environment and about energy sources.  He calls himself a free venture capitalist and talks about the urgency to end our dependency on oil, to update the power grid, to increase our wind and solar sources and to stop allowing big business to control our lives.  He was articulate and funny and clearly knows what he's talking about. And thank God that Obama is in the White House and beginning to make the changes we need to make to save our planet and that people like RFK Jr. and others are on the case. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Message for today

From "Healing After Loss" by Martha Whitmore Hickman:

"Bit by bit we need to loosen our hold on a past we cannot keep and get on with the life we have."

I'm off to Miami today for a long weekend, to be with my Mama Gena women (250+ women from all over the world.)  I will miss my dogs and I'm sure they will be even more confused, wondering where everyone in their family has gone and why they are living in Soho again, away from their park.  But they seem to be adjusting, as we all are.  

I'm hoping to have some fun this weekend.  Enough grief - time to dance. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The advanced class of life

I've heard it said that people who have gone through particularly grueling life challenges are probably those who are in the "advanced class of life."  They are people who can deal with some heavy duty problems.  My mother was one of those people. This morning, I read this paragraph in a book called "Healing After Loss."

"We have but to look around us and see the many others who have suffered losses.  They are legion.  They walk the streets with us, get on and off the bus, shop with us in the stores.  They have survived.  And some of them have been made stronger and are now pillars of support for others."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My mom

This morning, as I was doing my quiet meditation, I sensed my mother's presence, as well as the loss I feel in my life without her.  My mother was a complex person.  And she loved me.  I felt anger sometimes towards her.  And I respected her.  She drove us all crazy sometimes.  And we miss her.  She hated the way she looked after she got sick.  And she still had an inner beauty.  She was funny and tolerated no bullshit.  She disliked the nursing home she had to live in at the end of her life and she had more "boyfriends" there than any other resident.  The average age of these "boyfriends" was forty. She would be sitting in the solarium and a few of the aides would come by and say, "Hey, Helen!  How are you doing today?  You look beautiful."  And she would light up.  She complained that her aide, Janis, and Janis' best friend, Wendy, laughed too much and were too happy.  And she loved listening to their gossip.  I miss her and wish we could have one more afternoon sitting together in the backyard.  

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Mastery at Friends in Deed, Part II

After spending an entire weekend at the Mastery and eating the best food I've had in a long time (eggs baked with sausage and asparagus, delicious chicken, rice, roasted carrots, carrot cake) - after being nurtured with love and food for an entire weekend, I have a better idea what the Mastery was about.  I'm not going to write much about it, because I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might take it, or something like it. 

I will write a few things that I learned or - that I've been learning and were reinforced over the weekend.  

"The quality of life is not determined by our circumstances, but by what we do with them."   I lost my mother this year, my marriage ended, my daughter moved away, my job ended, I had to move, it's a lot of shit.  I am sad.  I am grieving.  But I can still enjoy life and allow myself the space to feel a range of feelings, rather than suppress them.  Those feelings are not facts - they are just feelings.  

Use "and" - as in "I loved my mother AND she was a difficult person."  Rather than "I loved my mother, but she was a difficult person."  

Resentments are like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. 

Blame: "if we knew then what we know now, everything would have been different...and we didn't know then, so what's the point in blaming ourselves or others?"

Our feelings are an inarguable truth:  "I feel sad."  That is true.  But worry is drama.  And I know I love drama, but it drives me crazy.  

"What other people think of me is none of my business."  That's freeing.

We talked about patterns in our histories that we would like to break.  A few of them were "living in negative predictions."  "How can I ask someone for help?"  "I need to rescue people."  

Put a period in a sentence after the facts.  "The subways in NYC are all screwed up on weekends.  It is annoying."  Rather than, "the subways are all screwed up on the weekends and it makes me late for everything, and I get so angry that it ruins my entire day and then I'll get into a fight with my friends."

I loved this line from the movie "Sordid Lives" which I have never seen, but someone mentioned:  "Get off the cross, we need the wood."

It is through difficult times that we have the most growth.  (I find that very annoying.)  I have had great epiphanies while shopping.  (I'm kidding.) 

Is the glass half empty or half full?  It is both.  

This weekend, I walked into a room that had about five or six people I knew fairly well, and about fifty others I didn't know at all.  And I fell in love with all of them.  The participants of the Mastery and the people who helped out by cooking and just being there in the "back row."  They came from all over the world and everyone's stories were different, yet the universality was so evident when people shared from their heart.  What a gift.  My dream is to find a foundation that funds organizations like Friends In Deed and help them with a very large grant.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Mastery at Friends in Deed

I'm not sure what I think of this Mastery experience yet, except that the meals have been excellent.  Nothing like being fed every meal when you're in a crisis.  The volunteers cook amazing meals - last night Shepard's Pie, a big salad, fresh cole slaw.  This morning's breakfast was excellent oatmeal, bacon, fruit salad, yogurt, lunch was flank steak, roasted potatoes, roasted broccoli (best broccoli I've ever tasted), another big salad, fresh bread, and gingerbread cake with butter cream icing.  Tomorrow they say the breakfast is going to be fantastic, some kind of egg dish that's baked with cheese and sausage, and another egg dish for vegetarians.

The Mastery started in the 80's when the participants all were AIDS patients or HIV Positive, now it's for anyone who wants to attend.  Like Friends in Deed big groups, most people are either dealing with illness, caregiving or grief. Each mastery seems to have its own theme, loss is always one theme - this group seems to have a lot of caregivers.  It's a very intimate experience and I have to say it's left me a bit raw emotionally tonight.  I'm feeling sad and lonely, but I know that it will pass.  And I am looking forward to going back tomorrow. 

I wish that sitting with the feelings wasn't as uncomfortable as it is, but I know that for years when I was so involved in caregiving, I never really had the luxury of feeling all the emotions, because I felt I might not be able to cope with caregiving and falling apart.  Now all I have to do is take care of myself and let myself feel the feelings.  And if I feel like falling apart, I can.  And then I guess I can put myself back together again too.

I hope that in a year from now, I can look back at this time with sympathy and compassion for myself.  I miss Zoe so much and I know this isn't easy for her either.  Her life has changed quite radically too.  I wish I could hug her now.  I guess I'll go hug Lucy and Lola and let myself have a good cry.  

Friday, November 6, 2009

A primer on grief

If anyone is reading this blog for the first time, I will quickly get you up to speed.  This past year, 2009, has been challenging for many people - and I'm no exception. 

At the beginning of the year, I stopped working because the business I was in tanked (real estate.) I can't say I ever really loved it, but I enjoyed the people I worked with, being of service, and having an income.  
In April, my husband and I decided to separate after 24 years of marriage.  Then in May, my mother (who'd already survived two hospice stays) got very sick and on June 9th, she died.  A few weeks later, my 21 year-old daughter (whom I adore) moved to San Francisco (she couldn't have picked Boston?)  For all of August and September, I was left alone to sort through everything in our loft in Brooklyn, selling much of it, tossing a lot out, having a stoop sale, etc., and pack up what I could to move into my dear friend's loft in Soho. Did I leave anything out?  Death, divorce, moving, empty nest, loss of income, no, I think that's it.  Could it be worse?  Yes.  Is it a lot to deal with?  Yes.
With all of that on my "plate" - I have to say that in one way I got very lucky.  My move back to Soho, where I lived with my husband and daughter for seventeen years, has brought me a block away from a place that has saved thousands of lives over the past twenty years,  Friends In Deed.  I have discussed it before, but briefly it began in the late 80's to help people cope with the AIDS crisis and it has grown into dealing with illness, caregiving and grief.  It's an amazing place that offers counseling, groups, body work, nutrition counseling, you name it, they do it. I've written about it before.
Last night I went to a seminar on grief led by Dr. Eric Schneider, who is the spiritual advisor to FID.  On Tuesday night, after hearing me share in a big group, a woman came up to me and said quite emphatically: "Thursday night. 7 pm.  Dr. Eric.  Grief and loss. Come. Trust me, he's amazing."
I've done plenty of reading on grief, but I have to say that I got what I needed to hear last night and it rang true for me.  Take what you like and leave the rest, as they say:

Loss:  a perceived change in circumstances plus a perceived change in personal identity
Grief: the natural response to loss
Grief is endless.  

The five stages of grief as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about are not linear and perhaps there are better models.  Those five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  What about relief?  What about guilt?  

Another model for grief is shock, disorganization, reorganization.  

Another one:  awareness -- alarm -- emptiness (three levels - first level is the loss of the person, the life.  Second level, practical issues, the loss of income, a home, etc.  Third level, the constant reminders: you pick up the phone to call the person, you cook for two instead of one, you look at the chair he or she sat in.)
Disintegration- then reintegration..."the new normal."  The spaciousness and the possibilities begin to return.  Grief is natural, like breathing.  You try to let it happen, let it run its own course.  
Myths:  You'll get over it.  You'll transcend it.  There is a right way to grieve.
Truth:  Your loss will transform you.  We need to get out of our way.  This is the experience, it is what it is.  Tell your friends what you need.  Let them know you can use their help.  If they ask, and you don't know what you need, thank them for asking and ask them to maybe ask again.  Soon.
The transformation is often for the better.  Not always, but usually.  I know that I have become a much more empathetic person these past few years.

What is not ultimately helpful: drugs, drinking, eating too much, these are all distractions from the process.  The one thing many people talked about was taking something to sleep - and Eric said that dreams help keep the grieving process moving forward, so maybe it's not such a great idea to take Ambien or Lunesta very often.   

Human beings are resilient.  We are amazingly strong.
What helps with grief?

Talking helps
Not talking helps
Screaming, yelling
Being silent
Writing (in your own handwriting)
Your animals

These are all the tools I have been using, so it felt good to know that I am on the right track. There are other tools I find helpful - music, laughter, nature, and I would put  Friends in Deed at the top of my list.  This weekend I'm doing what is called "The Mastery" at FID.  I honestly have no idea what it is, but I'll let you know. 


Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Every morning (which has turned into my favorite time of the day) I wake up, make myself a cup of coffee and then meditate for thirty minutes.  It seems to give me a good outlook on the day.  I also have a few readings I like to do before going out into the world and the one this morning, from Melody Beattie's "The Language of Letting Go" was particularly meaningful:
Feeling angry - and, sometimes, the act of blaming - is a natural and necessary part of accepting loss and change - of grieving.  We can allow ourselves and others to become angry as we move from denial toward acceptance.
As we come to terms with loss and change, we may blame ourselves, our Higher Power, or others.  The person may be connected to the loss, or he or she may be an innocent bystander.  We may hear ourselves say: 'If only he would have done that....If I wouldn't have done that....Why didn't God do it differently?....'  We know that blame doesn't help.  In recovery, the watchwords are self-responsibility and personal accountability, not blame.  Ultimately, surrender and self-responsibility are the only concepts that can move us forward, but to get there we may need to allow ourselves to feel angry and to occasionally indulge in some blaming.
It is helpful in dealing with others, to remember that they, too, may need to go through their angry stage to achieve acceptance.  To not allow others, or ourselves, to go through anger and blame may slow down the grief process.  
Trust ourselves and the grief processs.  We won't stay angry forever.  But we may need to get mad for a while as we search over what could have been, to finally accept what is.
God, help me learn to accept my own and others' anger as a normal part of achieving acceptance and peace.  Within that framework, help me strive for personal accountability."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Guest House

After doing yoga yesterday (and definitely feeling the muscle aches today), and continuing this painful journey of divorce, not knowing when or where I will find a job, feeling a bit rootless, missing my daughter, and also being filled with gratitude for this journey I've been on all year, I thought of a Rumi poem that I have always loved.  Here it is:

The human being is a guest house
Every morning there is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor

Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house
and empty it from its furniture
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Yoga, finally

I've been threatening to take a yoga class for a long time and today I finally did.  I came in two minutes late and walked into a dark closet to find a mat.  The handsome teacher had to show me where the light was.  I had to squeeze into a spot, which then turned out to be too near the speaker, so I moved the mat.  The teacher played music in a yoga class which is very weird to me, but it turned out to be okay.  I probably could have been almost every person's mother in the class, they were all so young and beautiful.  I could follow the class, after all I studied with Bikram, for God's sake...and many other teachers over the years.  

I was in the class thinking, "Oy vey, this is way too hard for me.  I can't do this.  I can't hold my leg up over my head and hold a downward facing dog for what felt like ten minutes and breathe.  I need an easier class."  But somehow about half way through the class, I felt good.  I felt connected to my body.  I loved the stretching.  I felt proud that I could at least try most of the postures and the ones I couldn't even begin to do, many other people in the class couldn't do either.  

So tomorrow, I will probably not be able to walk or move and I will probably be in pain.  I remember the pain of yoga class when you haven't done it in awhile.  But I look foward to trying other classes and hopefully continuing.  

And then I went to Friends In Deed and had yet another good cry and a big salad and some very good macaroni and cheese.   

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Way of Myth (and marriage)

 Sometimes when I leave the loft, I grab a book that I own, but perhaps have never read, or read years ago, or read only a few chapters of.  Today I picked up Joseph Campbell's book "The Way of Myth" to read on the subway on my way uptown.  The first chapter of the book talks about how many people come to the later years of their lives and wonder what it was all about?  Was it worth the effort to acquire things, or power, or whatever, what was the point of all those years of being driven?  His description:  "You've got to the top of the ladder and found it's against the wrong wall." 

And then he goes on to talk about marriage and that really hit home for me:

"We see it in marriage, for instance.  There are two stages.  First is what I call the biological stage, which has to do with producing and raising children, and the other is what I would call the alchemical marriage - realizing the spiritual identity that the two are somehow one person.  There comes a moment in marriage, if you live long enough and stay with the game long enough, when you realize that a spiritual marriage has happened, that the two individuals are two aspects of one identity.  It is the image of the androdyne, the male/female being.  That is the image of what is realized through a marriage.  In that mythological reference the two are one. But how many people do you know who, after the children have left the nest, get divorced because they haven't engaged in the second, spiritual marriage.  We're not given those lessons now in our educational systems, and we don't know how to handle these situations when they arise.  It's a shame."  

This seemed like the perfect message for me to read today.  Not that so many couples don't get divorced long before the kids leave home (we all know many who have), but that I see couples who have a really deep connection and their love and support for each other is so evident, but not in the public display of affection way - just that they are - a couple.  They've grown together, and It's not about sex, or attaining any kind of lifestyle, or any of those things. I find it inspiring when I am with those couples. 

But I love that in these very dark days of this past year, despite the sadness, and the losses. and the tears, I have managed to make my way through without antidepressants, without drinking, without spending unnecessary money, without abusing myself in any way.  And that is very simply because of my incredible support system of the greatest friends and old boyfriends who ever lived, my (imperfect) meditation, and the spiritual practice I work on daily. 

And the good news is that now Steve and I are both off the ladder and moving on to other buildings. 

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Yes to honesty and transparency.
Yes to fun.
Yes to life and all the possibilities.
Yes to friends and love.
Yes to dancing.
Yes to being in the woods and breathing in nature.
Yes to pleasure. 

Yes to taking risks.
Yes to living in the moment.
Yes to giving and receiving.
Yes to me.
Yes to you.
Yes to meditation and listening to the small, quiet voice.

Yesterday before I went into the meeting with our divorce attorneys a friend of mine suggested that I just simply ask God to show me a sign that he/she/whatever was going to be there with me. I sat on the bench and asked the question and immediately heard these words very clearly: "Oh, Robin, yes I am here with you! I am so totally here with you." 

Dick Gregory said this line and I've always loved it, "God and fear do not belong in the same sentence."


Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I would really love to have something really funny come out of me now, because God knows we all could use a good laugh.  One benefit of having George Bush as our President was that you had to laugh now and then or you would lose your mind.  President Obama is not that funny, is he?  And he's definitely trying to accomplish something, but what's up with those Democrats?

They are definitely not funny. 

I love that Jon Stewart can make us laugh even when we've lost most of our money in the stock market and we can't come up with any kind of health plan and I wish he could sit in on my divorce meeting that's coming up.  That would definitely lighten the mood, wouldn't it?  I would never divorce Jon Stewart, he's too cute.  And though I know he has thirty or so writers, he is pretty quick on his feet when it comes to humor.

And in my next relationship, humor will again be at the top of the list.  So now let's all take a deep breath, try to find something funny to at least smile about, and don't forget to exhale.  

Monday, October 26, 2009

Divorce primer

This week and next week my husband and I sit down together with our lawyers.  I haven't seen or spoken to him in two months.  A lot has happened in two months.

I think I mentioned that I have been receiving a daily "divorce support" email that is a bit too religious for me...but every once in awhile I read something that resonates.  I've been feeling like I need time for myself before I do any serious dating, and this is what I read over the weekend:  

 "If you come out of a relationship and then immediately jump into another one, your heart does not get a chance to fully heal; therefore, you are walking along wounded emotionally. You are vulnerable, then, to starting this new relationship without a whole heart, and you're going to try to suck your need for acceptance and significance out of this person all the more. You're not really in the relationship for the other person. You're in it for yourself."

I know of one couple who met a few months after he and his wife split up and they couldn't be happier.  I know that in his case, his marriage was such a disaster, his wife was (is) a non-functioning alcoholic, so although he was physically there, he had left long ago.  He was ready to fall in love and he got lucky.  And so did my friend. They have four kids between them, plenty of problems, but they adore each other. 

I don't know what my future will be, but I know that right now I am in a good place and I am grateful.  After many months of coping with so much loss and more tears than I have cried in my entire life, I feel stronger than I have in a long time.  That doesn't mean I don't feel waves of sadness and fear.  It just means that I have to "keep praying and moving my feet."  


Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Opening Ourselves to Love"

Last night I went to Leonard Cohen's final concert in the NYC area, at Madison Square Garden.  I went with a man I'd never met before, who drove in from New Hampshire, who originally invited my friend Karen because his wife couldn't go, and because Karen is out of town, she suggested that I go instead. Got that?  The tickets were given to him as a gift, he adores Leonard Cohen, and he wanted to go to the concert with someone who would appreciate seeing him.

Wow, did I appreciate it seeing him.  It may have been the best concert I've been to in my life.  Leonard Cohen is seventy-five, he performed for over three hours, the musicians he shares the stage with are all unbelievably talented, and he couldn't be more generous in giving them each time in the spotlight.  And his music...and his lyrics...he sold out Madison Square Garden - over 20,000 people who seemed to know every song.  I wish I could see him again.  He spent five years in a Zen Monastery.  He is a genius. 

Then this morning, I was reading "The Language of Letting Go" by Melody Beattie and I thought it was worth putting it on the blog today, in honor of the generous gifts I received last night and also during this entire challenging year:

 "Opening Ourselves to Love

Open ourselves to the love that is available to us.

We do not have to limit our sources of love, God and the Universe have an unlimited supply of what we need, including love.

When we are open to receiving love, we will begin to receive it.  It may come from the most surprising places, including from within ourselves.

We will be open to and aware of the love that is and has been there for us all along.  We will feel and appreciate the love from friends.  We will notice and enjoy the love that comes to us from family.  

We will be ready to receive love in our special love relationships too.  We do not have to accept love from unsafe people - people who will exploit us or with whom we don't want to have relationships.  

But there is plenty of good love available - love that heals our heart, meets our needs, and makes our spirits sing.

We have denied ourselves too long.  We have been martyrs too long.  We have given so much and allowed ourselves to receive too little.  We have paid our dues.  It is time to continue the chain of giving and receiving by allowing ourselves to receive.

Today, I will open myself to the love that is coming to me from the Universe.  I will accept it and enjoy it when it comes."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"The Boys Are Back"

Yesterday, at a Writers' Guild screening I saw Michael Moore's film "Capitalism: A Love Story" which I thought was really important and worth seeing.  Today I saw "The Boys Are Back" with Clive Owen, which I thought was wonderful too.

This is one of the great privileges of being a member of a guild, that we get to see films before they are released. I found this one very moving and as a parent, I remembered many of the struggles I felt raising my daughter.  The story takes place in Australia (the scenery is extraordinarily beautiful) and the plot is Clive Owen's character loses his beloved wife and has to raise his young son alone.  He has another son from an earlier marriage who comes from England to stay with them.  It's beautifully acted and directed.  Both young actors are fantastic, and Clive Owen is better than I've ever seen him. 

I went with two friends, Karen and Barbara, and we all loved it, although it was quite emotionally difficult.  I'm glad I saw it.  I'm glad films like this are still being made.   

Monday, October 19, 2009

We are mad as hell

I have been waiting for thirty years for someone to talk about Ronald Reagan and how his administration was the beginning of the end for this country's middle class.  I know that there have been others who have made documentaries and written books, but Michael Moore's film "Capitalism: A Love Story" documents the years of Wall Street and corporate control over this country and our economy, over why we find that 1% of the population controls something like 95% of the wealth and all the rest of us are being completely screwed.  I think that this victim mentality, which I have to admit I buy into frequently in my own personal life, makes us feel powerless  and we are not powerless!  We live in a democracy and it's up to each of us to write letters, march and yell about bailouts and health care and foreclosures and quietly putting up with the lies and misinformation.  

Why Obama put Geitner and Summers in charge of the Treasury Department is an abomination.  Why he hasn't gotten rid of them yet is unconscionable.  Honestly, I got a C in economics, but even I know that we as a country have got to stand up and insist that we will not allow corporations to be more important than citizens and there are basic human rights for health care, the right to work, the right to have a home, a list of rights that we deserve to have.  Franklin Roosevelt laid them out out in a speech near the end of his life, which Michael Moore was able to dig up and put in the film.  

I know that whoever reads this blog is liberal and I am preaching to the choir, but it's so important to talk about this with everyone you know - to open up this conversation and to let it be known that we don't want Goldman Sachs' former executives running our government anymore.  We elected Obama because we want change - and no matter how rich or how poor we are, we do each have a vote.  I will not vote for Bloomberg - I know he will win, but I want to send a message that we are mad as hell.  Go see Capitalism: A Love Story and rent Paddy Cheyefsy's masterpiece "Network" if you haven't seen it in a long time.  

As Michael Moore said in his film "Sicko" so many of us feel that we have no say in our government, but we managed to elect Obama and yet there is so much more we can do and we must do.  

I'm all for breathing and spirituality and all that - but we are at a crucial time in this country's history and if we don't do something, we will all literally be screwed.  

Spend the ten or twelve dollars and see this film.  Please.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The heart

This morning my friend David sent me a Pema Chodron quote that is so beautiful I had to include it:

"When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn't have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless.  You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wall Street bonuses are an outrage, Michael Brewer

Is anybody else enraged that the government bailout has now netted Wall Street executives even larger bonuses and that someone in our government (like the President) needs to say, "Hello?  Pay us back, you're not getting these bonuses!"

I am furious and I don't understand why this entire country isn't rising up and saying "Enough."  Or: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."  

Are we so worried about our own problems that we can't collectively think of ways to rise up and express our disgust and our outrage?  Are we in a coma?  I'm ready to go to Washington, or march on Wall Street, or help organize marches all over the entire country.  I'm going to write letters to our senators and to the White House.  I have no ending to this other than we need to wake the fuck up.  

I was just reading another blogger's post just now about the Michael Brewer story.  I didn't know about it, I guess I haven't been keeping up with the news lately.  But it's a horrible story about a fifteen year-old boy in Florida who got in trouble with a group of boys and was doused in rubbing alcohol and set on fire. He has burns over 80% of his body and when the leader of the group was arrested and questions, he laughed about the attack.

Whatever happened to GUILT?  That was one of the subjects of a talk I went to last night by Mike Eigen at the National Psychological Association of Psychoanalysis (NPAP) and it's a very important question.  His book, "Flames of the Unconscious" talks about this and it relates to both of these stories.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Looking for the bright side

One of my greatest pleasures in life is to make people laugh, but lately I haven't had too much of a sense of humor.  I should watch more funny movies and try to reawaken my inner comedian but it's tough going when you're not "in the mood." This morming I played tennis with my dear tennis buddies and I have to say, I couldn't concentrate at all or take much pleasure from the game.  (This isn't the funny part.)  My tennis skirt was too big (a benefit of being depressed is the weight loss, which, I have to say is definitely one of the perks.)  

It does seem that life has been particularly rough in 2009 for many people.  Oh, now I remember what I wanted to write about: Friends In Deed.  I have been going there on and off for the past few years.  Friends In Deed is a non-profit center in Soho which helps people who are dealing with illness, care-giving or grief.  It started twenty years ago as a response to the AIDS/HIV crisis and has expanded over the years to include all illnesses, and to those who are caring for people.  Six times a week they offer "big groups" where people come to talk about whatever is going on for them. They also offer free counseling, massage, Reiki, volunteers who are available to go to doctor's appointments, nutrition counseling. One of the sayings they have is that "the quality of life is not necessary determined by the circumstances of your life," (or something like that.)  All I know is that when I go there, I generally have a good cry, listen to others, and empathize.  And I always feel better when I leave.  Sometimes we even have a good laugh, too, which is hard to believe, but true.  Then we are all grateful for the reminder that it's possible to maintain a sense of humor in the midst of some pretty tragic circumstances. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dark night of the soul, part II

The doctors saved my sister and her leg, although she had to go through five surgeries in two months and remained in the hospital on Long Island.  After my mother's first month in the hospice, the social worker came to me and said, "Well, it appears your mother isn't dying yet, so we can't justify keeping her here.  On the other hand, moving her now would be difficult - where would you move her?  And with your sister in a hospital too, it's probably too much for your to deal with.  We can keep your mother here for another month, but you would have to pay out of pocket."  

I was so distraught, I said yes.  It cost us $17,000 and my mother stayed at Jacob Perlow for four more weeks until she had to leave.  We still had no idea what her prognosis was, but I found a nursing home in Brooklyn, not far from where I lived.  After one month, the hospice aide suggested that we move her to another nursing home, farther away from where I lived, but much less dreary.  My mother wasn't really aware of what was going on, so I had to make all the decisions.  By February, my sister was home in Pennsylvania and my mother was now in the fourth nursing home she'd been in in two years.  And I haven't even mentioned my daughter yet.  She was sixteen at the time, didn't like her high school, didn't want to go to school, didn't see me much because I was either at the hospice or the nursing home, or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge or in Central Park to keep myself sane.  

And that's when I got sick.  It was only the flu, but it was enough to send me to bed for a week.  Lying in bed, thinking about my mother, my sister, and my daughter, and the past few months, and that several really close friends were sick with cancer, and that it was February... I kept thinking, "What is so great about life?  All I've seen these past few months is death and illness and misery." 

I remember lying in the bed with my laptop and writing emails to friends, asking for some answer as to why there is so much suffering.

One of my friends (my very wise friend, Jacqui, who always seems to be there for me at my lowest times) asked if I'd ever heard of a book called "The Widsom of No Escape" by Pema Chodron.

I had heard of it, in fact it was sitting in one of my bookshelves.  I'd been in a writing workshop in Los Angeles for a couple of years, and the leader of that workshop had given me a copy years earlier when she visited New York.  I remember that I tried to read it, probably read the first page, and put it on the bookshelf.  

On Jacqui's suggestion, I dragged myself out of the bed and searched for the book.  I found it and read the inscription which was from 1993, eleven years earlier.  

The first chapter was entitled "Loving Kindness."

"There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been been on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable.  You can see this even in insects and animals and birds.  All of us are the same.

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet.  To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.  If we're committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we're going to run; we'll never know what's beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing.  

When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they're going to improve, which is sort of subtle aggression against who they really are.  It's a bit like saying, 'If I jog, I'll be a much better person.'  'If only I could get a nicer house, I'd be a better person.'  Or 'If I could meditate and calm down, I'd be a better person."  Or the scenario may be that they find fault with others; they might say, 'If it weren't for my husband, I'd have a perfect marriage.'  'If it weren't for the fact that my boss and I can't get on, my job would be just great.'  And 'If it weren't for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.'

But loving kindness - maitri - toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything.  Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years.  We can still be angry after all these years.  We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness.  The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already.  The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are.  That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest."  

"...the key to feeling more whole and less shut off and shut down is to be able to see who we are and what we're doing.

The innocent mistake that keeps us caught in our own particular style of ignorance, unkindness, and shut-downness is that we are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness.  Instead there's a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy.  That is the innocent, naive misunderstanding that we all share, which keeps us unhappy.

Meditation is about seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have, and the people who are in our lives.  It's about seeing how we react to all these things.  It's about seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat.  It's about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness.  Throughout this month of meditation practice, we will work with cultivating gentleness, innate precision, and the ability to let go of small-mindedness, learning how to open to our thoughts and emotions, to all the people we meet in our world, how to open our minds and hearts."  

"...The other problem is that our hang-ups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth.  Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material.  if you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom.  Someone who is very angry also has a lot of energy; that energy is what's so juicy about him or her.  That's the reason people love that person.  The idea isn't to get rid of your anger, but to make friends with it, to see it clearly with precision and honesty and also to see it with gentleness. "

I was very angry when picked up that book.  I was pissed off at my life, my responsibilities, the mistakes I'd made.  Somehow that idea of maitri really moved me and in acknowledging the anger that I felt, some of it dissipated.  

I began mediating, I kept reading Pema Chodron, and changed many aspects of my life, including allowing myself to ask for and accept help. 

Now, five years later, I find myself in another very difficult period of my life.  My mother has finally died, my marriage is ending, my daughter has moved away from home, there are so many changes.  But now I see these changes as opportunities to grow.  Growing pains still hurt, but I think if I keep on meditating, and accepting what is, I'll be okay.