So Strange It Must Be True

This post is alternately titled, “Katy Perry Never Gives Up.”

Bless you for reading. You are a brave soul.

**

I had an out-of-body meditation experience once that showed me how weird it is to be human. (The out of body thing happened more than once, but let’s just start with this one time.) It was like I died and was suspended for a while, and then dropped back into my body, new as a child. And the overarching recognition was that this physical world, this physical existence, opposed to the other, otherworldly realm we all come from and eventually return to, is terribly strange.

Like, subway stations, for instance. Crawling underground like a rat to find your way? A whole series of interconnected trains moving in tunnels at scheduled times?

And traffic lights, and orange and white blockades they put up in cities to block you from finding your way, so that you can’t just magically appear where you want to be?

And my keys never being where they’re supposed to be when I’m walking out the door?

And GPS applications, that never tell you more than one step ahead where you’re intended to go, and in no man-made space can you anymore purchase a paper map that actually gives you knowledge of your surroundings which could help you be independent when you’re getting around and not reliant on technology that tracks everywhere you go?

And the process of purchasing any product, in a physical building or online, which forces you to jump through several layers of hoops so that you must give an email address or sign up for an update or something else that may require blood of some kind, all so you can get the thing that makes you go somewhere else to get another thing to make the first thing work?

Strange, I tell you.

Not normal at all.

A shaman, I learned last year (was that really only last year? I think it was actually many years ago in otherworldly time), lives in two realms simultaneously, and we are all, in this day and age of mysterious evolution, called to be shamans in some form or another. We have to function in this physical plane, and also remain conscious and aware of what really matters, what is occurring in the imaginal realm, at any given time. And the imaginal realm is quite real and vibrant and ever-evolving and ever-changing, but we just can’t touch it the way we can touch a cold glass of water with our hands. These two realms feed off each other, and often intersect. But as soon as we think we have the answers to how it all works, something changes again, because you are human, and just a blip in the great cosmic order of things, and you can never really know.

Or you’re not human, but part of the mysterious essence that moves through everything, and you know everything that ever and never was, you’re just not consciously aware of all that you deep down do and do not know.

This post is so weird. 

I’m just trying to tell you, I think, that when you hear the phrase, We are not humans having a spiritual experience, but spirits having a human experience, which I think was said by Deepak Chopra or some dude like that, it’s totally true. We really are. (And sometimes, perhaps, we’re not spirits or humans at all. Language is really limiting.) There is more to us than meat and bones. There is this whole other world that is accessed through dreams or accessed through meditation and it is as real as anything you can taste or touch. And people who are open to that world, who dance back and forth from that world to this one, well, we don’t know where to put those people, what framework to associate with them in our minds.

They must be crazy. They must be brave. They must be both and neither, too.

No one who ever did anything worth remembering followed all the rules, my dear.

And so let me share with you a little story I thought of yesterday that has nothing to do with what I’m talking about, and everything, too, because perhaps my desire is to confuse you (I’m certainly confusing myself), and because confusion is so, so good to the wandering soul, a rich opportunity for vast comprehensive learning.

Years ago, I was sitting on the couch with my son watching a documentary called Part of Me about Katy Perry. “Part of Me” is a really good song, by the way. Maybe I’ll share it here later. But anyway, my daughter had just gotten her foot run over by a red toy wagon, and my then-husband had taken her to the emergency room, and my son felt guilty because he had pulled the red wagon over her ankle, and we were sitting on our red couch (so much red! it’s delicious) and watching this documentary I got from the library about Katy Perry’s rise to fame.

And Katy Perry was really sad in this part of the drama. I think her boyfriend or husband, which was that comedian guy with long brown hair, had acted like a dick to her or something, and she was on tour, and she was so overwhelmed with emotion she was curled in a ball in her dressing room and she didn’t know how she would ever stand up again. And the cameras were in the room with her (which would really suck), and one of her managing people was asking her what they should do, should they cancel the show? Was she going to be okay? It was alright to take a break for the night, they said, and just take some time to rest and recoup.

But somehow, within a few minutes and some deep breathing, Katy Perry got to the bottom of her brokenness, and then she stood up and said No, she would continue the show.

And my son, who was maybe 8 at the time, turned to me and said, “Katy Perry never gives up.”

And man, was that true. I fucking love Katy Perry.

 

Photo by Sunyu on Unsplash

FirstDay Sermon: The Power of Hugs

I have recently adapted with my kids “the 20-second hug,” something I heard about in an article by Thich Nhat Hanh. Instead of a flimsy hug where you barely connect and just pat a person’s shoulders and move on to your next thing, this hug requires you to stay still in another person’s arms for a while. 20 whole seconds. Once someone knows they’re in the hug for 20 seconds, once you establish that expectation, everyone gets comfortable and actually experiences the experience. It becomes a true hug rather than a formality. You feel a person’s energy; they feel yours; the hug is actually the healing modality it was always meant to be. You realize why hugs exist, why touch exists, why we have a human body. We are not meant to live in isolation, alone, without hands on us.

My kids have succumbed to the practice now. They recognize the 20-second hug works, as long as they don’t have to do it in front of their friends. Except for my 5-year-old, who doesn’t stop talking about unicorns long enough to let anyone hold her. She refuses to be pinned down. But eventually, thank God, she sleeps, or she watches television, and I can put my arms around her then.

The point of my telling you this, as we approach Christmas, is to remind you that Christianity is and was supposed to be a  religion doused in warmth and affection. A really heart-centered religion. Now, the centuries-old Renaissance paintings of Mary and Jesus don’t really show this, because Mary looks really uptight and bored in all of them, but if you close your eyes and picture the scene instead, this ancient story is rooted in a mother’s love, a mother’s risk, a mother’s strength. It is about finding warmth in the cold, and about how that warmth finds you, too.

A lot of the gospels have erased this part, because these dudes got so serious when they were writing stuff down, and because scripture became all about power and convincing. It’s hard to find the warmth that pervaded Jesus’s teachings, because he seems so intense all the time. The laughing part, the shooting the shit conversations over dinner, all got left out. Him rolling his eyes at people got left out, too, because this guy was human and had real human emotions and no doubt got fed up from time to time and offered up a Hail Mary when a dude said something stupid on a walk through the desert, when everyone’s feet were full of blisters.

It’s also hard to find the warmth in all the stained glass images in churches where no one—I mean no one!—is smiling. It’s hard to find warmth in the images of a naked guy with his arms splayed, bleeding from the rib and his face so sad. I guess these images work for some people, but not for me. Luckily, I have a good imagination, and I know enough about what it means to be human, that I can intimate and fill in the pieces of what’s lacking in what we’ve been taught, or read between the lines of what was put down in an imperfectly scribed book. I can collect and gather and realize what’s really what.

Jesus was a lover, pure and simple. I’m not calling him SexyJesus today, though he certainly was. What Jesus did, over and over again, and never seemed to tire!, was touch people and look in their eyes and heal them. He kissed his friends, before America was created and people got all scared about appearing masculine enough, or so worried about social order. (Except the French. God, I love the French! Bisous, everywhere, all day! And my friend Nora, who is British—British!—and kisses and hugs tightly and says I love you at the end of every interaction.) Jesus welcomed women to sit at his knees and lean against him. He let his hair be washed in myrrh. He washed his friends’ feet and shins with diligence and care.

Uh, this guy. So friggin’ awesome. And then this weird church got created after him which was all about celibacy and rigidity and no touching anyone except for the guys who touch in the dark of rooms in really horrible, inappropriate ways, using the name of God to do things God would never, ever do.

What Jesus meant to people, and what he did, despite institutions and leadership that have abused his reputation, was bring fire to the cold. A warm, burning fire for people to turn to and sit with. He was the epitome of solace and rest. A light in the dark is not just conceptual, not just a pretty idea. So if that metaphor is tired for you, reframe his meaning as warmth in the cold night. Your own personal fireplace. The burning flame that never goes out, no matter how many times cold winds try to break it down. The fire of never giving up the fight for goodness and love, and that love often expressed in the simplest, truest gesture of holding someone’s hand, or putting your arms around them and breathing and staying like that for a while.

Hugs are medicine. They bring you out of your head and into your body, and despite what we’ve been taught, your body is a really good place to be. It’s your home, it’s where you are meant to live every part of your existence. I ask for hugs when I need them, and I have no interest in spending any elongated time with someone who thinks that’s weird. I will also give one to anyone who asks. (It can get sticky if people don’t ask though, just sayin’, so be careful about that part, just an aside, okay.)

So.

My wish for you (and me!) this Christmas and New Year  is weeks full of 20-second—or longer! much, much longer!—hugs. My wish for you is the courage to ask when you need that warm fire of another person to cuddle with to bring you out of your head and into your body, back to solid ground. This time of year is not always easy for people. There is a lot of expectation and a lot of wishes and a lot of people terribly sad as they embark on a long, cold winter, or remember the winters and Christmases where bad things happened. It is a time of year of fear and hassle, or people going without what it is they need in a culture that has lost its center and what matters most and instead thinks toys and devices are the key to making dreams come true.

The way to combat all that is through love. True and heartfelt love. Cheek to cheek, hand to hand, chest to chest through your ugly snowman sweater or sweatshirt. Hugs.

Lots and lots of them.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

(Did you know name and amen are anagrams?)

Here’s a pretty song.

 

Photo by Anastasia Vityukova on Unsplash

Your Body Belongs to You

Yeah, what have I got
Nobody can take away?
Got my hair, got my head
Got my brains, got my ears
Got my eyes, got my nose
Got my mouth, I got my smile
I got my tongue, got my chin
Got my neck, got my boobies
Got my heart, got my soul
Got my back, I got my sex
I got my arms, got my hands
Got my fingers, got my legs
Got my feet, got my toes
Got my liver, got my blood
                                                                                                             –Nina Simone, “Ain’t Got No”

It wasn’t until this past summer, during the last few months of my 39th year, that I realized how deeply ingrained was a belief I had that my body was not my own, that it was made primarily for a man to enjoy.

I have always remembered a reading from college by W.E.B. DuBois, an African-American Harlem Renaissance author who wrote The Souls of Black Folk. In this sociological work, he explains that black people walk around with what he calls a “double-consciousness,” operating on two levels simultaneously. One one level, they move through the world like people. On another level, they move through the world with the consistent reminder, or consciousness, that they are black. Because wherever a black person goes, he is viewed through a double lens.

Until recently, as a woman, I have also felt the effects of that double lens. I don’t know when it started, but I felt as though my more prominent role in life was to be seen, rather than to see. That I was the object of someone else’s life rather than the subject and author of my own. And this particularly related to my relationships and interactions with men, because there was a sense that I was only good enough, or worthy, if a man I desired deemed me relevant. Attaining his love or attention and admiration would set everything in order, I seemed to believe. His love and adoration and cherishing would right every wrong, fix every flaw within me.

I am sad that I held onto such a damaging belief, not even wholly aware it was living in my flesh and bones. But it is not surprising. It is what we women, through centuries of domination and dishonor, have been told, both outright and implicitly.

Oh, how I hope and pray that my daughters will not fall victim to the same trajectory. How I hope and pray that we can teach young girls a new way forward. But in order to do that, we must acknowledge it, recognize it, heal the wound.

This false belief women have about our bodies, about the very essence of being female, is particularly aflame in those of us who didn’t grow up with a nurturing, warm, solid father figure. Who didn’t grow up with fathers who showed us what it looked like to be a good man, an emblem of gentleness, kindness, and compassion. A father who encouraged us to lead, to be true to ourselves and our instincts, to grow. A father who lifted us up, who demonstrated respect and honor for a woman’s wholeness, for her living into every part of herself.

We have all been sorely lacking in these models, both in family life, in politics, in corporations, and in churches.

So let me tell you the truth, as a way to heal the damage of the past.

Your body is solely, completely, unequivocally yours, to do with what you want. It is whole and perfect and beautiful, just as it was made, no ifs, ands, or buts. Your body may change and grow in all kinds of ways, and that is part of its power, its mastery, and its mystery. Regardless of what it looks like, it is still, and will always be, yours. It is the most special home you’ll ever live in, and it is the home you take with you wherever you go. You can invite people into this home, you can share it with others, but all of that is your choice. Your choice. Yours. Every single minute of every single day of every single breath, into the eternity of breaths you take. Your choice.

You and your body were not made for pleasing anybody else, though pleasing someone can be a cool side-effect. Catering to others’ needs and wants and lusts and desires was not the purpose of your being born. You do not have to alter your body to make someone happy, or “fix” it in some way to get someone to love or acknowledge you. You do not have to open your body to anyone to gain respect and acceptance, for that respect and acceptance already lies implicit within you. You do not have to let someone use your body for their own aims.

Your body is not an object for anyone else. It is the source of your power, and it is your church. It is your temple, your sacred altar.

And no matter what your body looks like, or what your body has been through, God thinks it is beautiful. Every single day. You are not a number to God. You are not a size, or a shell, or an image of brokenness.

And no matter what you decide to do with it, God will always love you and your body.

God’s deepest wish, in fact, is that you would feel the same.

 

 

Image from https://dailymythogies.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/goddess-figures/

 

I Was Seventeen and Had a Car

I didn’t feel like I had a lot of freedom growing up. Most of the time, the only way I could take a deep breath was when I was reading a novel or listening to a good song.

But when I was 17, I got a car.

And I loved to drive.

The thing about a car is that when you get in, you know you can go anywhere you want to go.

You may not, of course. You have other obligations. But the knowledge is there that you could. You could just keep driving. You could try someplace new.

If you have a full tank of gas and 25 bucks and a little food on the passenger seat, whoo, the damage you could do. Good damage. Wonderful, free-spirited things. Like go to towns no one ever heard of before, and get out and smoke cigarettes. Or open the window and let your hair blow. Or stop on the side of the road and let your bare feet touch the grass.

Very rarely did I ever take that kind of chance. I felt weighed down most of my life. I had a voice inside my head that inundated me with the word “should.” Almost always.

Ulgh.

I really hated that voice. She’s gone now, thank God. And good riddance. Let her go bother the dogs, who need to make better decisions about where to poop.

But once, approaching the ripe age of 40, I did make a wild decision. I had a car, a phone full of good music, and no one to hold me back.

I stayed away longer than I said I would, and I didn’t give a specific date or time when I’d be back. Instead, I told everyone I needed a couple of days to figure things out.

My spirit, who had been hiding under a range of shadows, was in the throes of being set free, and she demanded more time and attention.

My needs demanded more time and attention.

My desires. My emotions.

I had spent my life feeling like I looked after the concerns and wants and needs of everyone else. Their expectations. Their assumptions. Their longings.

Now was time for me.

I took a stand.

I knew people would worry. I knew they’d fret. I knew they’d dislike me, or get angry, or be fearful. Maybe it would cause someone a sleepless night.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care. It was that I cared what I needed more.

I needed time, and I needed reflection, and I took it, without shame or guilt.

I needed to make my own decision about what mattered to me. Without the overlord of fear, the overlord of “should.”

No one could get in the way of that. No one could tell me what to do.

No one could even find me.

(Except God, who was all for this. But no one believes in that chick anyway.)

I am who I am. I love this person. I’ve fought hard for her.

She drives where she wants to go.

Other people can think what they want.

My opinion matters more.

 

Music Will Save You

Music has saved me so many times.

Not long ago, I wrote a short story about a 12-year-old girl who was sad and lonely. She didn’t know what was what in her life, and she had already been through several heartbreaks. But she put on her Walkman and pressed Play, and the woman’s voice that sang in her ear told her she was not alone in her struggle. And at least for a little bit, she felt okay.

Some of us don’t have God in our lives, and we don’t grow up with the best models of love. But a good, heartfelt song takes us out of our pain and shows us a puzzle piece of the divine.

Musicians are our sages. Wisdom does not always come from priests, or pastors, or political leaders. But luckily, we can be lifted into the sublime when our hearts stir with the strum of a guitar or the keys of a piano. To escape and also be home, to touch the skirt of heaven, we don’t have to go to India or the Himalayas and pray for a thousand years.

All we have to do is listen to a good song.

Whatever makes your body sway, whatever makes your hips flow, is a good, good thing. Don’t the birds call to us all the time? Don’t the trees dance?

When we were teenagers, my friend Kelly and I sat on her bedroom floor and we listened to 10,000 Maniacs, and we listened to Nirvana, and we listened to Tori Amos and Toad the Wet Sprocket and the Gin Blossoms. And all the passion we felt, all the confusion, all the weirdness of life, was not ours alone.

When I drove alone on back roads at night in south Jersey, heading to my job or home from a friend’s house, I sang along to the tapes I’d mixed myself, my closest route to God.

In college, my friends and I walked to the record store and flipped through the CDs, deciding weekly on one or two we would make our own. I looked for songs I wanted to play on my radio show, or albums I could blast from my stereo speakers while a bunch of us sat in the hall, talking and avoiding homework. Those paper books of lyrics, those round discs…those were our wine and our bread.

Why have we stopped lying on our backs and letting the songs fill us? Why are we so busy as adults we think we can’t just sit and listen?

I don’t know about you, but the biggest struggle I’ve had in this life is feeling, from the beginning, as though I was alone. And it’s the truth, mostly. No one can live my life for me. Regardless of how I view it, my decisions are mine, and I’m the one that has to deal with every consequence, big or small. My life is my creation, each moment of every day. I choose and I choose and I choose it. And that can be overwhelming. Because none of us, at root, wants to be in it alone. We are not made to live that way.

Music probably does a better job than anything else of showing us we’re saved. We’re part of everything. We always were.

I’ve long had a practice of making people music mixes. It’s not as special as it used to be—me sitting on the floor of my bedroom listening and pausing songs, rewinding and forwarding tapes or CDs, cutting out little postcards as album covers. But even with digital music, a good mix can go a long way. So here’s one for you: a Janarama special for June.

Choose your venue.

On Spotify.

On Amazon Music.

Image: “Old Europe Radio” by Ian Kennedy via Flickr 

Hippie Love

Yesterday, my friend Lauren told me I was a hippie.

“Really?” I said. I don’t know how it came up, but somehow I was telling her that the house where I babysit has a sign that says “Hippies Welcome,” and my son asked what being a hippie meant. I didn’t know how to describe it.

“Just tell him, you,” she said.

I laughed as she reminded me that two weeks ago, when a few of us were walking through the city, I encouraged everybody to sit in the park and put their hands on the earth.

This new Jana is a far cry from the uptight twenty-something who sat in a Catholic school’s faculty room grading papers, obsessed with perfection. Back then, I was surprised when my colleagues told me I was Type-A.

But I can’t help who I am. It’s taken me a long time to get to this place, and I don’t know where I’m going after this. All I know is that it feels good to be me, fully, right now.

I want my bare feet on the earth. I want feathers in my hair. I want beads on my arms, stones around my neck. I sit on the steps of my porch and I burn incense and I smoke cigarettes, and I listen to music. I put amber oil on my skin. I stare out into the sky and I feel so much love.

In the morning and at night, I sit at the altar in my bedroom and I burn sage and palo alto and light candles. I pray to the one whose name is Holy, the one whose name I’m afraid to say out loud. (It begins with a “J.”) I ask him to fill my heart with Light, and when I pray hard enough, and when I say his name, his Light enters in. And I am healed. And I am whole.

My life is pretty magical.

If you want to feel a little magic, too, listen to these tunes.

“thrush_3”by Howlsthunder is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Spring Mix

It’s spring, and all the trees in my neighborhood are bursting with color. I’m also taking a lot more walks, listening to the birds, seeing nature rising up in splendor everywhere. Even the crows seem harbingers of something good, their squawks more chipper than usual.

Ever since college, I’ve been a big believer in the mix tape, even though no one listens to cassette tapes anymore. Making a mix tape was hardcore, much different than selecting a bunch of songs on iTunes now, lining them up in a queue. (And I hate iTunes—it is the opposite of intuitive. There has to be a better way.) Back in the day, I’d sit on the floor of my bedroom with the breeze blowing through the window, CD cases splayed around me. I’d listen to this song and that, trying to find the perfect one to get across a sentimental and melodic message for someone I cared about. I’d mix favorite songs up with little-heard but quality tracks, men’s voices with women’s, varying genres that complemented each other. It was an art form, time well-spent that came from the heart.

I make a mean musical mix.

But music isn’t the only thing blooming with the flowers these days. There is so much great art I’m finding to delve into this year, as I embrace new beginnings in my life. I’m reading whatever books I’m drawn to, watching less TV. So here are some picks, music and otherwise, to get you off your ass up and out and dive into the beautiful spring.

Poetry

Mary Oliver is the perfect poet to read as nature blooms. I found this poem as I was cleaning up around my apartment yesterday, and it reminded me how much trees provide energetically, how they are such a calm, cool, stable presence that we often take for granted.

“When I am Among the Trees”

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Music

I’m listening to a few artists these days, and I recently sought out Hozier because he has such great masculine energy. (There’s a lot of feminine energy in my abode, with two daughters and a female cat. My son feels really outnumbered.) I’ve been listening to his album, Wasteland, Baby, which is so well-done, but I’m a little annoyed by the wasteland part. Thinking of the world as a wasteland is just depressing, as are some of the lyrics, like in the song “No Plan,” which is pretty much a modern day version of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” The message is, “Hey baby. There’s no God and all life is darkness. But let’s love each other for now.”

But what happens when you die, dude? Then she’s all alone? I’ll take the bigger plan, thank you very much, instead of all your bleakness.

Besides, he drops the F-bomb a lot in this album, which is totally unnecessary, and means I can’t listen to it around my kids. I am a big fan of the F-bomb, mind you, in the right company. But I don’t like when it’s thrown into an otherwise nice song.

Also, what is this picture?

Is his stomach cut open or something? I can’t figure it out.

And yet, this particular song, “Almost (Sweet Music)” is wonderful! I promise it will make you dance. A must for your spring mix.

 

TV

Okay, I know I said I wasn’t watching much TV, and I’m not, but we all know spring has rainy days. So when there’s a day all you want to do—or all you can do—is sit on your couch, you must watch Catastrophe on Amazon Prime. It’s the funniest show I’ve seen in a while. Maybe ever? I can’t get enough. My only complaint is that there aren’t more episodes.

 

Books

I have a boatload of books piled on my desk right now, but most of them are not things other people will want to read. Autobiography of a Yogi? I love it, but it’s not for everyone. Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols? Yeah! Or would you prefer a textbook called The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings? I know, mesmerizing. (It sort of is, to me.) So I’ll throw this one out for you, a collection of short stories by Kristin Roupenian, who made it big after she wrote a short story called “Cat Person” that got published in The New Yorker. I heard she signed, like, a million dollar book deal. This shit just doesn’t normally happen, especially for short stories, so the book is worth a read.

The stories are a mix of dark, funny, mysterious, quirky, honest and real. And they’re relatively short, so it’s perfect if you want to read and then take a nap. I wouldn’t be surprised if Roupenian ends up on the syllabus for a lot of college creative writing classes.

Food

Omg, these are amazing and really, really dangerous. Whenever they’re at the supermarket, I end up buying more than one bag in case they stop stocking them. I might have a problem.

 

 

I also encourage you to check out the spring edition of a relatively new literary magazine called Cagibi, where I just had a story published.

Now, go forth, multiply, or something! Have a salad! Enjoy!

 

Top image: “Colors of Spring” by Johan Neven via Flickr.