November’s liminal.This is when it feels ok to tell stories that say too much or make too little sense. So I’ll set aside any lingering manifestoes – on alienated labor, vetting teachers, and so on.
Thursday nights I sit in infrared light for an hour and stare at my hands. It’s the only time I really sweat, alone there in the sauna. This ritual is locked in to my schedule, to process the teaching week psycho-emotionally; to clear it out; and to notice the effects the teaching is having on my heart-mind. This habit, noticing the effects week by week, makes me idiotically grateful for the work itself. Which, in turn, takes the edge off the physical effort.
The whole thing is a long slow education in cause and effect.
What’s worth mentioning is that my hands are different every week. The big lines – the ones said to telegraph your future – move slightly every time I check in. They cut deeper into the palms, but also shift laterally, like a river changing course over centuries. On a physical level, the samskaras are not set. And on a metaphorical level, it’s like future and past are being rewritten as the hands get used. Each drop-back, each marichyasana, each mangala mantra, each embrace. Who was I and who will I be?
Palms up in the infrared light, a recurring dream superimposes on my imagination: it’s the feeling that there are eyes in the palms of the hands. At first this dream-image showed up randomly, but now I choose it, deliberately, day by day. Upon waking, I open the palm-eyes open first, rising out of REM sleep 10 minutes before the early-early-early alarm (the Sleep Cycle data confirm this timing). As the hand eyes open, they reel in my consciousness, converting the image-based awareness of dreams into feelings in the physical body. When I can move, I press the palms on my physical eyes and use the squishy blue-white light this creates as a gentle precursor for the brutal bathroom domelight that will drive awareness fully in to three dimensions the second I flip the switch.
This is how consciousness somatizes. Stuff starts at the subtle level and moves into the physical. Form begins as possibility and pattern. But maybe that’s just me. Watch closely. I submit that something (everything) starts from nothing, and returns to nothing. And that the yoga is only here to make these gestures lucid.
The feeling of having eyes in the palms of my hands… it started in Bylakuppe in February 2012. But really it started the November before, when my cranial therapist said: “The men in orange are watching you all the time you are in India.” Cranial-sacral people do extremely technical work with surgeon-like awareness, but awareness this subtle slides all too easily into mystic territory. It’s mystical-technical. Based on experience, I’m not sure brain surgery is much different.
Back to the men in orange. My therapist, she receives mail from a very specific zipcode on the astral plane. That’s emphatically not what brings me to her. I visit for a technical reason: she’s the only one who knows the combination to the lock at my third cervical vertebra. That joint has not been the same since a car threw me onto a Los Angeles street in 2002 and I woke up from a concussion with my chin embedded in pavement and jawbone shoved into my ears. But, when my therapist lines up the tumblers, the tension accumulated there goes pssssshhhhhhhh….. My head empties out. We decompress it twice a year, usually the same week I remember to have the snow tires switched on or off our Civic. Maintenance.
The messages from my cranial therapist’s guides are personal, extremely detailed, and describe my past-future. I’m not interested. If there are astral beings trying to get traction in the earthly world, that’s pretty pathetic of them. If you were a disembodied consciousness obsessed with the human realm, wouldn’t you just wish you had a life? (Or a death, perhaps.) Insight paths from Patanjali to mystic Christianity are coded with the warning to avoid the Scylla of special powers and the Charybdis of secret information. My cranial teacher – a different and senior therapist, who is actually training me in that art over the course of four years – insinuates the same thing about the cranial work. The therapeutic practice is to go beyond the chaos of the thinking realms, into a kind of creative stillness. You just cradle the head of another as your nervous systems naturally combine, into an organic self-healing intelligence. For the therapist, it’s surgical meditation practice….
Healing isn’t hocus-pocus, and it isn’t the gift of anOther. It’s a creative event that comes out of nowhere. The cranial therapy subculture speaks of a literal “stillpoint” in the spine. It’s the same as the yoga. The practice is extremely potent, insofar as you don’t make a thing of it in words.
But. Sometimes my twice-yearly therapist is not just a spinal code-hacker; she’s oracular. The astral mail is not always junk. Three Novembers back, her messages were from “the men in orange.” They said they were old friends, and they requested a visit at home.
I asked her for more information and she said Tibet. This is about Tibet. I said that didn’t make sense. Maybe the orange men were in India? YES. They are watching? YES. Then I remembered Vajrayana monks in crimson and ochre robes at the coconut stand, smiling as they watched the scene. I asked my therapist if she knew about the Tibetan settlement in South India – Bylakuppe. NO. I explained there are always monks who visit Mysore. They come from their settlement and walk around just watching. After some more Magic 8 Ball type queries, we decide this is an awkward, astral RSVP for Bylakuppe.
I forget the men in orange and go to Mysore within a month. The flight leaves Detroit on Christmas night. A few weeks later on Sankranti, the harvest festival, my dear friend T puts me on the back of her motorbike and we go to Laksmipuram to see the chalk rangoli painted in the streets. It’s her 11th winter in India and she knows the alleys around the old shala… like the palm of her hand. Cows painted beet purple and turmeric orange, their horns dribbled in liquid gold. We slow to put-put speed down an alley full of children. For balance I touch my right sandal on the front stoop of a home, and as we pass and a young woman crosses over the threshold into the sun. The flash of light in her green sari sparks a body- memory of a quetzal swooping down from a Guatemalan forest canopy in 1996. Boom – I’m on the back of the bike again, free-associating on the woman’s sari and some mythic bird, and then we lock eyes, and then she says my name. He eyes are warm brown and I’ve never seen her face anywhere. The moment is so saturated in chaotic sensory fantasies that I assume her speech to be an auditory hallucination – it is my own mind saying my name to wake me up to perfection of that one exact moment.
Then T turns her head over her right shoulder and informs me that the woman in the street has just called my name. “How does she know you???”
“She doesn’t. We’ve never met.”
The following days we rationalize the ways the iridescent woman could know my name. Occam’s razor does not provide. The season goes on; I’m sitting in meditation for hours every afternoon. The next full moon I think of the men in orange and invite a Buddhist friend to go see visit the settlement.
He oversleeps, so I go alone. The car stops in front of the giant gate. I look waaaay up at it, don’t like it, and walk away toward the smell of steamed dumplings and the neighborhoods surrounding the temple complex. I wander until I find the wall that divides the temple land from the rest. The top half of the wall is all prayer wheels: silver cylinders spooled upright on a thousand axles around the edge of the land. You can walk the outer perimeter past wheel after wheel, setting each one to spin until the whole settlement has been nudged into the vortex of their updraft. Each cylinder is stamped in Tibetan script, and I have no idea what words I’m sending up to the sky as I run my right palm across each one and start up the cyclones.
I circumnavigate the temple complex and see only cats. Curiosity builds. Then the surrounding neighborhoods drop away and it’s just an open field of scrub trees and prayer flags, and the line of silver prayer wheels laid out before me like a super shiny version of the brushes in a car wash. There’s a boy in an ochre robe up in a sycamore tree. Prayer flags connect the tree to the back wall of the settlement. The kid is the first monk (mini-monk?) I’ve seen this trip. He’s maybe eight and seems content to hang in the branches.
Then I’ve passed the boy, rounding the back edge of the settlement and preparing emotionally to step in through the back gate. That’s when he calls my name. I freeze, then turn back to him cautiously. His face is open, looking at mine from a distance. We can’t see each other’s eyes. Everything has stopped, then my spine shudders and I jump across the threshold into the complex. Off to the right about 1000 yards distant, a dozen more kids in robes are playing cricket.
I’m right at the entrance to the main temple with its three giant gold Buddhas. The complex is set up so this is the climax of your journey. I sit on the floor for a long time, stoned on the vibrations in the space. It’s not subtle; every tourist who comes through gets their pupils dilated and their speech slowed as the energy in their lower body is pulled to the crown of the head. It feels nice, but I’m not reverential. A functioning religion should know how to work this stuff. Before I go spiral-eyed, I slip back through the complex towards the entrance. There are many lesser temples along the way, the last and smallest of which is in a corner by the entrance with one of its doors chained shut. Tara’s temple.
That’s where I get smacked between the eyes. And it’s not some sort of Ouija board woo-woo thing, no head spinning or eye rolling, but rather an experience of overwhelming worldly beauty. I’m hyper-auditory and rarely moved by the sort of beauty that can be visually BEHELD. But Tara’s sanctum does it. First, the ceilings are my favorite Lisa Frank teal, the fixtures a heavy black metal that would make Rudolf Schindler proud. Then there’s a Japanese family of four laughing in delight as they regard the figure they already know as Kanon, goddess of compassion (a student back home has educated me about the cross-cultural Buddhist goddess, giving his own daughter her name). The parents invite me make funny faces with the little girl. And then I just stand there and stare at the hands of the goddess on the side wall. That’s my destination, the central experience I’ve been spiraling in to for months. Just this painting of a face from another culture, a body whose spine is pure movement, a woman who has eyes in her feet and her hands.
I leave with new eyes. Something about this experience makes me more interested in the cranial work. Not the psychic aspect of it, but the physically perceptive part – the fact that therapists do have eyes in the palms of their hands. Who else can actually feel the circulation of fluid in the spine, and the rare moments when that process stops?
In my teaching practice I value clarity. Nix the mysticism. Communicate with students in the language of their own experience. Remove my own obstactles to clear perception. But sometimes I feel the clarification process depends on the slow opening of the eyes in the hands. Three years later, the hands understand that they do not always DO things. Their primary function is to perceive with as much clarity as possible. I like to imagine the lines in my palms, and in my self-concept, are shifting because they are getting out of the way.
Moon day alone in a boat house on Lake Washington. I sleep until 9 Michigan time, and still catch sunrise over the water. Meditate on the dock until ducks come to investigate; open my eyes again to Mount Rainier shining. For now a little writing, and then an afternoon of walking many familiar miles on Capitol Hill. My body remembers when this place was home.
My brother lives here a little bit. (Two nights a week, nine months a year. We’ve had the talk about too much travel.) He is our father’s son: we grew up scrappy, eating from the garden and wearing garage sale clothes, unaware of the ways middle class people are supposed to spend and accumulate. So here he is, an artist not really starving, crashing in a plywood tinyhouse built for summer dock parties. This place is pure luxury; OR it a super-rich food desert where you pack your gear in miles from the bus stop and down 10 flights of stairs in the dark. Depends. I fantasize a retreat here for not just a day but a month: doors with no locks but impossible to find, out of wifi range, forest-quiet except for the sea planes….
The Editor and I moved to Seattle in 2000. We had a year before grad school, and picked a place we could love easy and fast, that wasn’t too close to home in Montana. We’d lived in Managua the previous year; that’s a sadder story. Here, I fell in love with the city in the rain while the dot com economy collapsed. Seattle University hired me to assist their non-profit leadership program, but really I was here for Indymedia, the guerrilla journalism cabal that had shut down the WTO conference the year before.
The internet was young. Amazon occupied what used to be an art deco mental hospital on the hill below SU campus. First item on my internet wish list: Myth in the Making of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America, by Eldon Kenworthy. Fifteen years later it’s buried under titles on probability, Advaita and cranial-sacral therapy. In 2000 the list had some story tellers – Lydia Davis and Jorge Luis Borges -though when grad school began the next year I ceremoniously stopped reading fiction. One of the last stories I read was the public library’s first copy Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist – I spent a summer Saturday alone at Alki beach in West Seattle and finished it there.
The book bothered me a lot. NOTHING HAPPENS. A woman hides away in a wooden house on a cold Pacific Northwest beach. Her art is opening her body, alone in the house. She eats cereal for about ten pages, in excruciating detail – this before “mindfulness” was a thing. A small boy manifests, some sort of projection coming out of her bodymind through the process of self-spelunking. Alone without input, her consciousness still generates content: she bends her body in the back room and re-captures her projections. Less and less happens. The book calls this woman “the body artist,” but at the time I thought: this lady is not an artist at all. She exists only for herself.
I hated the book, resenting it would be my last story before going under the analytical knife of UCLA. I told my book friends that a great writer had forgotten how to create. He’d gone from the psyodrama of JFK’s paranoiac assassin (brilliant Libra, where “there is a world inside the world”), to the heaving epic that opened the century (Underworld, which people may now call literature)… to this non-narrative dream of a woman alone in a room.
At 23, I didn’t get it. I didn’t see the birth of the body artist, the hyperconscious mature female body, as the successor to lesser, louder dramas.