putting in a window

here's what i want to tell you: this is hard. only a crazy person would aspire to live as monk outside of a monastery. i'm pretty sure i'm that. crazy. or if i wasn't before, i am now. have you ever tried to sit five times a day in prayer, for at least half an hour each time? it's not sustainable, unless you live in a monastery, which i don't! but we knew that. and i asked for it. willingly. even eagerly. i'm crazy.

and there's almost nothing i'd rather be doing than this.

yesterday i entered my eighth week as a love monk. how's it been? let me give you a window...

the first four weeks were fantastic. i had no idea my soul was so parched for prayer. (duh.) i sank into the practice with ease. i practically looked forward to my alarm going off every three hours. there was a sense of homecoming, or familiarity that is difficult to describe. it's not that i sat there all blissed out - my mind ran off thousands of places, as usual, but now there was this internal act of handing over those thoughts to god and for some strange reason, the practice was working. i felt held. i felt supported. i felt peace. (i also felt something akin to a black hole, boring low grade anxiety into my diaphragm, but that's a story for another time.)

so let me back up.

the morning after taking my vows, i woke with a raging cold. this meant that for the first couple of days i did my prayers from bed. propped with pillows, tissue box never beyond reach, mouth-breathing like a champ, i tried on this thing called centering prayer. i'd dabbled with such prayer in grad school. i thought i knew all about it. yeah, i didn't have a clue. still, it took in me like water to a sponge.

during those first few days sitting in bed, rather than on a cushion at my altar, my body was finally able to relax. i had no idea how much unconscious energy i was spending trying to keep physical pain at bay. twenty years i've sat on this cushion! sure, at times when the pain was acute, i've worked with other methods. but for the most part, i just accepted the dull, pervasive ouch as part of the practice. those first days of praying with props opened pathways i didn't know i had. energy flowed through me with far more ease, my breath became more expansive and my entire being settled in to this radical notion called comfort. i was comfortable! holy cow! who knew? suffice it to say, i've prayed from bed every day since.

perhaps several of my zen peeps, or other practitioners who highly value form, are appalled by this. practicing from bed? ridiculous. disrespectful. downright lazy. well, sorry! not gonna change. i've tasted too much of god from this bed to go back now. and i'm pretty sure that god (who isn't really a person anyway, folks) doesn't give a schnit. pray where you like! pray from bed, from the loo, in the shower, on the road, at trader joe's, at the ATM, with the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker...it doesn't matter! all god wants is for you to SHOW UP. that's it. stop what you're doing, even for ten seconds, and show up to the miracle that is all around you. that is you.

these weeks of feeling supported by the divine were a gift. they let me know i'm on the right track. i reached out for god and god met me. at one point, on an evening walk, i even had the thought, "whoa, i think i'm falling in love with god!" (i told you i'm crazy.) "this must be what the mystics and saints kept yammering on about...oh god, my beloved! and all that..." not to worry, i'll give this god-crush thing it's own post, but in the meantime, i can tell you that it didn't last. how could it? falling in love with a human is tricky enough!

not long after that hike, i began (unknowingly) to make my way into the desert. i still showed up to the practice, but not much was happening. there was somehow less juice, less movement. the time in prayer had flattened, grown static, dried up. like i said, the desert. it's not that i felt abandoned by god - there was no dramatic sand crawl toward the mirage of a bud light cabana, no crazed attempt to attack and tap a cactus...it was just, bleh.

any quick switch from the rainforest to the desert is bound to suck. but i wasn't surprised. prayer life is like anything else - it cycles. there are fat times and lean times, uppers and downers, sugar and salt. this was just the salt. i felt blessed to be given 4 weeks of sweetness out of the gate - straight up desert would have been hard to swallow - so i mostly just settled in and waited. in fact, i'm still waiting. sort of. i've discovered a tributary and a nice patch of shade. i think i'm learning how to make a home in this vast wasteland. but that's the thing - it's NOT a wasteland. as my pastor and friend john pointed out, the desert is actually teeming with life! all we have to do is look closely. which is part of what this year is about: looking closely.

...and now, since my eyes are starting to cross from looking closely at the screen, i'll pause and take this up on the morrow. stay tuned for high desert cocktail recipes and top tips for every-orifice sand removal...



welcome to initiation by fire...or by sand! thanks for sharing this picturesque vision of you and god, hand in hand on your journey. touching and inspiring and daunting all together...
Love, Lily

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