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Turning of the Tides: Part Two in a Series on Meditation after Marriage & Motherhood

(Click here for the first post in this series.)

As the ferry pulled out of the harbor, the black sedan icon on my GPS left the roadmap and drifted out into the solid blue of the bay.  I watched with a grin, delighted by the cluelessness of the device’s tiny brain.  Then I stepped out of the car to watch the approach to Swan’s Island, a tiny outpost in the Maine Atlantic not far from Mt. Desert Island.  The cool August air calmed my nausea; at eleven weeks into my first pregnancy, it was a near constant presence.

This trip to Maine was a gift. A childhood friend, reading on Facebook that I was looking for a place to get away to in New England, had offered to allow Ben and me to stay in her parents’ cottage for a week.  However, the unpredictability of Ben’s work at the time (freelance video editing) had at the last minute turned our couples’ retreat into a solo adventure.  So it was that after my youngest sister’s wedding in Vermont, Ben drove back to Brooklyn with my parents, and I took our car to Maine. It was a pivotal time; the last week  before I returned to a new year of teaching, and the last week of the first trimester. I told myself dramatically that it was probably the last time I'd get to have a week completely by myself for at least ten years. 

I arrived at the cottage well after dark. I woke the next morning to sit in the back yard overlooking Ghost Hollow, one of many tiny coves on the island. The quiet reverberated in my ears as I looked through the trees to the opposite shore, squinting to record the full spectrum of greens crowded into one small patch of my field of vision.  I mixed primary colors mentally, trying to deduce the composition of blues, yellows and earth tones in the heavy spruce boughs in the foreground, the milky green tint of lichen on the tree’s trunk, the glowing soft green of the water and the pale glassy shimmer of reflected grass near the shore.  

On the second morning I revived my morning meditation practice with some sheepishness, having dropped it in the difficult early weeks of pregnancy, and after a few mornings of fidgety sits, there was a shift in gears. I was absorbed again, and this sheepishness was suddenly, wondrously irrelevant. It was like Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche describes in The Myth of Freedom. In committing to practice, “Everybody jumps into a gigantic cauldron. It does not matter how or when you jump into it, but sooner or later you must. The water is boiling, the fire is kept going. You become part of a huge stew.”

He goes on to explain that it’s not your job to assert your own special individuality and exceptionalness in this process. It’s your job to let yourself be boiled up, let the colors of your individual self bleed out into the soup. 

Being boiled: how apt this metaphor was for the physiological changes of pregnancy.  Almost as soon as I realized I was pregnant, the blurring of the lines of my familiar self began.  My short term memory was shot. At work I was in the midst of a heavily intellectual task, writing a curriculum guide. No sooner would I finish a sentence than it would vanish from my mind’s desktop. Rereading my writing at the end of the day, I had the eerie sense that I was working with a ghostwriter. And yet, the work was still good. It was just that I couldn’t hold everything in my mind at once anymore. One night a few years before, my coteacher in a teacher training class had given me a lovely compliment after class: “I’m grateful for your ability to synthesize lots of information.” I hadn’t known this was something I did well, and was touched by the statement.  Now as I sat each morning on Swan’s Island, I saw this observation in new light.  Yes, shaping information into a whole was something I did well. But it was also a habit that at times allowed me to believe I could use my analytical abilities to get to the bottom of all things.  The critical voice had a way of pushing everything else in my mind to the side, eventually leading me into a place where things felt bloodless and futile. 

Pregnancy was helping me out with that tendency; I couldn’t concentrate long enough to keep it up. The waves of hormones knocked me off my feet at every turn, smashing my nose into the dirt and forcing a minute to minute awareness of my body. But unlike the ecstatic experience of mind-body attunement some women describe in pregnancy, I was in touch with my body but not my emotions. A gradual flattening and muting had built up over those eleven weeks.  Sitting on the deck overlooking the cove on the fourth day of my stay, I noticed a sensation that could best be described as an emotional transfusion. The whole circulatory system started up again.  I was surprised: I hadn’t noticed it stopping or slowing. Meditating wasn’t a choice for me, I realized: it was a necessity.  

I spent the rest of my time on Swan’s Island like Frederick the field mouse in Leo Lionni’s classic storybook, gathering images of old growth forest and moss covered roots, tidal mud flats and sea birds for the grey winter days of New York. By the time my GPS drove its tiny imaginary car back over the depths of the harbor, I had a full store.




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