When I wake up, the house hums with silence. The air in my room is hot and still on this end-of-July morning. For the past several days we’ve been in the midst of an unprecedented heat wave, here in the Pacific Northwest.
It’s hard to sleep. Hard to do much of anything in this stifling heat.
Thrusting my reluctant feet into flip-flops, I shuffle to the bathroom. Still feeling the tug of sleep, blindly turning towards any hint of coolness, I brush my teeth and splash water on my face.
The bathroom is hot too-the temperature gauge on the wall reads in the high 80’s, and it’s only five-thirty. Breathe, I tell myself. Breathe. The air flowing into my lungs is slow, hot, turgid.
I turn on the shower, testing the water with my hand before climbing in. Steam fills my lungs, softens the pores of my skin, melts the stiffness out of my muscles, soothes my sleep-deprived mind into a soft burr.
By six, I’m dressed and sitting outside on my deck-the coolest place I can find right now. Eagles chirrrr in their roosting tree and seagulls scream as a flock of them drifts raggedly across the bay.
With a taper, I light a small votive candle in a stone candle-holder. Watch the flame flicker, flare, then settle into a steady, bright lick of gold. Taking a deep breath of briny air, I pray that my spirit may remain as unwavering and luminous as this candle flame today.
The chair I’m sitting in enfolds my body, supports and contains it. I close my eyes, and feel my breath flowing deep into my belly, flowing out again: inhale, exhale. That familiar spacious delight spreads through me. I’m home!
Ah, this is more like it. My spirit grows steady, bright.
I’ve meditated every day for so many years, my body knows this rhythm as intimately as breathing. Belly swelling, subsiding, with each breath. Mind clear, luminous-aahh.
And then, the flame sputters.
The things I have to do today blow through my head. A soft breeze, at first, which escalates into a hot, dry wind: write a blog post; edit the last sixty pages of that book; make a program outline; stop at the bank; check out portable air conditioners; call the accountant.
My breath is stuck somewhere between my throat and collarbone. My jaw aches. There’s a fiery little spot right between my shoulder-blades. My hands are stiff in my lap.
I can’t feel my nose.
Yawning loosens the muscles in my jaw. A wiggle of my back and (sigh!) the tension eases. Mind-chatter recedes to a murmur. Shake, shake, shake my hands until my fingers feel warm and loose. Shrug, shrug, shrug my shoulders all the way to my ears and back down again. Let my arms drop into my lap.
Ride my breath. All the way into my belly. Swim with it out into the morning air.
Let it be.
The center of my head is a round room with wide-open windows. The soowhish of the sea below. Whooooosh-whoosh of my pulse in my throat. Soles of my feet resting unevenly on the rough floor of the deck.
Cushion cradling my back, stir of cool air on my face. My hands soft and warm as new-baked bread.
Quail chitter in the bushes. Seaweedy rub of salt sea air. Taste of fennel toothpaste. Drumbeat of my heart thrumming, thrumming.
Sun glimmers across the treetops now. The world opens to the day.
My belly rises and falls with my sons’ breathing; their inchoate dreams flutter like bright ribbons through my mind. I taste someone’s nightmare, metallic and cold. Feel the fir cones in the dew-damp grass yearning for Fall.
A small wind trembles through the trees and my ribs and ears tingle; sap rises, sticky and slow, through my feet.
The rasp of a chainsaw bites through my bones. A cloud whispers by, empty of rain.
Somewhere in China, a boy splashes through a rice field. My shins shiver with the sharp green of new shoots.
The morning’s radiance opens and opens, embracing heat, sky, sea, birds, golden treetops. Me. Us. All.
Embracing the candle flame in its stone bed.
Welcoming this day.
(How about you? How are you handling this heat wave? Or, if you live someplace cool, how do you meet the opening day?)