The past two mornings I’m fairly sure God spoke to me.
I haven’t known how to start this piece. I mean, you can’t just start something by writing “God spoke to me” and then expect anyone except Jesus Freaks will keep reading, Not that there’s anything wrong with Jesus Freaks. Outward displays of religious ferocity make me itch.
Believe me, I know. It’s ridiculous. But, also, I know that it’s true.
Now I don’t mean like how God spoke to St. Teresa of Avila in mystical vaguely hallucinogenic appearances, or trance-like prayer. Or how God spoke to that doctor who had a stroke and became one with the trees and doesn’t need to meditate because, as she told Oprah, her life now is a constant om shanti shanti now that she has literally experienced Oneness. Or even in the way I thought God showed up in the tiger that spoke to me in the whorls of the wood of the apartment off Warren Street in Brooklyn when I’d taken one too many tabs of Ecstasy, impatient for the carnival ride to start because there was this boy, and then in the explosion of high in my brain, the tiger became the whisper of the boy with feline eyes, whispered in my ear (even though he was leaning against the stove at the far side of the room) and I woke up the next morning in bed with him and a blinding headache and an acute thirst for orange juice and then remembered I had a serious boyfriend I was supposed to be meeting soon who I thought I wanted to marry, but now, looking back, I’m glad I didn’t.
Now, maybe all of that was God. How should I know. I’m not even sure I believe in God myself. But he/she/it has now spoken to me three times in my life, in actual sentences, so I’m just going to, for the moment, suspend my disbelief and go with it.
The first time was about 8 years ago at a Vippassana 10 day silent meditation course in Jessup (the most unlikely place for Buddhist meditators) Georgia, where you had to pass trailers with confederate flags posted on the gravel driveway before the road led to the retreat center. Cutting to the chase, because I’ve written about this before, I was a miserable mess, had lost my voice, signed up because I didn’t have to pay anything, drove 9 hours and fought with the voices in my head for 7 days until, on the 8th day, during a 3 hour sit, my own internal chatter split in two and one side was asking questions in my voice and the other side had borrowed my voice but was answering those questions in full sentences that I would not know how to say. It was a life changing experience and I’ll leave it at that. I believed it because it happened.
So to this week, where the 2nd and 3rd time happened. I can’t really call it a full conversation. I wish I could have picked God’s brain a little bit longer, but she/it/he only had time for a few sentences before checking out to, I’m sure, go talk to Malala or Greta or someone more worthy.
In October, my father died, I got sick with bronchitis and lost my voice. My grief counselor suggested I get back to meditating (as I’d bailed on it since having Huck). I signed up to learn Transcendental Meditation. Which meant, I met with this lovely young woman in her brand-newly built house in East Nashville, holding back the internal eye-roll when she told me that she’d recently moved here from LA (of course she had), for three days to learn the technique. On the first day, she told me my mantra. Actually, she whispered it to me. I had thought, well, hell, if I’m throwing a few hundred dollars away for a word (a word, incidentally, my friend Beth told me I could make up myself and save the money) I may as well try it because at that point, I was desperate for anything to help loosen the muscles around my neck that gripped so tight I couldn’t breathe. Hearing that combination of vowels and consonants felt like, well, home. Maybe I needed it to feel like something powerful, so I heard it that way. Maybe having spent money, my subconscious did some spiritual heavy lifting and allowed the hearing of the word to land in the pit of my yearning soul. But it did. It felt like a life raft. And I got teary. And I whispered it back until I understood that it was an ‘r’ not an ‘l’ and an ‘n’ not an ‘m’ and then I whispered it and then just mouthed it and finally let it slip back inside my head on the rhythm of my breath. For 20 minutes I was lost in a good way.
I did that twice a day every day for about 2 months. I rarely felt even close to nirvana. But I did feel calmer. I never dropped into what David Lynch calls “bliss”. But I trusted that it was probably a good thing, this practice, and eventually my voice did came back.
But life started to come back too and I let go of the practice one day, then the next and then I’d just stopped.
I went on a long tour, feeling like things were good, things were back together, and only allowed the grief a brief visit here and there. Planes, trains, automobiles, hotels and suitcase changes and then home feeling like I’d abandoned something between London and Los Angeles and needed solid ground and a few weeks in my own bed.
But no sooner had I gotten home, then a big tornado hit my town while I slept and threw scheduling and normalcy aside as my whole community leapt into the chaos. I’m good at chaos, if I can brag a bit. Although I did have a shrink once tell me, when I told him proudly that I had a high threshold for pain, “That’s not really a good thing, Amy.” I got busy, trying to help but really making my own chaos in my churning head, creating projects, spinning plates, organizing, distracting. I felt alive. I felt crazy. I felt like I needed a bottle of red wine. I went to a meeting of fellow ex-drinkers and talked about the swirl going on and one woman who knows me said “Sounds like you’re careening toward a relapse.”
And then the virus that had been just a creek in a faraway land overflowed and flooded and became the protagonist in the world’s story and we all stood still. My mother cancelled her flight to Nashville, my shows were cancelled, everybody’s life was basically cancelled and the president was patting himself on the back, asleep at the wheel. Nobody was in charge. And we all shut down. Shut inside. “Sheltered in place.” And I decided, maybe this would be a good time to start meditating.
Three days ago, I started meditating again. I made the time. It wasn’t easy. Each minute was a painful tug of war in my head. But then, yesterday was different. I sat in my usual place, set my timer to 20 minutes and closed my eyes. I let the mantra come back to me and just as soon as I’d relax, I’d lose it, back to making lists of things to do, things to write. I would claw my way back to the mantra, but it was an impossible see-saw. So I traded the mantra for Metta: “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful. May I be free.” Then, “May Huck be happy. May Huck be well. May Huck be safe. May Huck be peaceful. May Huck be free.” Knowing the next step was choosing someone who brings conflict to me, I found someone easily and held her in my mind while repeating these phrases and my throat closed up. I decided to add one more person, so I added President Trump in there and Metta’d the shit out of him. Then I choose a stranger, the woman at CVS who’s always there, and after her, I thought of the trees, the plants, the rivers, the earth and all the people and animals in it. The lights behind my eyes started dancing, which sometimes happens when my eyes are closed and a bright yellowish white light, a kind of strange star, started pulsing. This happens and it’s usually when I feel like, or I pretend that, God shows up. Usually, though, God is just me calling that light God and asking that light to stick around with me. I make it up in my head and it comforts me, as any prayer does. Do I believe the prayer is heard by anything? Not really. But I do it anyway, because it does calm me. The light was dancing and throbbing faceless, then a voice. Mine, but not mine. And it said to me this:
Love like your life depends on it
From there, images and memories spilled out. Snow day. Mr. Albright taking all of us when we were in 9thgrade to the golf course hills, covered in snow, with our silver saucers. Nobody was there, it was evening and we sledded for hours, laughing and free. Dad driving us up the icy hill to the cabin in winter when he lost control and we began slipping back, down the hill dangerously toward the lake, saying “Bobbie, I’ve lost control” and for decades now we’ve been telling this story and laughing together and repeating it over and over.
Love like your life depends on it
Then it faded, the voice and the light and the dancing star, and I caught myself scrolling through lists wanting the star to come back, like a mushroom trip when the carnival ride starts to slow down and you realize the morning light is coming up and the beautiful and terrifying night is over.
Yesterday, right after I woke, I sat for 20 minutes, still in bed, my back propped up. I could hear Jamey playing with Huck in the living room. I put the timer on with some river sounds to cover the laughing. I started with the mantra again. And then soon, the light and the star and the dancing. Then the voice:
The people who are supposed to be in charge are not. You are on your own. But I am with you.
And then my mind danced to the trees that line our backyard, tall bending Cyprus trees and the blossoming pear tree with it’s tiny white petals like snow and the redbud cherry and the now bare magnolia. And it saw the rivers and saw the streams and the ocean waves. And they all spoke to each other and then to me to let me know they are in a connected conversation with each other, the sickness came from the earth, dug up, puked up, actually, to throw all of us humans off, to make us stop. Just for a bit. To take back the planet. To reset. The trees, especially. They were in charge. And they told me that, to just stay inside. To let them handle it. They apologized for having death be a part of the story but they said death is always a part of the story and that we are the only ones who refuse to celebrate that. Then, God said, “This may get worse before it gets better and there will be losses, but I’ve got this.”
This is true. I swear it. By every Joni Mitchell record on vinyl I own.
So today, I sat perfectly, in my regular spot, lit the candle, set the timer, and thought, “Ok, bring it on, God.”
No voice. No dancing light. I couldn’t hold the mantra. I think I’d forgotten it. Instead I realized that, despite my husband’s grocery trip the other day to stock us full of food, he hadn’t bought Andouille and I needed Andouille to make Gumbo, which I hadn’t planned on making but I knew I should because I make a good Gumbo, even though I was born in Baltimore and my mother was a kind of Hamburger Helper mother. And just as I was realizing I’d also need okra and I’m pretty sure my grocery store doesn’t carry okra and then remembered I learned to cook Gumbo because we had a bumper crop of okra this past summer and I didn’t want them to go to waste and so I realized to make Gumbo I’d have to buy it frozen…
Bzzzzz. 20 minutes was over. God didn’t talk to me today. Pretty sure he’s moved on now to someone else who needs them/her/him/it/all of the above. But it was nice while it lasted.