Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

For Philip, Who Was Weird

If you're a human being walking the earth, you're weird, you're strange, you're psychologically challenged.
Philip Seymour Hoffman

In the end it's just your voice
your own weird bright lone song
blossoming from the beautiful dark
that lives in your head.
You hide in that dark
though your beating heart lies exposed;
you've pried yourself open for the world to see
but nobody sees.

I know the virtue in hiding.
Evening comes and I tread suburban streets
by my weird lone strange self
looking in lighted houses and wondering
how can ordinary people seem so magically out of reach
backlit in their perfect frames
sharing a meal, arguing, embracing
or simply sitting quietly
staring at something just out of my view?

Maybe in your own way you did the same
eavesdropped on ordinary human life
took it in then decided it wasn't for you
that your existence would not be framed
in a precise square of light that signified normal.
You lived outside that frame until you couldn't
write yourself into the story anymore
then left via the narrow path of a needle.
Strange, such a tiny place for a human being
to disappear into
that single point of reference in a sea of madness.

I know the virtue in coming undone.
The hectic symphony of rhetoric and prose
every role you play becomes a cage that won't open
until you've left a part of yourself in there
so many parts and pieces taken, chewed, spat out
and the chorus cries for more.
Sometimes the sanest thing to do is embrace insanity.

In the end I am compelled to say of you
that you were weird
and that is the bravest thing a person can be.
I am not there and no one is there to say these things
or try to change the hand you've dealt yourself;
it's just you coiling down to infinity
singing the song that only you know
your weird lone voice ragged and ecstatic
the voice of enlightenment or madness
which are one and the same, you see at last.

KB 7/8/2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Love! Now! This!

If Jesus Christ came back today, he would probably say something like


It doesn't have to be Jesus. This crowing, laughing loon could be the Buddha, he could be Dr. King, he could be Rumi. The message is the same: Love. Create. Be good. Don't judge. It's easy to write this guy off as just another maniac--we do that every day, every time we pass by a street dweller holding up a sign that says any variation of the word "Help." We do it every time we come into contact with a person whose hygiene, social status, mental acuity or personal opinion differs from our own.

Which leads to the question--Why do we, as a culture, automatically assume someone like this is "crazy?" He's not wearing enough clothing and he is not speaking below a decibel that allows us to walk on by and pretend we haven't heard. He doesn't modify his behavior to fit inside the bounds of our culture's "acceptable" limits. Therefore, what he has to say is meaningless. (Who's crazy now?)

Here's a thought: maybe crazy is a good thing. Maybe it's a wholly unprecedented way of seeing/interpreting reality. Maybe it makes room for growth, for miracles. If you're crazy, you can't understand the impossible. You can't put limits on what this day, this present moment, might hold. It holds everything. It is Now. It is Perfect. And it is everything.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Walking Meditation

Batshit brain stuck in a spin again. Always trying to figure things out. Always analyzing. Turning inward. Blaming myself when things don't go right. Civil wars, forest fires, tornadoes: my fault. I didn't do what I could to help.

The dog takes me for a walk tonight through warm darkening streets. Doves chuffing softly in the dusk. An old man treading the muddy shoulder of the road. Long, flowing grey hair, bare feet, sandals in hand. He squints a sideways smile at me and I look down, to his mud-painted toes. Beautiful. Serene.

For a moment the world seems flooded with compassion. The sky is pinkening overhead, deepening to rose and then red, navy, turquoise. I feel stones through my thin soles. The dog pulls gently at his leash, his nose poised delicately over a dead squirrel. Its soft beige fur somehow unruffled, eyes half-open like the Buddha, a study in stillness. Contemplation.

It's hard to turn my brain off. And I know it will never be off till I can be like that squirrel, eyes turned inward yet resting outward, nothing in my head, my outsides as still as my insides. It won't happen until I am ready, until I can let go of the idea that I am responsible for everything, that I am to blame. Until I can stop analyzing, self-hating, turning things over and over in my mind. Put off the narcissism in favor of compassion.

This will happen slowly. Slowly as that old man padding along, feeling stone and softness alike beneath his feet, saying Yes to the night sky, Yes to the road, Yes to people passing by.

I try it. With my next breath, I inhale No and exhale Yes. No to the hamster-mind scrambling in its endless wheel, Yes to the Buddha-mind allowing all to flow through. A thought: maybe I don't have to die in order to be still. Maybe I just have to stop caring so much. It's alright to stop caring. It's alright to say, "I can't," and leave it at that.

Dog, deciding the squirrel is not after all very interesting, moves on, and I go with him into the night, toward home and the everyday/everynight that is life. One moment at a time.

KB© 5/29/2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ode to Pink: or, How I Became Female

You could say childhood was sort of a weird time for me, and that would be a nice way of putting things. I was a sexist brat by the time I could talk. I hated all things girly: dresses, dolls, lace, etiquette classes, any sort of personal hygiene, and especially the color pink. My first full sentence was, "When I grow up I'm gonna grow nuts and be a boy." This is not fiction (I did say times were weird).

I loved matchbox cars, model horses, airplanes, trucks, and firemen (because I wanted to be one). It got worse as I got older: I resented the hell out of my mother when she forced me into dresses for church or school; clad in frills and shoulder pads and those horrible things called "pumps" that made me sound like a Clydesdale clop-clopping down the hallway, I felt like a freak. A horse in a ball gown. 

The color pink stood for everything that had gone wrong with my world--namely, not being born a boy. It's like I had unconsciously decided, at some point, that pink represented the feminine and being female was equivalent with weakness. And I gave boyhood my best shot: climbing trees, beating up kids on the playground, taking my shirt off so I could hang out bare-chested like the boys who played street ball in my neighborhood, declaring my allegiance to the color blue. But I still couldn't make myself into a boy and thus, pink offended me wherever I saw it. Looking at a bottle of Pepto Bismol invariably made me queasy, and in kindergarten I once told a little schoolmate, in all truthfulness, that her Pepto-hued dress made me want to vomit. She burst out crying and I found myself in time-out, mystified that telling the truth had gotten me into trouble. 

The shift was bound to happen eventually. I was running away from something, and the something was my own body with its breasts and vagina and soft round hips; my own female brain with its desires and thoughts and passionate, freakish chemistry. I hid it all under baggy sweats and flannel shirts and the pretense that I had no feelings and thus no moods. But eventually it all burst at the seams, and in my ripe old mid-30's I finally "bloomed" and stopped trying to be a male. Other people could tell I'd bloomed because a sudden obsession with tulle and frills replaced my beer-swilling, 4WD-wielding, belch-contest-winning persona. Not that I stopped swilling beer or driving off-road. Or belching. But now I was doing all those things in a tutu, a pink one no less, and for a tomboy in her 30's that is the sign of a sea-change. It also may be a sign of madness, but I prefer to think of it as a healthy shift from identifying with (redneck) men to accepting--no, embracing--my female-ness. I was sort of like an amphibian that changes its sex from male to female just because, well, it was time.

Pink was really at the bottom of the whole thing. I fell in love with pink once I admitted to myself that constantly wearing red was just not cutting it for me. It was pink I hungered for, even as I picked red t-shirts and sweats and tennis shoes, and eventually a red car to accessorize my newfound womanly nature. Red was good to me, but it only symbolized the beginning of a love affair with pink. Raspberry, mauve, shell, magenta; the blush of sunrise; the fuschia violence of a bruise; the roseate, ravished pink of sex. The firm pink flesh of salmon, the neon of nail polish, the pink sparks of brilliance leaping off the ocean at sunset: I craved it all. It was like my brain, so long denied, suddenly went into florid hyperdrive. I dyed my hair pink. I wore pink girlie tank tops with my pink tutu. Bought shoes with neon pink laces, wore pink scarves, dressed my dog in pink. 

Recently I found this rosy factoid on the internet about magenta-philes (yes, I googled Color Psychology, don't act all surprised): With a vivid imagination and creative ability, you are a non-conformist who sees life from a different point of view. Different from what, it doesn't say. I'm assuming "different" from the norm, whatever that is. Different from before, when I hated my female self and tried in every possible way to negate it. Different from a culture that still denounces the sacred feminine. Different from the sad fact that many women, their own self-image and self-worth torn apart by a misogynistic society, will then tear one another apart in competition. 

It doesn't have to be that way. I don't have to reflect that culture, that societal norm, anymore by hiding who and what I am: a weird, emotional, nutty, sensitive, loud-mouthed maker of mistakes and lover of the femme. A pink-addicted makeup-wearing tutu-clad tomboy, a dreamer, the architect of my own future. I still love cars, horses, airplanes, trucks and firemen (because I want to bed one). I don't have to pick one way to be: I am big enough to be them all. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014


The last time I cried myself to sleep I was a fragile mess, a mental case, and it seems like years ago but it can't have been that long. I tend to complain and weep a lot when there's not much wrong, but then clam up and remain dry-eyed when things are truly falling apart. A peregrine, I feel best when on the move and far away from the familiar. Novelty distracts and entertains me, keeps me from missing what I can't have, and ensures that my tendency to look for greener grass remains in check.

But now all I want to do is go home--to my familiar childhood home, which is being devoured by a 100,000-acre wildfire. The forest I used to smell at night, whose trees spoke to me in the wind, is dying. Ash and smoke blanket my mother's house, dirtying her newly washed windows and blackening the air she breathes. She's not in danger, not really, but I can't tell that to my overanxious brain. Somehow I feel threatened, though I am thousands of miles away and the fire can't touch me. It can touch my life; it can do damage, no matter if that is real or imagined. There is something violent about it, a blind and unconscious violence that could take away everything I love. My mother talked today about dying, about how all things die--trees, animals, and eventually herself--and her voice was so far away, so muffled and distant, and panic strangled me so that I couldn't reply.

And suddenly I find myself aching for what I can't have. For the touch of my horse's nose against my face. For the sharp briny scent of the air, the half-dark at midnight, the shush of birch trees talking at dusk. I miss the mountains. I miss living in the lower half of the food chain, bears and wolves above me; and above them, earthquakes and avalanches and wildfires. I miss the feeling of being a tiny cog in a giant wheel that overwhelms me with its deadly beauty.

My place on the wheel tonight is so obscure, so far off-center, and here on the outer rim I spin so slowly, like Pluto--the sun a distant memory. Crying myself to sleep seems childish and surreal, because after all nothing is wrong and no one I love is dying, and yet everything is wrong and no one I love is close enough. What is close enough? I would like to pile my loved ones into my bed with me and fall asleep hearing them breathe, feeling their limbs entangled with mine, knowing we would wake in the morning and all would be well. There would be birdsong in the trees and the light would already be full, having crept into our closed eyelids well before we ever thought of coming awake.

KB ©5/25/14

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


My new friend is waiting for me when I get off work. She's sitting on the steps in front of my building, in the windy dark, because it is late and she doesn't have anywhere to go. Or rather, she has a home to go to but it doesn't feel like home to her. I know she is my new friend because when we met earlier, when we introduced ourselves and promptly forgot one anothers' names, I could see in her eyes the person I sometimes see in the mirror. I know why she doesn't feel at home where she lives, and that she doesn't even feel at home in her own skin. I know that the planet is too small for her sometimes, and that on nights like this, there is nowhere to go because she doesn't belong anywhere.

You're still here, I say, strangely glad to see this stranger. She jumps up with a grin and says, Let's go get a drink. I am instantly drawn to that grin. The cautious part of me is slapped down and I agree that yes, we should go get a drink, because I want to hear her story. I know it already, deep down, but I want to hear it and she needs to tell it.

We belly up to the bar and she begins sucking down alcohol like it's oxygen and she's at the top of Mount Everest. She tells me she's not gay, that I don't have to worry about that, and I laugh; that is the least of my worries today. She tells me she's just having a few last drinks because tomorrow everything will change. Tomorrow she starts therapy and rehab and a litany of medications. I nod, waiting for the revelation, and she pauses for breath and looks at me with the deep pools of her eyes. I see pain there, and unaccountable joy, and fierce unrelenting love. And here it comes: she tells me she has been recently diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. And then she waits for me to get up and leave.

I don't leave. I listen to her story. How her child has been taken from her, how her family has given up on her and friends have walked out, because they're exhausted. Because she's crazy and an alcoholic and a terrible parent. Because it's always the same thing with her: the crushing depression that they can't pull her out of, the endless emptiness she's always trying to fill with drugs, sex, alcohol, friendships, love. She tells me she loves the guys that hate her and hates the guys that love her. I nod, and nod, and nod.

You don't have to be mentally ill to fail at life, but it helps. You don't have to have a "diagnosis" to feel like a loser, but you know what's guaranteed to make you feel like a loser? A doctor telling you that you are. That you will be sick for life; that you must give up your tweenish idea of normal and submit to a list of medication, therapy, decent bedtimes and a ban on all the things that used to make you feel right with the world. The things you've lost--the losses that make you a loser--are legion. Late nights talking over wine with friends. The ability to travel without dragging along a bag of medication. The wild, creative, right-brained moments that leave you breathless with your own brilliance. The friends who are too tired to deal with you. The family who tells you to "snap out of it." Your spouse. Your children. Your self.

If you let it, the sickness will take everything from you. If you agree to be sick, if you identify with the Diagnosis, you lose. The survivors are the ones who fight back, the ones who refuse to "be" sick. It's society that's sick--a social order that treats mental illness like the Plague. I tell her this: You do what you can and leave the rest. You can't make people love you. You can't make them understand. But you can salvage yourself from the wreckage, you can learn that the waves threatening to drown you are not going to last forever, that nothing lasts forever. In between those waves is reconciliation, forgiveness, space for understanding and compassion. The right people will love you and listen to you and bear you up, they will encourage you to be your best self. The people who don't? They're not the right people. Let them go.

She's drunk by now but still listening. I offer her a ride home but I know she will refuse. She can't go there; she can't be alone with herself right now. I have to leave her at the bar and trust she will be alright; that she will make it home, eventually, whether it's tonight or some other night. I hug her tight and leave the bar and send her love all the way back to my own home-that-is-not-home, in my own skin that is not mine, with my own heart blazing out all its courage and hope and sadness and love. I tell myself I am alright, because for tonight I am, and the Diagnosis can go fuck itself because I have friends to make and people to love and tomorrow to dream about. I send my new friend a message: Thank you for reaching out to me. You will be alright.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Vipassana Day 4

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”                
--Pema Chodron

She says:
close your eyes and picture an orange

This is meant to focus the mind
slow down the hamster wheel that is my brain
reduce the chattering to a whisper.

But there behind the dark of my eyelids
and the quiet rush of my breath
my orange glows like a harvest moon.
It is the orange of a monk's robe
it is the bounding recoil of a rubber ball
the sweet freeze of sherbet on the tongue.

Eyes closed, I am peeling the orange
I am feeling its skin tear softly
tasting its sudden sharp juice: I have never
seen an orange so beautiful
or brought such a lovely color to my lips
the color of prayer
the color of desire
the color of a fist raised in celebration.

But this is not why I am here
this fierce joy that translates as pain
stinging fresh and hot against my eyelids
nor the sudden vision of a face I've tried to forget
how he smiled with his whole being
and how I lit up for that, my heart a harvest moon--
No, I am here to let go
I am here to breathe
I am here to be here.

So let it be.
Look back into the eyes of the dark
and let the colors go
give up the fruit with its violent goodness
give up my love
hunger fear pain joy need want belief
all the names I call myself
and when they are gone there is only
breath and a beating heart
so big it strains my ribs.

She says
now let the orange go
and I open my hand and it goes.

KB ©5/3/2014