B is for Body

According to Buddhist teachings, everything is impermanent, including our bodies. Our bodies are always changing. They are growing and decaying, living and dying all the time. Meditations on the body raise awareness of how this is happening right now, directly, in our own individual bodies.

I’ve done body meditations. I’ve imagined what my muscles look like when the skin is pulled back. I’ve pictured my lower intestines and bone marrow and phlegm. I’ve thought about how this body will age and decay. It creeps me out.

My discomfort stems from my own discomfort with my body. I can’t quite wrap my head around how my own body will continue to age and eventually stop working. The discomfort (read: sheer panic) of this reality is the reason to do the meditation in the first place, of course.

Cemeteries provide the same experience for meditation. On my cemetery walks, I wondered about those who lay beneath the ground. When they were still alive, did they also feel a similar discomfort, a similar panic at the thought of the body ceasing to contain life? Death came for them, as it will come for all of us.

I am still not particularly comfortable thinking about death. I suspect few of us are. At the very least, the cemetery walks raised my own awareness of my discomfort. They provided an invitation to continued contemplation. At this point, that contemplation centers on what do I want to do with the rest of my life before death comes?

I don’t have a good answer yet. Exploring the question is okay for now. It also helps me appreciate life right now, in this moment. I am alive, writing to you, maybe bumming you out but also maybe letting you know I’m thinking about these issues and maybe you are, too.

A is for Arrival

During the month of April, I’ll be blogging as part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each day of April (minus Sundays) will bring you one post related to a corresponding letter of the alphabet. This year I’m presenting reflections on the year I spent walking cemeteries.  I’ll also talk about how those walks inspired my writing. There will also be pictures. Lots of ’em. So many that I was almost tempted to simply post pics from cemeteries with no text, but that seemed contrary to the spirit of the challenge. Anyway, here we go!

A is for Arrival

I started my year of cemetery walks in the fall of 2013. I had been newly tenured the previous January. I had slogged through the senoritis of spring semester and started my 15-month sabbatical in June. I had achieved professional success. I had climbed the academic ladder, proven my worth, gained complete (for the most part) career stability.

And the rest of life was pretty good, too. I had (and still have) a loving and supportive spouse, two healthy & happy children, a house with an actual picket fence, health insurance. All the things. I had arrived.

And yet I was at loose ends. Was this what I wanted to do with my life? Was this where I wanted to be? I had arrived at a pinnacle of professional and personal success…yet what lay beyond the horizon? What was around the bend in the road? Barring tragedy and loss, was there even going to be another bend in the road?

When I was younger, the question was, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Now at 38, question became, “What else do I want to do before I die?”

A quick caveat: This isn’t going to be the kind of blog where a white woman whines about her perfect life. At least I hope not. I recognize my privilege, the advantages I’ve been given because of the color of my skin, because of my straightness, because of when and where I was born. A big part of my cemetery walks involved recognizing those advantages. Those walks were also about listening, trying to discern not only where I’d come from, but where I was going.

So I’d arrived, not at the end of a journey, as expected, but at the start of a new one.

Plans for April Blogging Challenge

I’ve been blogging a lot at work, trying to connect with our community. It’s been fun, although I realize I’ve been neglecting my own blog. Fortunately, April is right around the corner and with it the A to Z blogging challenge. I’ll be blogging the entire month of April on one half of my blog theme.

As you know, the blog is called Cemeteries and Pajamas, because I like visiting cemeteries and I write in my pajamas. I have a ton of cemetery pictures from various walks over the past few years. Whenever I look at them, I imagine some kind of art exhibit in connection with a book launch – a series of cemetery photos taken on my super high tech cell phone camera – and the book that was inspired by said photos.

Well, it’s a nice dream. In the meantime, I’m opting for an online show. For 26 days in April, I’ll post a picture from a cemetery walk and include a few words about why I found that particular place or photo inspiring. I hope to provide an inspiring, contemplative online space for readers.

See you in April! Hopefully even before!