I don’t remember when I began to sit. For a restless woman, sitting is always a challenge, as it has always been a challenge for me: the big world looms! All kinds of enticements and obligations call! And yet I believe the ten minutes I sit every morning literally save my life.
It’s cold and dark in the early morning here in Santa Fe, although as January progresses, there is a little more light, a pink in the eastern sky before sunrise. A few birds swoop and peep. The twigs on my little apple tree in my yard have fuzzy tips, way too soon; they will certainly be nipped by a late frost. And the snow is deep, soft and pure.
I sit in front of the low alter where, years ago, I arranged the two icons that have been with me since my father gave them to me years ago. I believe he found them in a Boston junk shop. These two wooden ladies, queens perhaps, are without provenance; they may be copies or they may be actual antiques from three hundred years ago, perhaps images of donors placed beside an alter in a church in France. Serene in their silence, they ask nothing of me; they are absorbed in contemplation. One of them still shows traces of the gold paint my oldest son sprayed as a Christmas decoration one winter day in New York.
The ladies alone are not enough for me. They belong to an older world of which I am only peripherally a part. I added a brightly-painted Yei, bought in a pueblo gift shop. These mysterious beings preside over ceremonies, disciplinarians and silent observers. We outsiders never really know what they represent—we are not told–, but their authority is clear. And I like this distinctly masculine presence as a counterbalance to the queens.
Just out of eyeshot, a deer dancer, also from a pueblo ceremonial, leans down over his sticks. He wears a dear skln on his head, and the two sticks represent the deer’s front feet. I will see his human counterpart at the winter dances that began earlier this month.
These four images center and remind me of the great silence and peace that descend when mind chatter and world chatter fall away.
Natalie Goldberg, an inspiring teacher and writer, reminds me that it is vital to sit for an even longer period when I am very busy. I am never busy, except with imagined tasks and agendas; my time is, remarkably, my own. I feel its weight and its preciousness descending as I light my candle and sit down cross-legged to begin to quiet my mind.