disassembling the temple

 Nancy, Reflection  Comments Off on disassembling the temple
Aug 282012


Over the last ten days, I’ve been bringing more change to my home. I’m making it more my home. This is joyous and sad all at once, perhaps like all of life, when we really connect and open to it.

I have music again. A couple of months ago, I brought old stereo speakers alive, in my cabin up near Lassen National Park. Now, I’ve finally done it at home, and it’s about time. The story is kind of amusing…

While we were building our house, Nancy and I designed places for a flat screen TV and pre-wired, hidden stereo components all around the fireplace in the great room. In 2007, during construction, we had a prolonged conversation about the visible parts…especially the speakers. The TV has a recess in the wall, with a chase to a nearby cabinet where the electronics live, all nice and neat and clean. But good speakers have to stand out in the space, visible and audible, and we talked about it a lot. Finally, she agreed to simple black towers, from a design-oriented manufacturer so they looked good. I hunted on craigslist for months, and found a pair of beautiful Bowers & Wilkins tower speakers for a reasonable price that she liked. I drove to Napa to buy them, then put them into storage along with the appliances, the furniture, the bathtub, the rugs, the lighting fixtures, the toilets, and all of the other cubic yards of things going into our house.

A year later we finally moved in…and she didn’t want the stereo installed. She loved (and I did too) living in a page from Architectural Digest, a home that looked and felt like a design statement, without compromise. So I shelved my desire for music, and lived with an iPod player for four years. (Four fucking years. How much of myself did I abandon in this relationship?)

About ten days ago, I pulled the speakers and amp out of storage, wired them up to pre-installed connectors in the wall, installed the power amp in a hidden cabinet, connected the Apple TV, and Voilá, I have amazing computer-controlled sound. The house is different, my home is different. Roxy Music at high volume, Bach organ works, Van Morrison, opera, INXS, Grateful Dead, John Lennon, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Andrés Segovia, Morcheeba, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Tom Club and the soundtrack from Chicago.

It’s all ripping through my soul like a sonic cleansing.

I am loving this. My girlfriend watched me wire the bits up while she worked, and said she has rarely seen me so joyous and focused. It’s true, the installation of music into my home has been something I’ve longed for, for years. I cannot express the deep joy I feel as I turn the sound up, and open to the pleasure of good clean sound, exquisite performance and skill with voice and instrument. Hearing all my old friends, remembering the concerts. James Cotton, Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, 1983. Tommy Castro 1999. So awesome.

But there is a dark side, an ongoing pain that I know well. Any change to my home is Disassembling The Nancy Temple. It’s just the truth for those of us who grieve this kind of loss. Giving away her clothes, changing the arrangement of pots in the kitchen, moving artwork or furniture around, it’s all traumatic. The Way The House Was Arranged At The Time Of Her Death is somehow sacred. I boxed up her shoes and am taking them to a consignment store tomorrow. It helps to have a little momentum!

I have a new life that I am gently opening to. I must release her arrangement of the artwork and furniture, her preferences about speakers and stereo and TV. I get to reclaim myself. Dammit and Yay at the same time! Little by little, I am making my home truly mine. Morcheeba fills my sonic space tonight, a gift from my girlfriend, who is becoming a very significant relationship. The cats curl by my feet and sides, content with the changes.

Every change opens another little corner of my grief, which seems endless. Perhaps I am hunting my own pain. And…I long to be whole again, to have an open heart, that can love fully, commit and hold a long-term relationship. Perhaps I will never be completely whole again in this way. But I am sure my heart will be open again. I just have to disassemble the Nancy temple first.

 Posted by at 10:29 pm
Aug 162012


Early this summer, I wrote about the exquisite tension between time together with my girlfriend and time alone in solitude. I’ve learned some things. My life is getting a little easier. I so love our time together. It’s still hard to spend time alone. I still think of calling or texting her often…and I can finally say I enjoy my time alone, too.

I’m learning about layers of grief. At first, I grieved the simple loss of my partner and my love. More recently, I’ve been grieving what could have been, how Nancy and I were punching through our pattern of bickering, and finding loving connection with the help of a great couple’s counselor. It’s tragic, like fighting your way to reach what you long for, and just as you get there, the object of longing is gone. We were making wonderful progress in October, then her illness put her in the hospital, and she never returned. The loss of what-might-have-been is quite different from the loss of my soul mate.

So I’m still in it, spending time with others, spending time alone, and more is bubbling up. I notice that most of us who lose a spouse, either through divorce or death, tend to respond in one of two ways: we lose ourselves in companionship, or isolate completely. I have several divorced friends who spent months going through sex partners like grapes. I know others who completely cut themselves off, staying alone for weeks or months or years. Some still can’t grieve, seem like shadows of themselves. I did both extremes in the first couple of months, too much dating, too much time alone.

One of my favorite Rumi poems speaks to this.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.

Back and forth across the doorsill, going out and connecting and feeling love, going in alone and feeling who I am now. Now I seem to do both, consistently and easily, a few days social, a few days quiet. And who I am is…abandoned. Nancy just left, without a goodbye, without any connection or warmth toward me. Some resolution came in after she was gone, as her ghost danced in my life for weeks, but the hole in my heart came from her departure, and the way she departed. So I now feel abandonment, and realize this is a wound that goes way deep, perhaps to my birth. Now my grief is for myself.

It’s the door in, the yawning, gaping hole, the abyss inside that drives me to attach to others, to love, to the joy of touch and connection. Good to know. There is a whole area of psychology about this, attachment theory, and I’m doing some reading to help bring context to all I’m feeling.

So I continue to move back and forth, from union to separation and back again, letting abandonment unfold, softly and sweetly. The pain seems to be easing, a little at a time.

 Posted by at 8:23 am
Jul 262012


Meditation is the glue that’s held me together for years. I honestly don’t think I could have made it through the last year without it. But over the last few months, something new and wonderful is happening inside, because of what I’m learning and bringing into my practice. Talking with one of my co-workers at lunch today, I realized that I can articulate some of this change. I want to write this down and share it, just in case it helps nudge one of you, my friends, to develop or deepen your own meditation practice.

Last January, I attended a six-week class at Sukhasiddhi called “Extraordinary Samatha”, and this month, I’m in a follow-on class called “Extraordinary Vipassanā”. This one-two punch is helping me find gratitude in most of the moments of my life, helping me feel relaxed and cheerful and appreciative and kind most of the time. I cannot tell you how precious this is, but perhaps you can imagine it for yourself. I rarely feel anxiety or depression, and I’ve gotten much better, even skillful, at following my feelings, speaking plainly, being completely honest. I remember that, even a few years ago, my inner experience was an almost ceaseless stream of thought, with a liberal sprinkling of contempt, upset, criticism and anxiety.

That experience is dissolving. Seriously. It’s almost as though my inner process is slowing down, becoming more spacious. Now I usually notice when I’m having a thought or a feeling, before I act on it. When something comes at me that is unexpected or painful, I can often choose my response. It’s different than the way I used to “edit” myself, stop myself from saying something because I was afraid of what would happen. This is more like “hmm, I feel a little angry, I wonder why?”…and I ask myself the question, and even get some insight, before I say anything. At the same time, my thought processes can be just as quick as ever, so it’s not like my thinking is slowing down. And when I need to focus, my focus is just as good, just as sustainable as it always has been.

Wikipedia has a nice article on vipassanā, which also describes the relationship with samatha. These are two types of meditation: basically, samatha is a meditation for getting grounded, quieting the mind, and becoming present; vipassanā is an inquiry or insight meditation on our own internal process, our senses, how we perceive things, and how feelings and thoughts arise.

I’ve been doing samatha for about 15 years, as this is the kind of meditation taught at the Pathways Institute workshops and retreats I started attending and facilitating in 1996. Vipassanā is fairly new to me, as I’ve only had a little experience with it at Spirit Rock events.

I’m learning that there is a progression inside, from sensory data (sight, smell, touch, etc.), to perception (labeling what I sense), to a feeling and perhaps even an emotion…and all of this happens before I have a thought process. I’m sure there are some people reading this who will nod and smile, and others who wonder why this is even relevant. All I can tell you now is that it is relevant, that this awareness is what is helping me to be more spacious, more kind to everyone around me, more kind to myself. This unfolding is just beginning for me. Hopefully I can write again about it in the future, with more insight and deeper awareness. In the mean time, I’m more joyful and content. It’s just that simple.

Oddly, this learning has brought a whole new level of grief to light. I wonder what would have happened if Nancy had been able to share this with me, if she had taken on her own sitting meditation practice. For the truth is, she never did, even though I invited her many times. Perhaps the tragedy of her passing would have been averted. Perhaps she would have found more ability to love and be loved and show compassion, who knows? The “what if” game is endless, and pointless. The reality is, she is gone, and my new-found self-awareness demands that I let these thoughts go, and be present with what is. So I let them go. But I continue to grieve what might have been.

So, if you are grappling with your life, your inner critic, your anxiety or sadness or lack of wonder in the universe, if you argue with your partner or say unkind things to your children, please find a way to sit and meditate. Please.

 Posted by at 6:53 am

the next wave

 Nancy, Reflection  Comments Off on the next wave
Jun 192012


One of the reasons I write is…friends have asked me to keep going. It’s helping me to track myself, and I learn more about what I feel. Another reason is that I haven’t found any good written material about what it’s really like to go through this kind of loss. I’ve gotten practiced at tracking my feelings, and writing about them. I hope that this blog will be useful someday to someone who loses their spouse, or a child. So many of us seemed ashamed or embarrassed by grief. I am not; this is the most human experience I’ve ever had. I hope that these writings will help others see the power and beauty and divine gift that is available when we embrace our loss, and let it rip through us.

Which is happening for me again now. Thursday night, the summer solstice, is the six month anniversary of Nancy’s passing.

Gee, I wonder why I was feeling a lot of anxiety last week? I was scarcely aware, but some part of me knew. I remember her last night with crystal clarity, the discussions, the decisions, her anger, the support of family and friends, hours of watching her heart stop and then restart, over and over. Someday I’ll share more about that, and the first day afterwards.

Six months. It could be six days, or six decades, so much has happened, and yet so much is the same. Six is “The Lovers” in most Tarot decks, and I still feel the power of that force between us.

So I am here yet again with my grief. This is so familiar now, like coming about in a sailboat and feeling the boat surge under your feet as the wind takes her. Thursday is going to be tough, and Friday probably worse. I haven’t really cried fully for a month, and found myself with tears running down my face while motorcycling home tonight. This is not a good thing, there is no way to wipe tears away at freeway speeds on a bike!

And this is also about a new kind of support, another change in my life this week. I entered into formal ritual and vows last night, Taking Refuge, at Sukhasiddhi, my Tibetan buddhist community. The core vow is

Until enlightenment, I take refuge
in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Through the accumulation of merit and wisdom,
may I awaken for the benefit of all beings.

This vow runs deep, it may take a few or many incarnations to achieve. What this really means is that I’m preparing to take on my buddhist practices more seriously and deeply. They have held me well, and I can only respond by holding them well.

Oh buddhas and boddhisattvas and teachers through the millennia, I hear and honor your calling. Please hold me as I cry.

 Posted by at 7:39 pm
May 212012


A couple of months ago, I wrote about reclaiming my local pub. I haven’t quite gotten there yet. But today marks a milestone in my grief recovery. (Not that grief is something to recover from, I welcome it, a heart-opening experience that honors Nancy and makes me more human.)

I picked up dinner at Grilly’s. Let me explain how wonderful this is. Grilly’s is the nearest place I can get Mexican food, the stuff I grew up on, and Grilly’s VERY good. Informal, inexpensive, community-oriented, mostly a take-out place, food that is delightful, fresh, well-prepared. For perhaps five years, during and after our housebuilding project, we would grab something there as a quick and easy dinner. It was nearly always the same thing, a Chicken Taco Salad and a Steak Quesadilla, which we would split as we argued about lighting fixtures, artwork placement, planned hikes or vacations or whatever. This worked when we were living in our 1BR apartment in San Rafael during construction, when we were coming back from a meeting on the construction site, when we were camping up on the hill above the site, even after we moved into the house, and came home too tired to cook for each other. We grabbed dinner from Grilly’s often, sometimes weekly.

I haven’t been able to go there since October.

So tonight I called Grilly’s on the way home and ordered a Chicken Taco Salad and a Steak Quesadilla. They are sitting here before me, awesome as ever, and I am so happy I could dance like Fred Astaire. I’m not swamped in feelings about my loss, I am happy to have this wonderful food in front of me.

The honest truth is, I am enjoying my evening home alone. January and February, I couldn’t do it, and in fact it’s been hard for me to relax and enjoy a solitary evening ever since my twenties. But the last couple of months, I am welcoming solitude as much as I welcome evenings out with my friends. I’m tending to the balance of how I spent my time, so that I can feel my feelings, and learn more of who I am outside of relationship. It’s not easy to sit in the tension of myself. It would be so easy to spend all my time with friends or doing things to stay distracted.

So there is joy here, as much as sorrow. The food and the smell and the experience of plating it reminds me of all the good times we ate delicious things, drank nice wines, banged our engineering and design heads together, stubborn and negotiatory, making our house better and better. I’m finally feeling some connection between who I am now, a widower blinking my eyes in the sunlight of a new life, and who I was then, the partner of a design perfectionist, creating something that is amazingly cool.

Damn, this food is good.

 Posted by at 8:41 pm

on grief and meditation

 Nancy, Reflection  Comments Off on on grief and meditation
Mar 312012


It’s been 100 days since Nancy passed away, and I’ve been thinking and feeling all day, moving into and out of grief, contemplating my new life, noticing that place of presence in between my past and my future. Yes, I have a new life, I can finally feel something new coming in, along with all the loss.

Even though I still find something to cry about nearly every day, it’s becoming different now. For one thing, it’s been over a week since I’ve actually sobbed. But even more important, I’m having some choice in the moment. I notice that my grief is always right there…all I have to do is look at a passing bird, catch the scent of a flower, and think “Nancy will never get to experience that again…” Wham. Tears. But I now have some choice in every moment. Rather than being swept by waves of grief whenever they come, I now have some capacity to let it go, choose to be present or contemplate something new about my life. It’s almost as though I can turn my attention toward the past or the future in every moment.

And grieving must have it’s time. When I do not grieve for a few days, I start to feel depressed, and realize that I’m numb or feeling shut down. (That’s happened a couple of times over the last month — took me a few days to figure out why I was feeling depressed as well as sad.) It’s as though my grief is a garden, requiring watering by tears from time to time. I’m fine with it, my grief honors my love for her.

I cannot imagine being here without my meditation practice. I started in 1997, so now it’s an easy habit and I can drop in pretty quickly. I mostly do it early in the morning, since I’ve conditioned myself to wake up early when I need to meditate. And like clockwork, two or three times a week, I awake in the darkness and quiet of our home, sit up in bed, and breathe into my heart for 40 minutes. Sometimes I come home from work, light candles in the darkening house, and sit on the couch at the 7pm time that I prayed for her all through her hospital stay and for 49 days beyond. Those meditations are lovely, as I can see her softly-lit altar, feel sadness come in, let it go, and return to my breath. There is incredible beauty all around me in the form of home and artwork, nature and the cycle of springtime, and my friends who have been so wonderfully supportive.

Here is a recent photo of the altar, what I see each evening when I come home. It changes weekly, but still has photos, her notebooks and mystery school candle, her ashes, flowers, and our wedding rings. All solidly anchored by our favorite Quan Yin statue in the center.

 Posted by at 3:56 am

reclaiming the pub

 Nancy, Reflection  Comments Off on reclaiming the pub
Mar 132012

I seem to have a never-ending stream of ways to find grief. Today, it was the pub. By the way, it’s been 83 days since she passed away. I’m still counting.

I’ve been going to the local brew pub for a lot of years, more than ten, perhaps twenty…long before I lived here in Fairfax. I got to know Mike Altman a bit when he bought Iron Springs, built it up and made it the glowing success and icon of our town that it is today. I knew the woman brewer before him, when it was Ross Valley Brewing Co., and the brewer before it was Ross Valley.

Such a favorite place, with live music on Wednesdays, the bicycle crowd hanging out on Sunday afternoons, tons of families with kids on Tuesdays. Nancy and I used to go about once every week or two, discuss dinner options for five minutes or more, then always order the Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken, and a Cheesburger with French Fries. We split them both, as Nancy liked variety and choices. She’d have a couple of glasses of chardonnay, and I’d have some of Mike’s finest. We’d talk, smile, fight, bicker, brainstorm ideas as we built our house, plan vacations. The table for two in the corner near the cash register was our favorite, along with the woman who often served us wearing a great old fedora or homburg. And I haven’t been back since September.

Tonight I came to pay for two kegs of beer I’m bringing to work for St. Patty’s Day tomorrow, and had fine conversation with the manager, got to taste a really unusual beer, sat at the end of the bar as life and relationship swirled around me, loving the music and conversation, the warmth and the bustle, the smell of the food and the hops, the pint before me.

And cried again, just quietly sitting at the end of the bar with tears making my beard wet, dabbing at my eyes with a napkin. That’s the third time today.

Iron Springs will be a yardstick for my recovery. When I can sit there for an evening without crying, I’ll be a lot more whole than I am now. That’s not going to stop me from going back. This needs to become a regular part of my life again. I want my pub, dammit!

 Posted by at 7:50 pm
Feb 102012


My entire year of 2011 was a separate journey, a dream within a dream that has changed my life forever. Nancy was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2011, and passed away peacefully on December 22nd.

I documented that journey separately, at NancyJonesUpdate.  Please look there for the story, but do not go if you are not prepared for a deep dive.  Now I continue without her, dammit. But I gratefully say this.  

Honey, I love you,
I chose you. And now I know
You are my soul mate.

Thank you for the gift of this amazing home, that is now my temple, my castle, my fortress of solitude, my source. Our sacred objects fill my space, my gratitude is very deep. And my grief brings me to my knees every day.


 Posted by at 6:57 am
Aug 162008


It’s been a whole month since we moved in, and for the most part, things have gone really well. Our labor of love, and 3 years of intention, have delivered us into a really lovely place. That still needs a lot of finishing work.

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My “to-do” list is apparently endless, and I get something done each day. I’ve been sanding, priming and painting where subcontractors had to cut open the walls and fix things. Stocklin Iron came out and welded handrail extensions onto the spiral stair to meet code. I built trash and recycling pull-outs, and installed them into the kitchen island.

And today was trellis day. Our architect had drawn up plans for a really cool piece of iron work, to go over the front door. It’s been ready and waiting for us since July, and I finally got the time and cash to put it in.

Bob Hartwell was kind enough provide two of his guys, Mauricio and Miguel, to help. It took us 5 hours, start to finish. First we put 2×12 bracing in place, for the trellis to rest on during installation. As it turned out, we didn’t really need it, since the trellis was about 1/4” wider than the concrete opening, and had to be force fit into place! So we had about an hour of fun with various power tools, hammers, chisels and pry bars, chipping some concrete away and whanging on this massive piece of iron to get it to fit. Above, you see Mauricio drilling into the wall, preparing to epoxy 5/8” all-thread steel rod into place to hold the trellis. Another hour later, we have 8 pieces of rod solidly cemented into the wall, we’ve removed the wood bracing, and swept up the mess. It’s ready for bronze paint, our project this weekend.


I’m not the only one having fun with the task list, of course. Nancy tackled the landscaping as soon as we moved in, and the front is beginning to look much nicer, as you can see below. We’ll be working on the slopes and the landscaping shortly, to get the hillside stable before the rainy season starts in October.


It’s odd that my two main vehicles are almost the same shade of blue – Roy, the family Ford F150, and my 1979 BMW airhead, which I am finally riding again. I’ve always loved motorcycling, and one of the hardest things for me over the last two years was putting my bikes away, since I didn’t have a place for riding gear, let alone tools. Now I’ve got a garage, even though it’s full of clothes, hardware, lumber and paint 🙂

 Posted by at 1:11 am


 Nancy, Reflection  Comments Off on stillness
Jul 172008


I just woke up from an 11-hour deep, dreamless sleep — haven’t done that for years, I was so tired. Over the last two days, I got the last stuff out of our apartment, and gave it a thorough cleaning. As of last night, the move is pretty much complete, with our key things in the house.

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Life is startlingly different. It is completely quiet, except for the sound of a cat padding through the house, or someone walking their dog down the street. The fog was pouring over the ridge across the valley this morning, sun just breaking through to light up the trees across the street. My view getting up out of bed was déjà vu…reminiscent of mornings in San Francisco, decades ago when I lived there. The radiant heating came on, and the floors got warm. So many new textures to get used to.

Monday I set up my office on the 2nd floor (temporarily, until we finish the tiling and bathroom and my mother moves in with us).

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Last week, we picked up the silk art from our friend Tomoko, and hung it in front of the light boxes over the stairway landings.

The kitchen is in turmoil, as I unpack boxes of supplies and appliances and plastic containers and spices, and…you get the idea.

And then there is the closet project. I’ve been designing and installing closet hardware, pretty much just in time as I move our clothes into the house.

Nancy is away on a long-planned vacation trip, so it’s been lonely as well as quiet. I actually turned 50 years old since she left on her trip, and she had the grace to apologize for her bad planning. The good news was that several of my men friends came over here for a night of drinking and music and reflection, which was absolutely perfect. The house has been broken in, without anything getting broken 🙂

Now the dust has settled, everything is here, we are out of our apartment. I look forward to making this our place together. And getting her help with the closet 🙂

 Posted by at 3:23 am