Ode to a Night Flower
It’s summer in the Berkshires, and a beautiful one—wet with rain, quiet blossoms, and bird songs. I love the changing seasons. Here in the Berks I live in a cabin that is pure magic—filled with skylights and wooden beams, little lights, and hanging stars. The space is so special sometimes I just look around and smile. Then I remember that, yes, it’s beautiful, but it’s also in the middle of nowhere. This thought often propels me to pack my car and move far away, but as I stand in the driveway and look at the house with all of its loveliness, I always walk right back in and make a cup of tea.
While it's true some might not consider this the "real" boondocks, for a woman who spent the first 13 years of her life in New York City, it's a far cry from urban life. Sure, there are more gas stations than one might find on a stretch of highway in Mongolia, but it's not exactly hopping. Most of the artists, yogis, retired folks, farmhands, and outcasts are tucked away in their little cocoons, raking leaves, eating muffins, and doing whatever they do.
Still, this has been my creative nook for the last two years—the nook where I first wrote a song and, most importantly, found my voice. In the silence of winter with nothing but crackling fires to keep me company, I dove inside. Much to my amazement, something came out—it sort of sounded like a song, but I wasn’t sure. After all, I had no background in music. Yes, I had a harmonium, which I bought from some guy on Craigslist, but I didn’t really know how to play it. I just held two notes to create a drone and one day a melody emerged out of nowhere.
This didn’t happen in some romantic cloud, however. It happened because I felt totally lost and didn’t know what to do but sing my heart out. I had just arrived in the Berkshires from Colorado, and things weren’t going the way I hoped they would. No matter how hard I tried to find a job, nothing worked out. By the first week of January when most of the shops had closed for the season and immense icicles decorated the landscape, I hit bottom. It was freezing, there was nowhere to go, and I was completely, agonizingly alone—at least it felt that way. Every day I had to face my own mind and there was nothing around to distract me except falling snow.
Whenever I didn’t know what to do, I sat down at the harmonium and attempted to sing. For the most part, I cried and cursed—which didn’t sound all that bad accompanied by chords—and somehow, over time, my pitiful sounds of frustration and longing began to morph into something musical. It was a huge surprise. Without mulling it over much, I decided to record the spontaneous creations since I was already playing around in the studio. The end result was my album, Soma-Bandhu.
Now that the album has been out for about six months, I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience. In all honesty, I still find the whole thing rather shocking. Out of everything I ever imagined doing, making an album was never up for consideration. Why would it be? I didn’t play an instrument or compose a melody until I was 31; that was only two years ago. Yes, I studied piano in elementary school, but my music reading ability was about as good as my Aramaic.
Also, I never thought of myself as particularly creative. It always seemed that creativity was something that belonged to those “special” people, whoever they were. In my early twenties I spent five years in relationship with a singer-songwriter whose creative process evoked immense insecurity in me. At that time, I felt utterly lost and in the dark about what to do with my life. Whenever people seemed to know their heart’s work—my boyfriend or anyone else—a typhoon of uncomfortable emotions swept through me.
I tried hard to become a part of other people’s trips—to define myself through them—but that sure as hell didn’t work. I also tried to will away my desire for an inspiring vocation, but that didn’t fly either. After losing my non-profit job due to lack of funds, I took a position at an independent bookstore. The work was monotonous, but I began to eat books like pretzels—devouring them, at least one per day. This lasted a good year or so before I closed shop on my life and escaped to India for five months. It seemed the only option for a lost soul like me was to screw everything and become a nun, but soon after arriving at the ashram, I realized that, nun or not, I would still have to deal with my fears and desires. Darn.
Still, I threw myself into ashram life with wild abandon, which essentially meant sobbing on the temple roof every single day, napping near the clotheslines while my once-white punjabis dried in the sun, and making French fries in the cafe. Yes, making French fries, which involved submerging sliced potatoes in a huge fryer filled with dirty oil, an unexpected ashram job.
After that very powerful half-year came to a close, I headed home with absolutely no more clarity than before. Everywhere I turned, someone fired the question at me: “So what are you going to do now?”
“Run far away from you!” I thought. But my time in India had taught me that there was absolutely nowhere to go. Alas, I became a little potato in the dirty fryer of my mind, searching everywhere for some direction.
Two months later, I moved to Upstate New York and worked as an administrative serf at a retreat center for one year, becoming far too intimate with spreadsheets. It was obvious that this was not the right profession, so I headed to Divinity school with the hope that reading about enlightened beings might rub off on me a little bit.
Unfortunately, as soon as I arrived in bone-dry Boulder, everything turned inside out. Heavy clouds smothered my heart from deep inside and a dark cloak descended over my life. It all started with fatigue, which evolved into absolute exhaustion. For months I tried to heal with the help of herbal potions, soul retrievals, journaling, prayer, and every other modality known to humankind, but nothing worked—as far as I could tell. After seeing almost 30 doctors and healers, no one had any answers. Even my acupuncturist broke up with me because he didn’t know what to do. Leaving his office, I pulled off the road and bawled my eyes out next to a herd of concerned cows.
Eventually, extreme exhaustion led to depression and everything started to fall apart. For the first time ever, I found no comfort in spiritual books—my whole being was burning, that was all. Sure, I had read about dark nights of the soul—periods of feeling alone and abandoned by God—but whoever coined the term “dark night” was very misleading; my dark night went on for years. People asked incessantly, “What’s the problem?” But I had no answer; in fact, I didn’t know who the hell “I” was anymore.
During this time, I bought a beautiful Indian drone instrument called a tamboura from one of my professors. Holding it in my lap, I rested my head against the long, wooden neck and strummed the resonant strings for hours every night. In the beginning I was too shy to sing, but little by little my self-consciousness faded into the sweet mountain air. As I expressed my feelings through sound and offered my intense longing and desperation back to the universe, the contraction of fear deep inside me let go.
After finishing graduate school, I went back to the east coast for a visit. While spending time in the Berkshires, an apartment ad caught my eye. Without thinking, I drove over to the little house, took one look around, and signed the lease. Two weeks later, my tamboura and I drove from Colorado to Massachusetts without a damn clue what would happen. Thus began my healing hibernation.
Reflecting on this wild journey, only one thing comes to mind: I know nothing. And, honestly, what do any of us know? It’s so easy to judge things based on appearances, but there is almost always a deeper process at work. It is often when we are in the darkest depths that an invisible intelligence plants seeds of light inside our heart. Though imperceptible, these seeds take root in the soul and begin to germinate, fertilized by the rich soil of our pain. Little by little—as we surrender to the process—our sacred seeds blossom into a field of stars.
The Sanskrit word Soma-Bandhu means “Friend of the Moon,” but it is also the name for a white water lily that blooms at night. Unfolding her petals when no one can see, the flower that opens under dark skies offers a special magic. Hers is a quiet beauty, born out of rest and letting go. As the sun rises, her true light is revealed, shaped and sculpted with great skill by the secret hand of love.