Bethany Saltman explores the contours of her home, a place of comfort and belonging.
Driving through New Paltz, a nearby town, I think to myself—as if I have never thought it before—gosh, what a sweet place. Look at that view. All those beautiful Victorians. And the restaurants! Imagine: I’m hungry for Thai food and pad Thai is just a phone call away. I think of Sweet Sue’s, the one of two breakfast places in my tiny town, where I take Azalea, my ten month old daughter, every Friday (and many Saturdays and Sundays, and Mondays and Tuesdays…) for some socializing. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to stroll along a street with lots of other people, some of whom I don’t even recognize, and actually have some options? Maybe life would be better somewhere else. Maybe I would be happier. I lose myself in fantasies of another life. I feel buoyant for a moment, imagining all that potential.
It doesn’t take long to come back to earth, remembering why I live where I live and not someplace else. After leaving residential training at Zen Mountain Monastery, my husband and I were determined to stay within ten minutes of morning meditation at the zendo. We haven’t shown up at five am in a while, but we can, and that’s what counts, more than anything. Of course we carry the strength (or weakness, as the case may be) of our practice in our own bodies, but staying close to an actual building that is devoted—bluestone by bluestone—solely to the liberation of all beings helps keep us clear about what really matters, yes, even more than soy chai lattes. As fun as it is to imagine all the possibilities, it is actually more fun to bask in the simplicity of knowing where we belong.
The truth is I have always found options overwhelming. I live in one of the most beautiful areas of the Catskills, hiking trails sprouting off of every road like roots. But I take the same walk every day. I feel devoted to my little stretch of Woodland Valley Road and like we are just getting to know each other. Sometimes someone convinces me to try a new route for a change, and sure, it’s nice, but secretly I wonder if that little dip by the green house smells like sandalwood today, or if the old couple I so often pass are listening to Beethoven inside their crooked, paint-peeling house, their firewood stacked neatly on the porch, but never used.
And then of course there is my daughter. I have heard parents compare their lives especially with infants—to a meditation retreat, or their children to a wise teacher. I haven’t resonated with those analogies exactly. But lately, I have been hearing my teacher’s voice in my head as he describes the commitment of meditation as just coming back to the breath over and over and over. It’s not that Azalea takes the place of meditation. With great regret, I have discovered that I still need to sit on my cushion. Every day.
But there is something else taking shape from the fog of these past years. The world is getting big again. I see myself going about my life—teaching, writing, cooking, negotiating—and all the while I have a heart and it is beating inside someone else’s twenty-pound body. I see my thoughts and I let them go; I see my arms and legs walking and flailing and working here in the world. And I come back to what’s most important. I come back to Azalea’s milky breath, my love, her hunger, the perfection of our happiness—no anticipation and even less certainty. It is as if I can be in two places at once. Or one place at once, which is everywhere.