Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Despite my best attempts not to, I've still been chasing a runaway balloon.
The chase continues because, you see, it is not often that I pursue just one balloon. I let one go only to see another enticing, delightful, shiny, oh-so-close-I can-almost-touch-it balloon go floating by and I switch from one wanting to another.
What you don't know if you aren't a balloon chaser yourself is that all this life up in the clouds with your feet off the ground leaves you dizzy and light-headed. Cut off from life below, you become disjointed, dismembered, disconnected. So long as one is grasping at straws, reaching for the illusive outside of self, what's going on inside is completely ignored.
High-altitude living is not sustainable. The inevitable happens: eventually you must come down.
Though I would like it to be otherwise, the coming down for me often involves a crash landing. I'm left bumped and bruised and a little for worse for wear.
The precursor to the final crash is most often a whisper in my ear that speaks an old, familiar, worn-out declaration which expresses sentiments I used in other seasons of life to give me permission to continue on in misery and shut out the rest of the world.
I don't want to be with you, is what first whispered and then came tumbling out of my mouth this week. After it splatted onto the floor in front of me - lying there like a hairball, spit out of a cat's mouth - I stood over it, marveling at its clarity and realized the "you" I was talking about was me.
I didn't want to be with me.
That statement, a sister-wife to the old bugger - I hate my life - that used to plague me years ago, surfaces whenever I believe that the hard parts of my journey will never alter or change course, will both always and never be this or that, or when I feel lonely, less than, and afraid.
A deep part of me sends it up - launches it, as it were, like a water balloon from my core - because that part of me knows that when I hear the sharpness of its accusation, I will snap out of my stupor. It's the wake up call, the splash of water in my face I need to let all the runaway balloons float away. It's an invitation for me to return to myself, to come home.
The way of return this week was a bath. (Ocean water, bath water, tears-running-out-of-my-eyes water are always my preferred forms of home-going.)
As I lowered my body into the tub - water running hot and at full force - I felt myself returning. As the water began to cover my nakedness, I caught a glimpse of my limbs stretched out beside me and a new statement - neither planned nor premeditated - escaped my lips: It's a good body.
In that moment, not only did I want to be with me, I was at rest because I knew I was.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and when I opened them again, I made an effort to see that which I had been avoiding, devaluing, and rejecting. I adopted, as it were, the eyes of a lover, beholding my form for the first time. I focused my love and gratitude toward each of my parts and praised them aloud, one by one.
I started with my legs. As they were propped up on the wall in front of me, I noticed the plumpness in my thighs (something I longed for in my days of being weak and frail and thin), saw a bruise I don't remember getting on my shin, noticed redness on my toes from where ill-fitting shoes rub against my skin. I did not judge or call any of these things ugly, as I can be quick to do. I simply took them in as an observer and an admirer would.
Moved, I spoke again. These are good legs. The have taken me into new territory. I remembered back to a time when I had been holed up in a hospital bed, unable to walk more than a few paces before feeling winded and exhausted. How far these legs have taken me since then, I mused.
I moved on to my arms. I lifted them out of the water to get a better look. I raised them in the air, palms turned up, and without thinking said, These arms have carried heavy burdens. They no longer bear that weight. They are good arms.
I went on to my face. I gently laid my hands over my closed lids and said with confidence, These are eyes that see that which other eyes do not see. I spoke similarly of my ears, nose and mouth, praising them for what they are capable of, for what they do.
The sound of my own voice which spoke thus surprised me. I heard the voice of a woman who knows. It was piercing, firm and resolute. It quivered a bit from the emotion of it all, but my conviction never wavered. I heard myself speaking and I believed what I heard.
I ended by putting my hands on my abdomen. I was aware of how I've chastised my gut, blamed it for my troubles, berated it for flaring up when things get hard, accused it of being weak and defective, for feeling too much, for slowing me down. The days when I felt that way seemed very far away. In place of disgust, there was gratitude. I felt its gift. I knew then that my gut is my strongest part, worthy of being cherished and honored.
I spread my fingers wide, taking it in, embracing its sacredness. With tears I spoke: This is a good gut. It feels that which other guts do not feel.
I sat in the stillness for some time before I washed myself. I felt cleansed.
I was home.
Runaway balloons aren't very enticing when I'm nestled up by a warm fire, settled and grounded in home. Next time I see one floating by my window, I hope I'll remember what happened this week and close the curtains, draw a bath, and return to what I know.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
The heart wants what it wants.
No matter how many times I tell myself that just because I want something it doesn't mean I'm going to get it, that it's going to happen or that something's going to change, I still want it.
And when the wanting grows and the possibility of fulfilling that wanting simultaneously shrinks - like the thing I want is a runaway balloon drifting off into space - there's an aching involved. My first impulse is to cling, to squint my eyes and watch that runaway balloon - as if by seeing it, it still remains within my grasp, still remains possible for me to have and to hold.
If I'm not careful I can spend all my waking hours, all my precious energy focused on the runaway balloon that I can't have instead of engaging with all the goodness that's right in front of me.
When it's spelled out here - run after what I know is beyond my reach or hold close what's in my lap - the choice seems so simple, so easy. But what you can't read in words on a screen is all the turmoil the wanting arouses in my being. How I feel an almost frenetic impulse to chase, chase, chase because the wanting has a mind of its own.
Even when I feel like a runaway balloon myself, drifting, drifting further away from my center, my grounding, I still keep reaching, reaching for that thing I want. But for all my drifting, I never get closer to it. Runaway balloons don't catch each other.
Eventually all this drifting, reaching, grasping at straws leaves me worn out, exhausted. In my search for peace I must come down, down, down and quit looking up, up, up. I have to come inside, close the blinds, shut my eyes and with concerted effort redirect all that frenetic energy into quieting myself. It is not an easy task. But it is what I must do.
I've been watching a runaway balloon. It's far, far away, high up in the sky and it's not coming down. Not for all my watching, not for all my reaching, not for all my wanting. So I'm sitting in the candlelight, lamps dimmed low, and returning to what's right in front of me.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
No matter how much chapstick and body lotion I saturate myself in, my lips are still chapped, I still feel flaky skin. I gulp water by the buckets-full. The desert lives inside of me, it burrowed its way in.
I want to soak in a tub of oil, drench myself in falling rain until I'm wet through to all the way under my skin.
My yearning leads me to the shoreline, the one that exists on the borders of my own private island of solitude. It is there that I go to find refreshment and to be renewed.
As I stand at the water's edge and let the gentle waves lap up over my toes and shins, I can breathe again. At some point - there's no telling when - the birthing waters burst open from within. I am soothed by the gushing, as it is always preceded by groans and contractions.
When parched, I stand at the shoreline - hands open - ready to be drenched. Again.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
"Everything about her seems to be saying, listen, if you don't look attentively, if you don't go beyond my simplicity to detect the simmering volcano in me, you are not it."
--Rawi Hage, Carnival
I am and am not...
whispers under breath
have no place for me now.
No longer boxed in.
Living, growing, expanding
in the open space.
to discard coverings
expose my chest
expose my chest
stamp my fee
put lips to horn
announce I'm here.
through wild terrain
moving, running, roving.
I am what I am.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."
--Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
We just entered a new year on the Jewish calendar. In preparation, I have been going back over the pages of my journey.
I discovered that somewhere along the way I learned a form of Braille: the bumps on the page finally mean something.
I no longer feel like I am in the midst of a series of blank pages that are waiting to be turned, waiting to be written on. Instead, I see pages and pages that are filled with text and I am voraciously reading through them.
It reminds me of something that happened on a trip I took to Europe as a teenager; I traveled to France the summer after I completed my fourth year of French.
One afternoon, a friend and I were lost in a small French town, on foot and an hour from our hotel. It was not until I stopped to ask for directions -- when a quick request turned into a conversation that spanned over hours and was exchanged over dinner -- that I realized I was really fluent.
I was amazed. Words I did not know I knew came out of my mouth, with clarity and in context. It was like I shifted into a different part of my brain and I had access to everything I had been storing up during my four years of study. It had been there all along. Perhaps I did not know it existed because I had never needed it that badly.
In much the same way, I have been storing up knowledge on another subject, learning to speak a more ancient tongue. I have been poring over books, memorizing words and phrases, practicing this new language through conversation, using all the same strategies I used when I learned to speak French, though I did not realize it until now.
Then recently, when I found I'd lost my way and needed to get back to my safe place, back to my center, I discovered again that all those years of study were really doing something. I really became fluent.
I know the language of my own soul.
After that summer in Europe, I did not use my French anymore. I finished my senior year of high school, went on to study English in college, and never found myself having another conversation like that again.
Most of the French I learned is locked away in the recesses of my brain, in a place I have not been able to access again. I can barely ask you how your day is going in that beautiful language.
It is a shame, n'est-ce pas? But that experience taught me something, something I am holding onto now.
First, I know that if I really want to speak French again, I can. The information I stored up all those years ago has not disappeared, but it needs some coaxing to come to the surface again. I would have to study, to remind my brain of what it's holding onto.
What was lost can be recovered.
Second, I know that if I had continued to use the language after that trip, I'd still be fluent. I could still be exchanging How do you do and What do you do for work and What's the dream of your heart over cappuccino. It is all a matter of practice, of keeping it fresh.
I feel like I just completed four years of study a second time. I have had a few inspiring conversations where I've been able to flex my fluency muscles, and I realize that now another layer of work begins. I have to keep speaking, keep practicing. I've got to keep doing the work to stay fluent in the language of my own soul.
"... I want to describe myself
like a painting that I looked at
closely for a long time,
like a saying that I finally understood...
like a ship
that took me safely
through the wildest storm of all."
--Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it..."
--Martha Postlewaite, "Clearing"
Happy [Jewish] New Year, friends. Methinks this is going to be a good year. A very good year, indeed.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
"... I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.
In a few breaths' time I will speak some sad words to you. But you must hear them the same way we have agreed to see scars now. Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive. The next thing you know, something fine will happen to her, something marvelous, and then she will turn around and smile."
--Little Bee by Chris Cleave
* * * * *
* * * * *
My heart is like a leaky faucet. Drip, drip, drip.
I go about my business. Off to work, summer camp drop offs and pick ups, groceries, laundry, make breakfasts, pack lunches, prepare dinners. Rinse, repeat. All the while my heart is leaking blood, dripping out one drop at a time. Sometimes I hardly notice. Sometimes I don't notice at all. Drip, drip, drip.
All this dripping comes with a familiar ache. It's not enough of an Ow! to stop me in my tracks, so I carry on. And on and on. Until one day I have to stop. To stop and look in the mirror and ask myself when all the blood drained from my face.
Call the plumber. It's time to patch up the pipes, tighten the handles, clear the drain. Time for the drip, drip, drip to dry up. Time for the heart to gather its own blood back to itself. Time to listen to the ache and stop going about my business while my heart bleeds out.
* * * * *
I have been balancing a precarious cup of grief in my hands. I've been doing my best to contain it, but it keeps spilling over when I bump into people and things that give me a bit of a jolt. Sometimes it spills over even when I'm standing still.
The filling up of this cup - every circumstance that has caused my heart to drip, drip, drip - has cost me something, so I don't want to waste even a single drop. I want to pour it over my head. I want to bring it to my lips and drink it down. I want to ingest the sacred contents of that cup of grief - the result of some magic alchemy that transforms the hard into the deep - and be cleansed by its salty, healing waters. It's what I need. My own unique healing balm.
It is another way to remember that I am not The-Woman-Who-Lost. I am The-Woman-Who-Is-Found-And-Continues-To-Be-Found. That is what is inscribed inside that cup, you see. I have to keep drinking it down until the light hits the bottom and illuminates the words my heart needs to read.
"It's the kind of name that starts off heavy but ends up light ...
In this moment I very nearly named myself back to life."
--Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Sunday, May 19, 2013
"... I formed my consciousness by turning pages ..."
--Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
"... being in the fog does not mean being altogether lost."
--Joan Anderson, A Year by the Sea
"... I have rebounded from a sense of loss to a feeling as new as the morning."
--Joan Anderson, A Year by the Sea
On the eve of Easter, I was standing at the sink brushing my teeth when I was suddenly aware of this new idea - an epiphany, really - coming up from my core to the center of my conscious mind. I watched it emerge, like the thought itself was a bird flying by my window. I saw it come toward me out of the corner of my eye and stop once it reached my line of vision, hovering, humming and singing its song.
I am not The-Woman-Who-Lost.
As this idea floated and fluttered before me, I watched my life play out on a movie screen, as if I was seeing it for the first time. I watched with rapt attention when the most painful ten-year period of my adult life unfolded – the time during which my firstborn died, my health deteriorated, and my marriage disintegrated – and I saw those experiences in a different dimension. Gaps in my memory were filled with the visceral reality I was coming to grips with. I am not The-Woman-Who-Lost. Though I often felt terrified, desperate and utterly alone during those years, those feelings were not the whole story.
That night, I saw what I couldn’t before see – in bold relief. I saw how those tragic experiences pressed me up against a belief system that needed to be dismantled. I saw that I am not the sum total of all the hard things that I have been through, that I am not a helpless woman waiting to be rescued, not a victim to be pitied.
I am not The-Woman-Who-Lost.
That belief system had perpetuated a deep sense of helplessness, and when my life continued to veer off the path of “what I thought it would be,” I was given the opportunity to re-evaluate what I believed. Instead of waiting for something or someone to intervene on my behalf, I took the reins of my life back into my own hands, and I began to learn that passivity is far scarier than action.
"Being able to say that one is a survivor is an accomplishment ... And yet ... [there is a] time to go to the next stage after survivorship, to healing and thriving."
--Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves
Shedding that damaging belief structure has been a process that has unfurled over the past several years – the clarity that I am not The-Woman-Who-Lost was its natural by-product.
My Easter Eve experience was so valuable because it is a touch point in my journey toward wholeness, a place to return to when clarity wanes and the familiar feelings of victimhood want to settle in again.
That way of relating to my story and my world – interpreting every hard event through the lens of loss – had worn a deep groove in my brain. When I was living in that space, even a glass of spilt milk was a catastrophe – further proof that nothing would ever go my way, despite how hard I tried to will “the good” into being.
That’s why - though I no longer believe it – The Woman-Who-Lost story feels true when I am vulnerable or run down physically, emotionally, or mentally. When those feelings resurface I remind myself of what I know. I remind myself that it was not the hard things in my life that caused the crippling depression and hopelessness that for many years had become normal for me; it was my belief that the hard was all there was and all there ever would be.
I am not The-Woman-Who-Lost.
This new reality is settling in in waves, and each time one crests and crashes over me, I feel undone by the gloriousness of it all.
I was blind but now I see, is not a trite cliché, but a perfect description of what has been happening.
I am not the Woman-Who-Lost. I never was. And I never will be.