Monday, August 27, 2012

Mermaid

 
 I am an ocean. And in the rocky inlet where I have been living, it's high tide.

The waters have risen up, up, up to the edge of the rocky shoreline. In this corner of the ocean, my inner life is filled to the brim. 
(from this post)

It's still high tide season in my life, but I am learning how to swim.

At the suggestion of a dear friend of mine, I am getting right into the water so I can f l o a t when the water gets really high.

Because I don't know quite how to apply that advice metaphorically, I decided to go for the literal first; I've been getting in the water a lot lately.

I floated for the first time a few weeks ago when I was at the bay by myself.


I was soaking in sun and poetry and making sure my soul was getting nourished. I felt comforted and comfortable lying there on the sand, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I had to get in the water. I had purposely chosen a spot on the beach where there weren't a lot of people, but I still had to confront my gnawing anxiety about walking down to the water's edge in my bathing suit. I felt silly, exposed.

I did it anyway.

When I haven't been in the water for a while, I have to submerge slowly. It's not just that I have to adjust to the temperature of the water; I have to adjust to letting myself get wet. I take small steps until the water level reaches my abdomen, and then I stop.

At that point I either need to plunge in one motion and pull my whole body, head and hair under the water, or I just need to turn around and get out. The belly spot is the point of no return for me.

That day, I took the plunge. As soon as my head emerged--dripping wet, cooled and refreshed--an involuntary smile spread across my face. I stood there quietly in the water and let the feeling soak in.


I felt emboldened by my first dunk, so I decided to do it again. And again.

Because I was thoroughly wet, I let my body relax into the water. My head rested on an invisible pillow and the rest of my body was stretched out on a bed of water. I floated for the first time in a long time, maybe since childhood.

There was a sound of clicking under the water that made me think boats were shifting gears. I shot my closed eyes open and looked around. The coast was clear. (Literally.) When my ears were under the water again the clicking sound continued. I'm still not sure what it was. But the point is, I heard it.

I made a conscious effort to stay connected to my body. I felt what it was like to be buoyant and fully supported by the water under me.  I was aware of the total relaxation in my body as I rested there.  

This I have to remember, I told myself. This is what I have to take with me when the pressure of stress starts to build up and I feel like I'm going to sink emotionally. Float. Remember what it feels like to float.

When I emerged from that water that day, I felt refreshed to my core.

But as the days have worn on, I have had to return to the water to refresh myself again.


This past week, floating opened something up in my soul.

As soon as I arrived at the beach, I stripped down to my suit and and went right to the water. I did not need to tip toe in like the first time. I have become accustomed to being wet, so I walked briskly to the belly point and then pulled myself under.

And instead of just getting wet, I decided to play.

I swam out until I couldn't touch the bottom and did forward and backward somersaults; I laid on my back and made big, noisy splashes as I kicked my feet. I felt like a kid again.

Before I could get out, I had a strong sense that I needed to float for a bit longer than I am normally comfortable with.

I laid myself down on the water's surface and counted--as slowly as I could--to sixty. (Those sixty-ish seconds felt like sixty minutes.) Midway through, I had to open my eyes and make sure everything was okay around me. It was.


When I got to sixty, I was amazed at what I'd found. I was floating in no more than 10 inches of water. Just enough for the underside of me not to be scraping the sand. 

All that time (during that l o n g float), I felt like I was drifting into deeper and deeper waters, where the security of the shoreline was far away. (It's what always makes surrender to relaxation so scary when it's high tide and I'm in deep water.) But instead, my surrender carried me back to the water's edge.

As these thoughts raced through my mind, all of a sudden this joyous laughter came bubbling up out of my belly. It all seemed too wonderful and simple and my heart and mind and body were full of delight.

There is nothing to fear! my heart sang.

I was alone in the water at dusk--laughing out loud--and I didn't care. 

That laughter isn't bubbling up out of my belly right now--when I feel I could sink or swim--and that's why I'm here to remind myself of what it feels like to totally surrender to buoyancy.

I may not have time for a salt-water dip today, but I can still remember what it feels like to float.

There's nothing to fear. Nothing to fear.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Found


 I've been searching the world over
     for a beauty I can grasp
I've been searching streets and galleries
     to fulfill my lonely task

I scan writers, poets, painters
     nature's flowers, movie makers
To try to find some beauty
     To take away my pain

When my beauty was assaulted
     by betrayal, lies, deceit
I needed it as much as air
     To steady my weak feet

My desperate search around me
     was not a search in vain
But the beauty I found outside me
     did not heal my pain

So I began a search within
   I kept up coming short
All I saw was wrinkled skin,
   dried up pretty ... ugly warts

But I kept at my treasure hunt
  when all that I could find
Were fragments of a beautiful me
  at least they were a sign

They said, Seeds of beauty live in here,
     they must be fed and watered
So I began to feed myself
     like I was my own daughter

I looked at her every day
     and praised the good I saw
And when she disagreed with me
     I quieted her guffaw

The arguments grew softer
     as I trusted my embrace
And I began to smile when
    the mirror showed my face

I'm starting to see deeper
    than hair and form and skin
I'm starting to see heart beauty
    the true beauty within 

I've been searching the world over
     for a beauty I can grasp
Now my search has led me home
     and now my soul can rest


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Cricket's Orchestra*


We've had two earthquakes in southern California over the past 24 hours. And I felt them both.

Thankfully, they were benign, soft little shakers that didn't rattle anything much more than my nerves for about 30 seconds each time.

The thing that is most unsettling in any earthquake (unless it's a BIG one) isn't the actual movement, but the anticipation of the damage that might be done as a result.

What if this keeps going on and on? Will it get bigger, stronger? Will my roof cave in? Will I be able to protect my son from the crashing furniture and flying shards of glass? What if he gets hurt? What if I get hurt?

Those unanswered questions are what really shake me.

While the last two earthquakes didn't last long enough to keep me caught in those questions for too long, their timing was significant; because in the same time frame, I was still recovering from my own little soul quake. I got some news, and I felt it shake me.

I felt the earth shake under my internal feet, and--just like in a literal earthquake--what was most upsetting was the list of questions the news triggered, the what if's and will I's.

Because of this parallel, the recent earthquakes have actually been a comfort--none of my what if's and will I's ever came true. The quakes came, they shook, they left. There was no collateral damage. We're all fine and life goes on.

And this, I have a hunch, will be the final outcome of the news I got as well.

My soul quake, however, did not seem nearly as benign as the other two earthquakes. When it happened, I felt like part of my brain did cave in. I was undone. There was no space for clear thinking in the midst of the swirling questions and fears. I tried to relax, but to no avail.

In the midst of it all, two loving voices spoke words of comfort, peace and truth: There's nothing you can do about this right now, Angela. Just let it go. Welcome peace, confidence, and yes, even joy.

I can't say I consciously embraced those words when I heard them (I was still quaking and shaking after all), but they did get inside of me. 


*****

"It may be different for others, but pain is what it took to teach me to pay attention. In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now." 
--Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

My son recently came up with a summer evening ritual. Just before bed, after the sun has set and the neighborhood is quiet, he likes to take a walk around the block. As we do, we tiptoe in whispers with flashlights in hand and ears in tune. 

What are we listening for? Crickets. 

We listen for chirping and turn our ears toward the source of the sound. Then, very quietly, stealthily--like we are on a top-secret mission--we move toward it. We stop, listen again, and keep adjusting our path so that we can locate the chirping cricket.

And when we do, excitement ensues.

We've developed a routine. I keep the light shining on the cricket while my son carefully gets down on hands and knees and tries to cup his hands around it and scoop it up. More often than not, the clever cricket gets away. They're fast and illusive and it takes a quick and steady hand to catch them. But my persistent son keeps with the hunt. 

Even though it's all catch and release, he seems deeply satisfied when he finally captures one. His chest puffs up and his eyes dance with delight because he did it; he caught a cricket.


It's a fun little game. And my rough and tumble six-year-old who loves wrestling and horseplay seems to be two years old again the way he presses up against my legs and wants to whisper in my ear.

My favorite part? In the midst of our game, the rest of the world falls away. It's like it's just us and the chirping crickets and nothing else matters. All that is relevant is the hunt. I don't worry about what if's and will I's. There's no space for swirling questions and fears. 

Last night I needed the hunt like I needed air. I needed to be swept up into something so that the confusion could be swept away from me.

The night started out like the one before it, but it took an unexpected, delightful turn. Our neighbors spotted us outside, and they came out to see what we were up to. 

There was a flurry of activity as little ones went inside to retrieve flip flops and flash lights and butterfly nets and bug cages. They were joining our search party.

The adults gathered on a street corner to talk about life in the darkness of the night, but I stayed with the children. I watched with amazement as they quickly executed a strategy for catching and trapping every cricket they could find.



And for a brief moment--while I was lost in the search with them--I heard a melody playing in the night air. It was such a departure from the cacophony of chaos that had been on repeat in the previous hours of my day. It wasn't soft and quiet--it was filled with the sounds of excited, up-past-their-bedtime, squealing children--but it was soothing to my tired heart and mind. It was an orchestra--the cricket's orchestra--and it had been what lulled me into present-ness as soon as we left the house.

I can only hear the orchestra when I am caught up in the moment, too occupied with now to be afraid of yesterday's news or tomorrow's collateral damage. But when I have ears to hear it, it is magical.

The song the orchestra played last night was full of high notes, with a smattering of deep, base tones; it was full of unfettered playfulness and curiosity. I needed some of that to get inside my soul and resonate in my bones. I needed unbridled, awakened curiosity to neutralize all my scary questions. And somehow, the crickets--as they chirped and sang with the squealing children--knew that.  

They played a song, and it felt like they played it just for me.

*****

I am feeling centered again. Instead of feeling like there isn't room for clarity in my brain, I feel like there's no space for unrest. 

It's daytime and the crickets aren't chirping anymore, but I can still hear the song they were singing last night.



*I am indebted to recording artist Meaghan Smith for this delightful little phrase.