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Posts Tagged ‘healing’

chagall dreams

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

– Naomi Shihab Nye, “Gate A-4

Someone vandalizes a church and a Jewish community center in Northern Virginia. They paint swastikas on buildings and dark words over a sign supporting Muslims. This happens on the first night of Passover, at the start of the Christian holy week. The story is here.

Then the police track down a suspect. Dylan Mahone is a 20-year-old man who has found his way into white supremacist and neo-Nazi circles. A student at the community college. A neighbor who lives just blocks from the house my former partner shares with his two kids. A young man whose Facebook page drips with racism and hate and noxious fantasies of violence.

White. Christian. Educated. Male.

One of ours. One of us.

(more…)

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goa-reed-flute-cave

Because now we must save the whole world, my son’s bow slips from the strings. The last reverberation hums against windows closed against night. So does the cold flash of his gaze when he slaps the songbook shut.

He refuses.

I walk out.

(more…)

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spiral-jetty-2

… forgiveness is not rational. One can seldom find a reason to forgive or be forgiven. Forgiveness is often undeserved. It may require a dimension of justice (penance, in traditional terms), but not always, for what it holds sacred is not fairness, but self-respect and community. Forgiveness does not wipe away guilt, but invites reconciliation. And it is as important to be able to forgive as it is to be forgiven.


-Sara Moores Campbell, Into the Wilderness

He invites us to call up a regret we hold, a mistake.  Through our restless quiet echoes the faint string of notes we each play: I wish I had  and I wish I hadn’t and if only.  The salt, he tells us, is that regret, that unforgiven act or omission.  In water, it never vanishes entirely — there is no forgetting —  though the hold it has on us dissipates.   It joins with the larger body of life, of surrender, of renewal.”Anyone who is so moved,” he says, “may come up and add a pinch of salt to the water.”

One by one, the congregants rise.  Does music play?  It’s hard to hear above the gathering notes of memory.  Our collective, unspoken remorse finds its chord and travels along the thread of bodies.  We shuffle and nod to one another. We make our way to the place where we are allowed to let go.

At the front rest two clear vessels, soap-bubble delicate and huge as bellies.  Water catches golden light filtering in from an October sun. Two deep platters of salt welcome a pinch or a fistful, depending. Some of us, I confide later, could do with a shovel.  Each of us drops our quantity of crystals in through the glass mouth.  The salt bursts into tendrils and swirls to a cloud. In one motion, our mistake both falls and rises, dissolving into light.  As we watch it go, each of us says these words:

“I forgive myself and begin again in love.”

We make our way back along that strand holding us to the place we started.  Something is changed, though.  The path feels emptied somehow.  The rows of seats, more capacious.

I watch the last of the congregants weave through the space.  Each of them, like me, carries these sorrows, these hurts.  We recognize the damage we have certainly caused.  We can see how it lives on not only in us but around us in the small world we inhabit.

Each of them, like me, goes on anyway.

For this one moment, alongside the unlikely echo of a shared chord, we are free to give way to forgiveness.

We begin again, together, in love.


Image: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1970

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garden woman

Deadheading flowers will encourage more blooms on flowering plants. The normal goal of a plant is to flower, set seeds and die. Since we want them to continue to set flowers. . . we want to discourage flowers from setting seed. Deadheading the flower as it expires will redirect the plants energy from setting seed to creating more blooms. Additionally, keeping your plants free of dying material will discourage disease and allow more parts of your plant to receive sunlight.


From Cedar Circle Farm organic farmstand and education center

Someday I will live where I can garden naked. For now I make do with stepping out onto the balcony at daybreak, damp from a shower and dressed in enough to mask my skin’s craving.

July’s rain is nothing to its glare.  A geranium in its pink pot drinks up half the jug without draining a drop. Everyone is thirsty.

A spider bobs on filament above a mess of thyme. Every time my clumsy elbows tear loose her spun walls, she rebuilds.  I take care to duck under her strands but she knows better than to trust me.  She skitters to the safety of the railing, her back an arrow of malachite flashing through a mica shield.

The thyme has tangled itself into the rosemary.  Both started from seed two years ago.  Now they are a wild fury.  Winter buried their leggy stems, spring drowned them in pools of choked mud, and now summer burns them raw. As determined as their spider neighbor, they go on.  New strands unfurl sometime in the night.  When sun steams open the sky, tiny leaves press towards light.  They grow even when the only sustenance is a stolen sip from morning’s turgid heat.   Even left forgotten in the corner, they climb out of their barren beds and peel open their seams to free a thin, bristling marrow.

The marigolds and petunias perched up in boxes have curled in and darkened. I deadhead the withered, closing my fingertips gently around each base and letting the dry tissue fall free. It is more of a coax than a tug.  Picking blackberries requires the same light touch.  The ripe ones slip loose.  Any that resist are left to darken their bite to sugar.

Ample rain and sun have kept these blossoms in a state of perpetual return. They begin even as they end.  The petunias are tricky this way.  Bud or compost?  At a glance, it’s hard to know which are closed for good and which are waiting to open.  The only way to tell is with a tiny stroke, just enough for the purple fullness to lay its pulse against the skin. The gesture is almost imperceptible.  Does it fold itself over and surrender to its end?  Or does it flex and hold inside its cocoon of flesh?   Touch has no influence on the dormant thing, only on me.  Its signal sounds through cell, through our common organelles, that it is bud and not corpse.  I let go and step back.  Somewhere deep in its furred sepal it clings to the threads of its root, churning sustenance into the shape of itself, murmuring, here, I am here, don’t rush me, I’ll know when it’s time to wake up.


Image: “Earth Goddess” from a 2013 exhibition at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens by Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal

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Triathlon

In the neighboring lanes, retirees walk the slow churn. Sinew writhes under mottled hips, hearts chug in their loose cages of hollowing bone.  We turn the creaking millstones of our musculature and send low ripples along the surface.

Mid-afternoon is a world apart from evening here.  During the late rush, fierce middle-aged racers tear a wake between ropes.  Teen divers knife skyward before the plunge.

Now, the most animated bodies in the water are a half-dozen preschoolers gripping swim bars and kicking with all their might.  The rest of us sway.  We are seaweed, we are prey.

I stir the lapping shallows.  My feet somewhere down there take the long strides of a sleepwalker.  A faceless predator closes the distance of its asymptotic approach, forever almost crossing over into awakening.  The water is a tar that grips.  Also, it buoys.  These competing forces are reminders of its latent power.  So too are the lifeguards with red floats who pace the edges and peer into our unsteady depths.  Even as we come to it to carry us over our pain, we all know that this pool could lay any of us down for good.

Rinsed and combed, up from the locker room and out through the lobby I limp.  Lopsided steps favor the right leg and give the left a breather.  Even with easy breaststroke, the busted hinge in my left knee pops and yelps.  But I’ve moved, I’ve worked up an almost-sweat.  This is energy, back for a throbbing moment, a reminder of what it felt like before.  What it may feel like again after the surgeon fiddles with the clockworks and seals me up.

But even if the repair is unsuccessful or — as is inevitable — temporary, here is water.  This is reason enough to be grateful.

As I plod out the sliding doors, a man enters. Lurch-clunk-lurch-clunk, towards the welcome desk.  Another ancient one here for the healing waters.  He leans on a cane.  Thin layers of marbled skin drape from thighs and elbows.  Around his left knee, a black brace.  The red flesh trapped inside grates at its confinement.  He moves with such care.  Lurch-clunk-lurch-clunk.  His eyes are fixed on that low place on the floor one meter ahead, a place all too familiar to me now that avoiding a fall is more appealing than the vanity of vigor.

As I hobble past, I point to his knee and say, “I’m getting over one of those too. Thank goodness for the pool.”

He looks up at me.  His face cracks like the lid of a chafing dish.  Something in there simmers and pops,  steam and all.  A slow grin.  “I bet you didn’t get yours hitting a deer while riding on a motorcycle.”  He chuckles.  His wink, an invitation.  He holds his gaze a second, another.  Then he turns and limps on.

A buzz shivers through me, potent and odd and all the more startling from its unlikely source.  Out the sliding doors and into the parking lot.  Sun licks my shoulders.  A breeze cuts through the damp hollow where my hair lays across my neck.

There are no old folks here. Not broken bodies, no lost days.  We long for what we are, even now.  We are all younger than we imagine, as raw as we have ever been.

We are all being born.

We face the open water.  We surrender.  We surge.


Photo credit:  Uncertain origin; possibly from Triathlon Scotland

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Today is a resting time, and my heart goes off in search of itself. If an anguish still clutches me, it’s when I feel this impalpable moment slip through my fingers like quicksilver… At the moment, my whole kingdom is of this world. This sun and these shadows, this warmth and this cold rising from the depths of the air: why wonder if something is dying or if men suffer, since everything is written on this window where the sun sheds its plenty as a greeting to my pity?


 

Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays

Heartache is a bitter decadence, the dark chocolate of emotions. Indulgence means savoring the long, slow melt.

Tonight, I wallow.

Disdain would be the easy way forward. Or grumbly resentment, or detached equanimity, or just plain old anger. What else to do with missing him?

Out is a good distraction. This is a buzzing town on a December night. The Weekend section is thick with its glut of holiday fetes.

What’s your pleasure? 

Having been through this a time or two, we know a little more about how to dress and cushion a chilled heart. A breakup is a chance to dive into a capacious garment of diversion. Playing music and cooking bring joy, the gym is a quick high, dancing in the living room an expansive release. Friends are on deck. A new language itches to be spoken. The tree winks, and under it, stockings all wait in their happy heap.

Just outside the door, fullness thrums. It slips in around the edges, pinging and popping under the very skin.

Still, I wallow.

Because I choose to feel all of this.

I choose to keep loving him.

My tenderness would prefer to harden. It wants to plant itself upon its judgments and hammer in the regrets. It would be much more comfortable cooling into place, urging in a cellular structure both predictable and manageable. Routines are an even surface, squared shoulders a lid.

But something tells me this form I inhabit is far from complete. It would be premature to set here.

So I keep stirring, keeping the heat on. I choose to stay soft.

He comes to mind again as he does every night — though maybe not every hour, like before — and I let him float. Him here reminding me of him gone. . .  what is the sensation? What texture, what name? The choices surge and crest and recede. Despair? Indifference? Exasperation? Pain?

Surge, crest, recede.

I choose love.

I call up what I cherish about him. I rewind and return again to a jagged stone beach at night, then a single thread of a spiderweb catching sunlight, then paintbrushes, plumbing, good morning saffron. The fizz of his laugh. The return of mine, the one he gave back every time I lost it.

Leaving all this buried in the cold earth might be a wiser choice. The list of problems is a concrete skin poured over our story. It takes muscle and more than a little stubborn idealism to dig under it all, to extract silver from ore. This is the one power I have here. I use it shamelessly.

I choose to distill us from the rank slurry. I turn us towards light.

My heart will stay open. This is how I can unfurl generous strands of the purest stuff that comprises me, loop them around the boy, the pooch, the neighbors. This is how I can string the silver net for family and community. How I can weave work and creativity into the much larger project of living well on a burdened planet.

By staying soft, my heart also makes room for someone else.

After tonight, I’ll pull myself out of this delicious misery and open myself again to new friends.

Intimacy takes time. It hurts a little. It did with us, it always does. Shifting into imperfect alignment with another human brings bruises and strains, elbows banging into weak spots. He and I acquiesced to the troubles, we let them win. But the next story will be its own. I will keep myself raw, and refuse to harden when I enter the community of strangers and friends. The companions who will let me walk with them, they are waiting, they are already my beloved ones.

I invite in all of what comes.

Tomorrow, I’ll tuck the achy tenderness into pockets behind my breast, around my wrist, under my tongue. As I’ve done for the last month, I’ll flit across the clock, learning and gabbing and celebrating. I’ll step out and begin again yes, yes, to lift the window where the sun sheds it plenty. I’ll let the day in. I’ll set my own self out on my way.

Tonight, though, I wallow.

This is the last night so I give it my all.

The rich, charred flavor is a chord that clangs against my tongue, my blood. The whole loathsome, self-pitying torment of losing him rings in my bones. Meanwhile, in her smokey minor key, the night sings on. The dog sighs, curled on a blanket at my feet. Purple-blue lights blink on tinseled branches.

I can miss him so hard it hurts, and still be a whole shimmering lovely thing,

and still let him go,

still now, be still now,

tonight is a resting time,

still here with the hushed laugh tucked low in my belly, right where he left it for me.


 

 

 

 

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20151129_154608

It’s worth fighting through the inertia.

True as that may be, my self-pity disagrees. In its defense of digging a deeper rabbit hole, it would rather filibuster than concede. Its zealotry twists the mere suggestion of celebration into an offense against reason.

Birthday? Bah. What would you be celebrating anyway? Your troubled finances? The end of your relationship? The last dozen fights with Bug, an anemic field of job prospects, your dearest friends in crisis?

The silk-throated devil reminds me that I’m stretched too thin as it is. “Tired” is no longer an adequate descriptor for the perpetual state in which I exist. Wouldn’t you rather just rest, read, heal? Wouldn’t your time be better spent re-tooling your resume?

And:

Once you’ve had 40-something of them, birthdays just become days. Throwing yourself a party at this stage is both tacky and desperate.

No parties. No people. No no no.

But also yes. Because every reason to skip out on pleasure is a dolled-up version of submission. In fact, the more convincing the justification for staying low, the more I should suspect — and upend — its dominance. A toxic mood relishes its alpha dog position, growing in power unless I subvert it.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has a simple and ingenious approach to this. Just choose the opposite.

To break this feedback loop, we need to engage in a behavior inconsistent to the emotion we’re trying to manage. This is a technique called opposite-to-emotion behavior. To do this, identify the emotion (sadness), identify the mood-dependent behavior (inaction/isolation), then do the opposite of that.


Opposite to Emotion Behavior from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A snap, right? Take the stairs. Don the cape. Put a friggin foot on the gas and go. Even when it seems like the most useless act in the world. Especially then.

So, snarling and irate and certain the endeavor will fail, I hurl a few names at Evite.

Fixing a time and place leads to tidying, menus, asking for help. I cobble together activities. I send personal invitations to a new neighbor and to old family friends going through a tough time. My mother gets on board — bless that lady — and then I am dashing around, slapping on lipstick and jamming in earrings as the first guests knock on the door.

20151129_154453

As with so many actions, motion generates momentum. It’s almost irrelevant the direction of travel. Any push will do.

The friends arrive. More follow. They hug and meet and hoot and gossip. They bring wine, sweets, kids, dogs. A few play along with my contrived icebreaker activity, milling around five zones of the house where markers and paper on the wall invite joyful thinking about our community and our time together here.

As with so many choices, intention determines outcome. It’s almost irrelevant the details of the text. Any welcome will do.

Earlier in the day, Tee whisked Bug off to a college basketball game. Halfway through the party, he’s dropping the kiddo off. When half-ass planning this whole shindig, I’d been wearing armor of thorns and stink. My invite list failed to catch half the people I love. I’d also been too tight-hearted to ask Tee if he’d like to come. If I have to throw this stupid party, I don’t want my ex husband here. My birthday. My party.

Mine mine mine.

Then my son walks through the door and the room erupts in a cheer. Bug’s face lights up and he skips into the Studio 54 buzz and music and sparkle. Tee is already backing out, saying good night. “Come in,” I say. “Eat. Have a beer.”

“I’ve got a lot of school work still to do. . .”

I gesture wide. “There’s hot cider, Moroccan veggie stew.”

“Okay, just for a minute.” He steps inside and stays for an hour.

Tee is still there when my loved ones gather in a circle around the room. Everyone speaks out loud their wishes for the year ahead as well as their thanks for the right-here-and-now. My mom. The junior-high pals. The Zumba instructors who’ve become sisters. The new neighbor, the writing group fellow, all these the people who just happen to be my people. Even Tee shares how happy he is that we are parenting together as friends and that our son is thriving. Words upon words brushed with almost-tears and lots of chuckles weave their light web around the room.

Bug and the neighbor’s son, chasing down dogs who are chasing down crumbs, dart through the throng decked out in sunglasses and bandit masks, mercifully demolishing our grownup drift towards solemnity.

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It’s an extraordinary and dizzying experience to stand inside the metaphor of a circle of love manifesting in real life.

That incessant need to be on, to get things right and be just so, has slunk off into some forgotten corner. In my home with these dear ones, I feel at ease. It is as if I really am — for the moment — okay as me. Clumsy, gushing, nerdy, cutting, tempestuous, so-very-lucky me. . . just a gal entering her 43rd year in the happy company of her tribe.

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(And, as I remind several perplexed friends and my son: Yes, a 42nd birthday is the beginning of a 43rd year, because math, people).

As the music starts up again, the circle dissolves and takes on new shapes. Small pockets of conversation dot the room. People who just met giggle like old friends, a baby is passed to a new set of arms, men talk coaching and gals talk travel. Folks who haven’t seen each other in years cover lost ground. The first roots take hold under nascent relationships.

Orientation determines truth. I tilt my head and the whole thing resolves into sharp-edged clarity. Throwing oneself a party is also giving a party. A birthday is just another day, yes. It is also a gift, a perfect excuse to open a door and invite a fledgling community to weave itself into being. This circle is so much more than mine. It holds my son, parents, neighbors, and all the friends who show up with attention, voice, and story.

My girlfriend says that each year is “a free vacation around the sun.” Even so, it can also feel like an extended solo trip. It can take a few revolutions (or a few dozen) before it becomes clear that we have always been in this together.

This time I can see how many are at the helm, how strong the crew, how wide open the skies.

 
 

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