healing in deep snow

I took a long walk this afternoon and trudged through deep snow, snow up to my knees, and I didn’t realize just how out of shape I was and how challenged I was by the exercise until I made it back to shoveled-territory and felt the easy of walking without sinking.

Sometimes we don’t realize how bad it is until we aren’t in it quite so deep anymore. Which makes the deepness feel all the more endless.

There are times I can write myself out of the deep. There are other times I choose not to write. When healing is happening in my body, and my mind isn’t able to catch up, writing feels like a disservice to my healing. If my body could write the traumatic energy that is being released without my mind passing judgements, perhaps I would write out of the deep snow.

For now, I follow what is moving.

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was rumi a slow walker?

“The world is filled with people like Shams of Tabriz but where are the men like Rumi to see the truth in them?”Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thought by Sefik Can, page 67.

I think I must pass many wise people when I go throughout my day. Wise with a capital “W”. Wise about the ice on the pond and the gunshots and the meditation pillow and the swastikas and all the police who are not in prison.

I think I must pass many wise people, and yet we all walk so fast these days. How can I even have time to begin to see the truth in them?

poem for the february sun

It is 4pm in Western Massachusetts in February and

the sun is shining

and it is 33 degrees outside.

Let me repeat that.

It is 33 degrees outside.

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Let me clarify in case you are confused.

I am used to relief

at over-zero.

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Don’t get me wrong.

There is still a lot of snow.

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But after so many

blizzards

and below-zero days

and grey skies

relief flows like water

pulled by gravity.

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I have not been able to motivate myself

to walk out my door

into the cold

and yet

when I pushed myself

to do so today

I felt I was breathing for the first time.

Oh what a joy

to watch my feet disappear

in the snow

to hear icicles dripping

and to think maybe there are green buds in me

about to burst through

just as there are in the earth

unseen but present and ready.

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inspired by the art garden

Last night I was able to attend a glorious event called Paradise [not yet] Lost at The Art Garden, a community arts space in Shelburne Falls, MA. The invitation to the event read: “You are invited to participate in Paradise [not yet] Lost, a community exhibit about environmental issues, climate change, and the places we love and want to take care of.”

The exhibit included stunning works of visual work including paintings, collages, ceramic work, and mixed-media pieces. At 7pm performances began, and these included storytelling, recitations of poetry, musical sing-a-long, and an incredible interactive piece involved levitating ping-pong balls (with the use of hair-driers and many helping hands) that each said positive qualities such as “balance”, “intention,” and “love.”

I was inspired beyond belief, and the feeling still lingers twenty-four hours later. All the visual and performance work touched on the beauty of the natural world, the activism people are doing to care for the world, the love and belonging people feel to the places they live, and the investment in building community around these issues.

Everyone was invited to write an intention for engaging with nature and in a creative, social, and preserving way. We wrote our intentions on leaves and taped the leaves onto a card-board tree that was built in a corner of the room.

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Especially amidst the isolation, loneliness, and quiet of winter, I could not have asked for a more wonderful way to spend an evening with humans, feeling grateful for humans and for the beautiful world we live in, despite the challenges we face. So much gratitude to Jane Beatrice Wegscheider, artist director of The Art Garden, the many staff there, and all the artists who participated last night. My creative juices are flowing. My appreciation for nature has been rekindled. Thank you!

life lessons learned washing dishes

This morning I woke up to a mountain of dishes in the sink. We made chili last night, but I was exhausted after dinner and gave myself permission to leave the kitchen a mess, set my alarm early before work, and get them done in the morning.

This morning I really wished I hadn’t done that. I was still exhausted, nervous for the day at work, and on top of all that, now completely overwhelmed by all the dishes. I wasn’t sure how I could do it all. Life in general has become very overwhelming.

Then I took a deep breath, and started with the dishes already clean, in the dish rack. One by one I put them away in their cabinets. And suddenly, the mountain in the sink looked a bit smaller.

I needed to make space for the cleaning before it could begin.

*

Lately I feel my world is very small. It feels strange and unlike me, because before what happened I felt the world was very large, and I felt my life was infinitely possible…that I was infinitely possible. I have made my current life very small because that is what has felt safe and necessary for my healing process.

And after finishing (!) all the dishes, I understand why.

I need to make space for the healing. To clear out the parts of my life that do not serve the healing process. Then I can begin to pick away at the mountain of dirt that needs tending to. And when there is space and healing enough, my world will feel large again. I will fill it back in. I have to believe that. I must.

poem for mean minds

brain won’t stop

go go go

i’m bad

the world is bad

humans are bad

i’m in danger

the world is in danger

i should be better

i should be more 

i am not enough

i am not enough

i am not enough 

brain won’t stop

*

i know i am the observer 

i am the one listening to these thoughts

i am the consciousness able

to write them down here

but they are so loud

the trees are so quiet

i would like to be a tree

i would like to know myself

to be more than just

an observer

i would like a quiet brain back

ancient chinese poetry and forgetting the linear

The Sun Magazine, like the On Being radio podcasts,  has become part of my hodge-podge “take-what-you-like-and-leave-the-rest” spirituality. The January 2015 issue of The Sun features an interview by Leath Tonino with David Hinton, a great translator of ancient Chinese poets. Titled The Egret Lifting from the Riverthe interview has been speaking to me on several different levels.

“We think of time in linear terms, whereas in ancient China they thought of existence as a burgeoning forth, an ongoing generative present in which things appear and disappear in the process of change. And this constant birthing goes on both in the physical world and in human consciousness, for consciousness is as much a part of that process as surf or a rainstorm or blossoms opening in an almond orchard.”

When I read (and then re-read) this passage, I began reflecting on all the ways I envision the world and my life in straight lines. Years ago when I began immersing myself in American Indian literature and poetry, I experienced a similar sudden distancing from the way I saw reality. In a parallel way, reading this quote of David Hinton’s, I tried to picture what it would mean to embody this way of seeing the world. Is it possible, given how powerful mainstream linear pop culture is? The first thought I had was that to attempt to do so would be swimming upstream, against the current–and so it seems fitting that the piece has the word “river” in the title. Linear “straight-line” thinking goes along with the idea of progress, of evolution, and very quickly dips dangerously into the concept of cultural evolution (think primitive versus civilized and other such problematic dualities).

What if we thought of life as circles? As spirals? As abstract art, not geometry? Would it reflect reality more? Would that be better? I don’t know. I certainly do like the idea of a “constant birthing” as a way of describing impermanence. And I think with that comes constant inner death–the inevitable cyclic nature of things.

Hinton offers an exercise that I would like to share here, because it has brought me some peace of mind and relief during these dark cold winter days, and I hope it can bring you some as well:

“Here’s a thought experiment: If you want to know what’s fundamentally true about the world, walk out into an open field and close your eyes. Then start forgetting. Forget everything you know and believe, all the knowledge our culture has accumulated, all our assumptions about the world and ourselves. Completely empty your mind. Then open your eyes and see what you encounter. The first thing you see is this physical stuff all around you. And if you’ve wholly emptied your mind, it is a wondrous revelation: existence, the material universe vast and deep, everything and everywhere, when there might just as easily be nothing at all.” 

Here’s to forgetting all we know and opening our eyes to a new world.

i give you permission to hibernate

The Gifts of Hibernation is a gift in itself. A piece of writing offered by Andréana E. Lefton, a guest contributor on Krista Tippet’s On Being blog, the article was posted in December 29th, my birthday, the day I woke up with a stomach flu that I am still, six days later, fighting off. I only discovered Lefton’s piece last night, but the timing was perfect.

Lefton writes about the challenge of giving the Self permission to STOP. “I’ve never been good at resting, taking time out, or giving in to exhaustion. For years, I bought into the mantra that doing is better than being, that productivity is the measure of self-worth.”

While in my case I wasn’t given the opportunity of time off from work, but it was forced on me when my body shut down with a classic winter bug, I was still so resistant to let myself not be productive (yes, I am a Capricorn. Shocking, right?) I tried to keep plans and prior commitments. I waited to call out of work, hoping I would bounce back. When I finally did give myself permission to call out of work and stay in bed, my brain tortured me with lists of things I should be getting done while in bed–catching up on emails, working on my novel, and of course–writing more blog posts!

Lefton writes about letting herself sink into the opportunity of what I like to call time-spaciousness“The image I have of myself during these weeks is twofold. First, I see a sodden rag being wrung and wrung and wrung. All the tiredness, all the energy I gave and absorbed over the years is being released. The second image is of a bell — a bell being rung and rung and rung. Its sound is one of welcome. It is a signal to the worlds that the silence of my heart is transforming into a call to prayer.”

What a set of images! I feel like a rag being wrung. I also feel like a bell. I feel there is a potential, dormant inside me. A set of gifts and skills and they want to emerge but I am not healed enough yet; my body is not strong enough yet. I must rebuild my health before I can be of service to the world.

Yesterday I told my dear companion how this week I have been eager to visit sacred places. To visit a mosque and a church and Hindu and Jewish and Buddhist temples and just sit in them. My companion asked me why and I said I felt like being in a holy space. That was the only answer I could offer. An interfaith pilgrimage to heal body and soul.

Then I read Lefton’s piece and she writes, “One of my rituals during these weeks is to drive into the mountains, to visit a chapel on a university campus. The chapel is built from the stone of the mountain. Standing inside, I cradle my fatigue within the deep energy of rock, water, and plant life. I say a few prayers, or read a poem. Then I drive back down the mountain, and go to sleep.” 

So I am not the only one who craves being enclosed in a place of prayer.

And at the same time, I long for my strength back, in order to walk in the woods and listen to the birds, and be in that church, the church of the natural world.

There is something powerful in stopping. As Lefton says, we live “in a world that tears us apart, then shames us when we take time for healing.” 

And now I have been torn apart. I have been stopped to heal so many times in the past year and a half. I have determined myself ready to start again, only to have another ailment force rest upon me.

What would it mean to declare myself in a state of rest until my body craves otherwise–instead of allowing my mind to declare when I should be ready to overcome PTSD, a spinal injury, grief, and a weakened immune system, among other things. I don’t even think “overcome” is the right word. I don’t know what the right word is. I know my body and mind are asking for hibernation. “Hibernation, which is another word for healing, restores our nourishing, grounding source. In so doing, it frees us to become a force of reason, reflection, and kindness.” 

Andréana E. Lefton, thank you for supporting my rest. Thank you for supporting the rest of your readers, by sharing the story of your own rest. How powerful a thing, to share our stories and in doing so offer others permission to do the same.

meditation practices after trauma

Trigger warning: sexual abuse and loss of air flow

When I was thirteen I decided I wanted to learn how to meditate, and from about ages fourteen-seventeen I meditated daily, sometimes for as long as forty-five minutes each sit.

When I got to college my practice ebbed and flowed. But it always felt like something I could return to.

No longer.

I have tried several times to meditate in my new life of being a survivor and living with PTSD. Each time has led me to some sort of panic attack or flashback.

Last night I tried meditating, but this time with somebody else present, hoping that in not being alone, I might be able to settle into the old joy and relief I experienced meditating.

After less than ten minutes, I was crying, standing up, leaving the sitting area, and shaking from a flashback.

I went online and decided to do some research. I had a feeling there must be resources out there on meditating after a traumatic event. My feeling is correct. There are so many!

The first article I clicked on felt like gold, because it validated so many of my experiences, and gave tips and encouragement.

“The body and breath are anchors for awareness that can be returned to again and again. Mindfulness of the breath is especially useful for trauma survivors, who tend to hold their breath as a way of not connecting with the present moment. Holding the breath is an unconscious response to anxiety, and may also be part of the process of dissociating from the experience. If, however, the trauma was related to the act of breathing (such as choking or oral sexual abuse), then the breath is obviously not the best meditation anchor. In these cases, during “sitting” periods, try listening meditation, body sweeping, mantras, or touch points.” -Amy Schmidt and John J. Miller

Such a relief and validation to read these words. I had been feeling ashamed that I wasn’t able to do my old practice, which always included “watching the breath” as a central approach. But reading the above passage made so much sense. Integral to my trauma is the loss of breath. No wonder this does not feel like a safe place for me to start.

I kept reading: “It can be helpful for survivors to practice in a way that seems contrary to the traditional Buddhist teachings. In the sutras, the Buddha advocated a warrior-style practice: ‘Let only my skin and sinews and bones remain and let the flesh and blood in my body dry up; I shall nor permit the course of my effort to stop until the end is reached.’ Instead, trauma survivors need to learn what one teacher calls the ‘reverse-warrior’ practice….working with trauma is like having two jobs: You’re doing the practice of meditation and the practice of healing at the same time. In this regard, the meditation focus needs to be on simple, small steps.” -Amy Schmidt and John J. Miller

This passage also feels tremendously helpful. However, I happen to quite like seeing myself as a warrior. So instead of “reverse-warrior practice” maybe it can be “adjusted-warrior practice.” So I can still be warrior, but also remember it’s okay to make adjustments to common practices in honor of healing and being kind and gentle to my own personal practice.

For anyone interested or who thinks they might be helpful for you or someone you know, below are some of the links I stumbled upon last night after trying to meditate.

May each individual remember that meditation practice is not only a practice, but a personal practice, and depending on our life experiences and circumstances the shape and form of the practice might need to change. This does not mean we are not warriors.

http://www.amitaschmidt.com/PDFs/HealingTrauma.pdf

http://www.meditation-ptsd.com/

http://www.healingmeditations.co.uk/index.htm

http://www.giftfromwithin.org/html/Guided-Meditations-for-PTSD-Survivors.html