@BEunsettled Travels with Henry

“Do something and do it big.” My daughters said. “You are unhappy, so you need to just do something.” My throat tightened as it always did when it seemed I needed to cry, but really, I needed to speak.
That was the beginning of the scariest decision I have made in a very long time. In 2017, I was going to leave my home in the San Francisco Bay Area, my work and friends of 30+ years, and return to my childhood home, Illinois. A state I had not lived in for over 30 years.
I packed to vacate the house that I had shared with Airbnb renters, dwindled all down to a 10×10 storage unit, load up my Prius C, the very smallest of the Prius line, settle my chocolate Labrador in the back seat and head out.
We traveled through parts of the South that showed me exactly why our politics were in the state they were in, and because my dog is an ambassador, I met and talked to people I would never have spoken to, thinking we had nothing in common. But soon into a conversation with a complete stranger, I learned we had much in common, though I will still never wear camouflage pants or hats. I don’t find that I need to hide.
My decision to trust, believe in not knowing, and put one foot in front of the other, opened doors I knew were there, but I was too afraid to open.
My dog and I lived in a room at an Airbnb in the Chicago area for about one year, where we worked in a therapeutic elementary school and a hospice giving comfort to those there. And then, with the idea that I had collected necessary memories and done what I needed there, I bought a Trail Vail for my hatchback, met some friends from a distant past, comforted Henry in the backseat, and started camping our way out to Oregon.
We, Henry, my dog and I, have lived in Oregon a year at another Airbnb, and I am leaving again. For now, we will return to the Bay Area for the holidays, and then I don’t know what is next for Henry and me.
Thank you @BEunsettled for making a life unsettled a bit more of a thing, crazy but doable.

Hearts that Ache

“I think many people can relate to that excruciating pain of love gone wrong. I’d rather have a broken arm than a broken heart.” – Christie Brinkley

Heart Ache

There is heartache that comes from a love with a partner, there is heartache that comes from loving your children, from loving your brother, from loving your mother, your father, your friend, from seeing someone with no home or someone who can’t be in their home.

How do you avoid heartbreak? You turn away from what hurts like it isn’t there.  You do things that don’t feel right, and your heart breaks another way.

You do them because you are trying to change something.  Make something new happen.  But you still feel left out. You still feel undone, unfinished, unsure, and you do it anyway. You feel aches that you never knew were aches, you tie shoes, you go grocery shopping, you have conversations, and you still feel heartache.

Whose heart do you break beside your own when you do things for the wrong reasons?   Whose breaks when you do something wrong for who you are?  Whose heart breaks when you don’t do something wrong for who you are?

Hearts do ache, that is part of their job, besides love, besides expansion, besides contraction, besides aching. 

Part of what hearts do is tell you something else needs to happen, something needs to expand, something needs to be considered, something needs to speak from the heart.

You study Buddhism to learn to turn towards the ache, to not turn away, not run away and it all still aches, it gets better, and then the ache comes back with a new cut, intended or unintended. And eventually, not soon, but later, you can learn to distract yourself from the ache, to learn what is about ego and what is about heart, where to focus, where to pay attention, and where to draw your attention away.

My mother, Florkila, told me to get a tougher skin, but I never figured out how to do that.  I knew there was something right about that, but I couldn’t figure it out. And so, heartache is a challenge and takes me to find articles about how heartache actually is a thing that affects you physically, Broken Heart Syndrome. 

I want to leave this with a ray of hope, with the hope that aches go away and never come back, or aches heal and never need attention again.  There is hope, but it is different than that.  The hope lies in the heart, the heart that aches, and loves, and aches and loves, and keeps beating, keeps pumping life into our veins. There is hope in knowing that everything, Everything always, Always changes.

 

~Thank you to Carol L. and Lara S. for always being “with” when things have to travel deep and Thank you, Maira Kalman, for the inspiration to just write as things are, to be quirky, to let things land where they land, be complete or incomplete.

Trusting, in Layers

Bridges, they are like chapels as if honoring the water below and the magic of crossing over.

Trust I

Her work was to trust, and she studied and thought and studied more in trying to make trust just something she did.  Her trust had grown in a way she had not anticipated.

She had let go of her home in CA, sold it, moved up north to Oregon, at least moved her things, got her Oregon driver’s license, registered her brand new Subaru in Oregon.  And each step of the way, it seemed okay.  At first, she felt anxious, and then she let go of that. After apprehensively getting her driver’s license, by the time she registered her car, it felt okay to be there.  Here certainly felt better than there.  She still rented a room from a stranger that placed her in aesthetically challenging surroundings.  But she was indeed not ready to be anywhere that was just hers. She could feel the time coming when she would want her own place once again, but it wasn’t yet.

Trust II

Today was a day of testing trust.

What did she trust in when her friend was finding out about the sores on her body and masses found inside her body.  When on this same day she left her dog behind a cage door at the Vets so he could have a growth cut out along with a tiny mass on the bottom of the same paw.

Two beings who are so dear to her.  Two beings who have thoughts she will never know. Two beings who she looks to for comfort, for grounding, for sanity.  One blond with laughter, one covered in chocolate fur. Both touch her heart, her soul and keep her company on this journey of her life.

Since she started this, her dog’s lab tests came back, saying no cancer. “Phew,” as one daughter said.  He had Trichoepitheliomas which arose from cystic hair follicles (follicles that have closed over, like a sac) and created a growth, which looked like an extra toe.

The blonde in her life will see the oncologist tomorrow.  It is hard to believe she is or will be okay. She keeps getting new sores and the ones she has, keep getting worse, and those are just the visible ones.

All of a sudden she found herself on a journey with this friend which was different than when they started.  When they talk now, she finds that she wants to catch every wise word coming from this friend, her buddha buddy, as they had come to call each other.  She wants to remember every conversation as if filing all of this for reference for when this friend is gone, and she won’t be able to pick up the phone to hear her legal knowledge about this or that or hear her worldly wisdom.  And all that resides in the assumption that her friend will leave before she does.

Trust III

Trust takes on new dimensions.

The friend is leaving.  She has stomach cancer that metastasized to her lungs, liver, bone, breast… She had been to see the friend in Hospice, in Seattle 2 times, just arriving back yesterday from the most recent visit.  The friend is letting go, slowly, stubbornly.  For the first few weeks, she believed she could fight cancer and win.  The last several weeks have been filled with confusion, bewilderment that she was dying and battling surrender to the reality of death.

It is a rare occasion to see someone in the process of dying.  It is like the insides leave bit by bit, and what remains is the skeleton, the skin, hair, and eyes. What can it mean to trust here, while watching death do it work?  Where does trust fit in?  The friend is afraid she doesn’t know how to die.  Is that the final trust?  Knowing that one way or another we all die?

How Do I Live?

Image from The Empathy Project at Seattle Art Museum 11/2018

12/31/2018

We arrive on this earth, learn things, affect people, people affect us, eat too much or too little, hate ourselves, work on loving ourselves, work on not hating others, lose people, gain new people, worry about money, and kids, our parents and siblings, and friendships, have some laughs here and there, and then we die, we are gone.  At some point, it is over, just over.  We make up ideas about where we go when we die and typically think it will be much better or much worse than life here on earth. I think we just die.We leave energy behind, we leave memories and that is all we really know.  

Death seems to happen by mistake, an anomaly in our world.  We all know that we die, but I am a member of the club that pretends that it will really never happen to me. Or it will happen in a way that is swift so I barely know it has happened. It will happen as I imagine when I am 100 and still have my wits about me. I will be sleeping and my heart will fail.  My imaginings are based on facts; My mother lived to 94, her sister to 92 and her cousin lives on at 101 about to be 102.

When death happens we land in the country of disbelief and say this wasn’t supposed to happen, especially when the person seems too young to die or cut off from doing something that we think is important or it is just someone we love spending time with and it feels like they are taken from us.

As I don’t have a ritual for death, there are the memories that I want to collect up, like a hoarder.  The Day of the Dead ritual in Coco seems good.  Creating an altar of things that help me remember my friend Paula, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, the friend that died when we were both 19, the friend of my daughter’s who also died when they were 19.  I still carry around my mother’s ashes in a shoe box, fitting for who she was, waiting for the perfect moment and place to put them.  I think of somewhere for the ashes, weigh in on it, and, so far, nowhere ends up saying, yes, leave her here, with us, where she will be taken care of. Maybe a shoebox is the perfect place. It was not uncommon for my mom and me to joke about her and Imelda Marcos.  Not about shared politics, but about too many shoes.

This past month I sat and watched my friend wither away like a dying, brittle vine, still clinging to the trellis it once had adorned with blossoms.  She had stomach cancer but told us she had breast cancer because that is what she wanted to believe. It was part of her wish to believe she could recover from this by diet and positive thinking.  By the time she had told me, and a few other friends, she had had this cancer for a year. We learned of it when the cancer was in the process of attacking her entire body.  In the end, it left her with a writhing ocean of an open wound weeping from her chest.  It was as if her insides had become a riptide of pus trying to break free from her cancer-riddled body, just as she hoped to do, break free.  Prior to hospitalization, a nurse suggested wearing a Kotex as a bandage on her leaking breast, which she did, bringing both of us to uproarious laughter.  The whole time we joked, I had no idea she was dying and maybe it was more fun that way.  It was just a silly bandage that would be removed one day when she was “better”.

The last time I saw her, she was in a baseline assisted living home where she was receiving Hospice care, at least when the nurses chose to follow Hospice’s instruction or when Hospice was there itself. She looked kind of like a person I once knew, but as she became ever more gaunt, she was a sliver of who she once was.  Over a months time, she became an empty body, with blue eyes that moved and had moments, flashes of recognition, and then vacant.  She died on December 24, 2018, at too young of an age, taking secrets with her.

Each day, after leaving the vigil of sitting with Paula, my thoughts would drift off to how will this happen for me.  Who will be with me?  I would like my kids to be with me, but wonder if one could stand the process and if the other will be too busy. I carry a fantasy that my kids will be there like I was for my mother, but that fantasy includes things as if I were like my mother and my kids were like me.  But, in fact, my mother and I were always pretty different.  I mean it was clear we had a special bond, and we were related, but I live my life differently than she lived hers.  I attend to my fears differently, I attend to my hopes differently.  So to think I will have what my mother had in her ending years, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The last time I saw Paula she looked a lot like an alien with a small diminishing body and huge eyes.  I felt cliche when my mind went off to wondering if this is what life comes to and then wondering if am I doing my life right.  Paula died much as she lived. In the end, she was as worried about her finances as ever, though her worries were unfounded, as they always had been. She scrabbled around with friendships and kept secrets or half-truths how she was actually related to certain people who she spent time with. Early in my first visit, at some point in her morphine stupor, she made a comment about looking fat. The only thing that could possibly suggest fat, was her cancer inflamed arm. Even on her death bed, her eating disorder was alive and well.  Her concern and fear of being fat was evidence that our craziness follows us to the end.  So if this is the case, I deeply want to unhook my deep, low self-esteem issues now. I would like my death bed to be free of the ailments of untruths about who I actually am.

So what am I doing with my life?  How cruel have I been?  What can I do about it now? When do I just let go and be kind, do what I need to do, do what I want and brush off the cruel things said to me, by me and others??  Get the tougher skin my mother had wished for me.  I find all my actions are directed towards freeing myself to be present, being kind and generous, uncluttered by my lower needs of inclusion, fear of being left out, needing to defend myself, needing recognition.  I find I am driven to live from a higher place than my ego and I fail at all of this a lot.

After watching Paula, I hope I get there.  I think I want this more than anything other than for my children and their loved ones to be happy, healthy and feel safe.

Henry with Paula
For Paula and Our Friendship… With love from your Buddha Buddy and Henry

“If death is certain and the time of death uncertain, what do I do? How do I live? What matters most to me in the time that is left?”                                                                      ~Stephen Batchelor

 

Revised 1/21/2019

 

 

Are you Indigenous Indian?

“Are you part indigenous Indian?”  Asked a man waiting in line at the Post Office.  A secret smile crept onto my face.  I really wished I was and told him that.  He said he was part and commented on my looks.   No one has ever asked me that before, though I did have one boyfriend years ago, who commented on my feet and how they looked like I had walked many lands and that meant to him that I was very wise.  I decided to just let that be true… for him.

I wondered what the man at the Post Office saw that made him ask. I searched my history and memories like they were typed pages holding secrets, hidden between words.  When I was little I was a blue-eyed blonde with Russian ancestors. But I always thought my grandmother, who was born in Russia, looked like an indigenous Indian and wanted to know the story of her parents and childhood.  I wondered how her looks came about, the tall thin woman she was, with high cheekbones, and sunken cheeks.

That small comment, that day, made me feel so special.  The man spoke to my desire to be with or in as many cultures as there are people, a desire to be part of a tribe, well, many tribes.

Images flutter in front of me and I see my grandmother next to an ancient wise Indian, one whose feet have walked the earth, touched the actual soil. I see the deep sun-dried lines that suggest, wisdom and natural beauty which is simply, beautiful, worn and filled with stories.

Good pick up line, I thought.  It turned me inward, into things deeper in me than I can understand. It made me aware of a ball of light deep inside that glows when I decide to look that way.  It may glow all the time, even when I am not looking.

And when those words enter my thoughts I also hear, “There she goes…off the deep end… again. She is sure that is what certain friends and family are saying about her now, “Ball of light, glowing deep inside…whaaat!”  That says too many years in California, for sure!

So, of course, I am headed back to California, with plans to meet old camping friends, and we will camp our way back, through indigenous lands, where I am pretty certain, no one will ask if I am indigenous Indian.  And I will be back in the land where spoken words of balls glowing deep inside are more commonplace, as well as shamans, healers, and therapists.

Dad's Glass

Floating in A Dinghy in the Ocean…for Now

Photo credit: The Hidden Art of Moonsweeping   Ala Pixar

“You are in a dinghy in the ocean.  You will beach and you will be fine, just not yet.  ElsaElsa, Astrologer

I am that kind of a person who listens to things like this because they help explain what I feel, what I can’t control or don’t want to control. Elsa spoke to a deep part of me that knows, and what I know is that I don’t want to land, not yet. She tells me, in an attempt to comfort me, that landing will occur sometime in early 2019 to Spring of 2019 when I will beach my dinghy. I am hoping It won’t be longer unless when I get to the Spring of 2019 it feels right to wait, again, for landing.

I reached a pivot point where doing something different, though scary and unsettling, out weighted remaining as I had been for so many years, afraid. Some freedom has been unleashed in me that yearns for the next adventure. No naysayers to hold me back with all the fears and considerations rebounding in my mind, “Watch out!”  “You might…”  “What if…”  

The Traveler in me, always thought travel was the luxury of good fortune when I deeply Knew it was my birthright. And now, I can’t go back into the attic, the basement, my room, or hunker down.  This Journeywoman wants to stay out, like an unbound child, reaching for every wish and dream and wants to discover more about all the possibilities of living a life unconfined by “supposed to’s“, shoulds and the restrictions brought on by “ought to’s“.

This journey is not for everyone. It is hardly for anyone, and it is not one I recommend as a choice.  It is a part of a path that is painful, seemingly unending, and at times, very boring. It began many years ago and then, I fell and tumbled further, deeply onto the path 10 years ago, after my divorce.  The road I landed on was laden with much solitude, more aloneness than what gave me comfort and the discovery of the wonders of silence. My soul companion, Henry, my chocolate labrador, was necessary to my bravery, and he did his work of getting me out when I didn’t want to be out and getting me talking to people I might have otherwise ignored.

 

 

The past many years was a life of renting rooms to wonderful strangers who arrived at my door from all over the world, giving me purpose and a reason to get up, make the bed and keep the house clean.  I could focus on being of service to others.

This was a period of too many years of a most disquieting depression. A depression that lurked around the corners of my mind for most of my life with a few respites such as attending Dell Arte School of Commedia, having my kids, and raising them, and travels abroad and elsewhere. The darkness fully dropped its shroud on me and enveloped my mind upon my divorce in 2008.

So, the last 10 years was a time of surrendering to a way I had fended off for a very long time.  It was an uncomfortable and very dark awkward time of clarifying what I know to be true for me.  It was not a time of answers or solutions, it simply was a time of getting by with putting one foot in front of the other, slogging through, showing up as best I could.  And from what I hear, most people had no idea I felt as I did.  It was not that I tried to disguise what was happening, rather, it was a very solitary experience that did not show up when I was with others.  I sought the help of therapists who did not know what to do with this.  How do you treat a symptom that only rears its horns when one is alone?  I sought the help of antidepressants and nutritionists and those gave me a few moments of feeling less than depressed, but moments that felt as if I was teetering on a cliff and could fall into the vat of depression at any moment. I studied about the heart’s desires, forgiveness and began to meditate and study secular Buddhism and that has given me better places to go in my thoughts. It gave me the work of training my mind when headed down the wrong road.

But really, the remedy for me seemed to consist of taking the seemingly very big risk of stepping out of my life as I knew it: Leaving the life I had outgrown; realizing I was wearing a skin that no longer fit and perhaps never did, and slipping out of it even though fear made me want to stay in it, even though anxiety of how all of this would go, made me yearn for the comfort of the old skin, though it was no longer offering comfort.

IMG_2620

Life is different now. I have broken away, literally, and the depression has lifted. I feel released from the prison of my dark mind, my lethargy and the weighty fog that enveloped my thoughts and turned Every Thing dull.

My trip to Chicago in April 2017 started me off.  It woke me up to people and things in the world that I always knew was there, but never really experienced.  As a  therapist, I always said and taught, that a geographic change won’t really change you, but it did.  I let go of things I had been holding on to; my past, a stress, a pushing against, the treading water that exhausted me.  Going back to Chicago, where I grew up, let me live with my memories, see places of familiarity, gather back strength from my roots, refresh old images that rested in my mind and look at them again, and deeply re-examine the childhood I had spent there.

The muscles of my mind hold such a memory.  My great aunt lived on Laurel, a block from the stunning Baha’i Temple in Wilmette.  As a child, my parents would drop me off on Linden Avenue so I could walk the secret path, alone and meet them at my aunt’s house.

This time around, visiting the temple, was not about traveling a secret path to my aunt’s house but meditating at the very temple whose image is embroidered in my mind. Meditating in this place of such craftsmanship,  felt like a privilege.  Looking back, practicing here, seemed to gather all of my past together, under it’s great, intricate dome,  The great atmosphere of light, and shadow allowed wounds to be released and fly through the cement lacework, out to the sky. Though as a child, it was just something to ogle, this time it was a familiar soft, silent place to sit and feel.

Though I did not go to meditate with the idea of healing wounds, it now seems to be what happened.

 

Now, without the darkness of depression hanging over me, I have a deep sense inside me that I am not landing anywhere yet and when I stretch my thoughts out into the future, as if on tendrils, it feels scary and words surface like, “you should know…, if you don’t, you will miss this opportunity for… or you will miss that… ” You will never own a home again, you will never find a place as good as the one before, you will never do this, or that or… ” So many things that won’t happen if I don’t figure this out.  But I am focused on all the things that could happen if I don’t pretend to know and allow possibilities to unfold.

When I just stay where I am, present, not reaching into my future or back to my past, I am okay, things work and life is more full.  It isn’t perfect; places I stay aren’t the aesthetic that is my cup of tea, nor my preference but what does all that matter? What I am finding matters are the relationships with the people I meet, the amazing generosity of spirit on the road and the stories people share with me, as well as the stories they tell just in their ways of doing things, their actions, their ways of relating to others.

I find that in choosing this road, magic has a place. I can have a wish to camp my way back from Chicago to California but feel uncomfortable about doing it alone. Then about two months before I am to leave I get a text from an old friend and camping pal asking what I’m up to. We had not seen each other for some 45 years when we were on our last camping trip from Chicago to Alaska. I called her and she and her husband were planning a camping trip from their home in central Illinois to Portland, Oregon. So I asked to tag along. Some people say I manifested that. I believe I was just aware of a wish, open to possibilities, determined to not allow fear to guide me, and there was the opportunity I could say yes to.

A note about moon sweepers photo:  If I am out in a dingy, I may as well sweep the moon. As a dear friend often said, “What else is there to do?”