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

 

 

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?”

Boomerangs and Geraniums, A Retrospective: A Jumble of an Ode to a Divorce

Image: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/geranium/

A retrospective, because now, with healing, it can be said.

Things get said like, no one ever thought death would be a well-visited patient on a maternity ward. (Jodi Picoult, Small Great Things) And there you are with a truth you always knew but never said. Babies die, mom’s die, the greatest hopes die and that is really unsettling, very depressing, but the truth.

More true things get said. No one ever tells you that divorce is like a death and how long that wound of breaking a sacred or not so sacred bond takes to heal, whether you asked for it or not, wanted it or not.  Whether you ever thought of it as sacred. And, either side you land on, there you are with loss and grief and can’t see where you will land or what dark corners you will have to turn before you start to see a speck of light. And you know you will, but you never know when. Everyone around you roots for you, hopes for you and you lean on their belief in you.  You will get through it.

People tell you this is a gift, a blessing, and one day you might even thank him. And you wonder when that will ring true. When does it feel good? When does it feel like the freedom you wanted, you hoped for?

Will it really take half the length of the entire marriage to get over the wound, get over the divorce? Feel free? That’s what you were told and you heard it with your ears covered so you could think that you really hadn’t heard it and told yourself that won’t be me, ever, it won’t take that long, it can’t.

It can’t take that long as there is no place to go to feel better, no hospital ward to hold that wound, that death, or that healing. There are bandages, but that is all they are, bandages, and the wound is slow to heal under them.

Most of us walk around thinking oh she’s divorced, never note the pain of that experience, and push the thought away like a dirty penny. Never really see her. But do judge her, Judge her righteoulsy because we can.

We are not divorced, We are able to make the relationship we have, stick,  For better or for worse.  We have gotten comfortable with what we know, with what is familiar.

And then our life changes and we are the ones getting the divorce. And the judging we had kept quietly to ourselves, flies from us, Like a boomerang spun out into the sky, with unbalanced aerodynamic force, It winds its way back to hit the very place it was thrown from,  Hitting us smack in our righteousness.

Then the boomerang is sent back to the blues again, Flies out into the sky and we have great hopes that it returns with new information gathered from the vast blue.  We hope for information wiser than our righteousness.

We hope for new ways to be with the painful feelings of loss, sadness, grief, And all the other feelings of envy, jealousy, fear, and hatred , That pop out as if they are thorns festering under our skin, Just waiting for the provocation to find its way out.

All the feelings that were, at once kept well under wraps and projected onto others, Are hidden in the garden behind the house, Under the geraniums that everyone pretends to like.

In fact with close examination, those geraniums, really, are not all that attractive:  A pretty bud, with spindly stems, But a very good cover that says eerything is as okay as it was in the ’50’s

How do you explain the wounds, how does healing really work?

Just the facts mam, that is what the attorneys want. They won’t delve into the deep, the sadness, loss, fear, And the tear of pain with each of the children’s experiences, With the mother’s agonizing ache over her children’s pain.

Some say, to do a burial for the divorce. There is a ritual to marry, there must be a ritual for the end of the marriage.

And when a burial is tried there is great hope, As the aches inside ask for the miracle of all the pain being over.

As with any death, the pain remains and heals, taking its own time, whatever time is necessary. There is no rushing it, no pushing it to fit our timing. It is not a time of convenience.

All the pointing fingers at her and her and her, Carry fingers pointing back to the pointer. And that is where the healing is called for,

Where the healing must start.

But we say I don’t want to and I won’t. We just want to keep our eye on the target of the finger-pointing at another.

The hurt is still too deep to look at the fingers pointing at the pointer, pointing at us.

And each time we turn away from seeing the fingers pointing back at us, We ache just a bit more because we know, we know that is the work, The work of unfolding the frozen bent fingers pointing back. The work of looking at the object of the point.

Therein lies the freedom, our freedom.

The bumps and hurdles come when we waver, And want to keep the fingers pointing out, Wanting to sacrifice our freedom to keep another caged. It all sounds so bad, so dreadful, so very unkind.

But divorce brings that out in us.

It is great work to keep the focus on us,  On ourselves, on our pain. It is great work to be so self focused that we will take our freedom, Even if it frees the other. We unbind, unhook from resentments and attachments, And let fly our freedom because now know we are the focus, we are the point.

And, finally, we can say we have let go.  Finally we have perspective, feel free, let loose the past, the anchors, let fly the wings of dreams and hopes to be explored.  Finally we can let go, and we do, and the air breaths fresh adventures into us. Finally.

I Am Not Who I Think I Am… I Am Not Who You Think I Am

The fairy child, is the changeling, the one who grew up with the humans.  

I am the human child taken to live with the fairies.  Or, I have a secret wish that that is what happened.

She told me when we met that she was not a nice person and said it more than once.  When would I just take someone at their word???  Really believe what they say?  Instead, I respond out loud or in my head with, No, you really are a nice person. and I know the nice will come out.  What keeps me from hearing them and letting go of them?

It was a screaming text that jumped at me.  It said, Who are you? Who were you? And then,  You are removed from the group.  I stopped text-talking to her at that point.  The texting that lead to this was fast and furious, she seemed frantic. But who can tell from a text?  I had angst that felt like high school, a feeling I never wanted to feel ever again.   The vibration of anxious drama was too old, like a stale brioche and too familiar, like an old grimy college couch that swallows you because the cushions have lost their bounce.  A lot was said but she didn’t seem to want a conversation.

Needs were spoken to the wrong person, me, a person who could not fulfill what was being asked.  I did speak/text that to her, as kindly as I could.  I did say what was my truth about my limitations, but it was not a wanted response.

There was a time that I fit a picture and my life looked like it was “supposed to”.  I worked hard to wrap myself around what someone else wanted from me.  Something just to the side of truth that put me beside my self.  It made a rosy picture of okay-ness surrounded by geraniums.  Things looked like they “should” and that pleased me for the moment and seemed to please others, though I don’t really Know that last part.

What is that “supposed to”?  Currently, I am not married, I don’t live in an upscale neighborhood, I don’t have a station wagon or van parked in my driveway,  my partner is my dog and I live in a room in a house with a family I met through an Airbnb rental.  And, I am happy or better said, I am content.

If you had told me at 18 that this is where I would be at my mature age, a part of me would have been excited at the thought.  Another part of me, the part that won in those days, would be terrified and would say, absolutely not!

How much fear runs us, runs us all the time?  I think we become so accustomed to fear being a driving force that we barely recognize it for what it is and what power it has over us and our decisions, how we live our lives.  The fear of losing something or someone, the fear of losing ourselves or the fear we have already lost our self, surfaces, and panic ensues.

Anger and fear are drivers that are too often drunk.  They lead us down conversations we might wish we’d rather not had.  Let me say, not always. But I can’t think of a time I chose not to speak from anger or fear and regretted it.  I can think of more instance than not, that I spoke from anger or fear and definitely regretted it.

It is a time for women to be speaking up.   I am a woman learning to shut up, learning to speak when necessary, and for now, life works better that way, at least in my head.

A special thanks to Kim for helping me keep my mouth shut.