Posted on July 29, 2015
There is so much going on in the world right now that, quite frankly, is making it really hard for many of us to stay engaged. And at the same time, calling for all of us to rise.
I don’t have the words to address it all right now – my heart and mind were so blown open by last week’s Kripalu workshops with Bessel van der Kolk, Licia Sky and Martha Beck, along with an incredible assortment of exquisite people I interacted with that I cannot yet pull myself together enough to say anything that would begin to be helpful.
What I do feel compelled to share are these words, from the preamble to my book, All Better Bye and Bye. They come from a time when I found it difficult to merely be in the world, when I considered myself to be too damaged and broken and not worthy, to say nothing of able, to contribute to the world. Now that I know better, and know that there are many others out there feeling much that way – and feeling as if, perhaps, they can do nothing about all the exceedingly difficult situations our society is grappling with lately – I wonder if these words might bring some comfort. I hope so.
Once upon a time, I could only write about my life in metaphor. It felt brave and still safe, as if I were not actually really talking about What We Never Speak Of. And yet, it was still true.
Here’s what I wrote back then…
There is a place I used to visit often, more often than I would have liked.
At first, I had no memory of the journey. In fact, I think I mostly lived there. This is hard to admit, but once upon a time, I spent many – so many – of my days circling the gaping hole which was, as it turns out, the opening to a deep, dark volcano. As best I could tell, it was inactive but the thing about volcanoes, as you know, is that you never can tell. The top of this particular mound of solidified lava and bedrock was set into a mass of tall trees – I had no idea, then, what kind of trees – it was too dark and deep and dank to tell. And the air was still and close with a lingering scent of old smoke and rotting wood. I thought it might have been a jungle, but there was no way to be certain – life was nowhere to be seen. No bird trills, no distant animal cries, just the silence and heaviness blanketing everything, as far as I could see.
I would arrive there in the most mysterious way – as if I had been plucked up from wherever I’d thought I would be for hours. A birthday party, perhaps, or a movie theater. And then plunked down. All of a sudden, I was back at that volcano. I don’t remember the first time, or even the last, but I was a very frequent visitor. Premier status, the short line, no passport required.
At first, I would walk the perimeter, staggering my way from boulder to boulder, careful to stay away from the hot, semi-liquid puddles here and there. The steam would rise though, through the pockets of porous stone and make it difficult to navigate. Inevitably, no matter how hard I tried to follow the posted rules, I’d fall in. Freefall. Sometimes fast, sometimes in slow, slow motion – and landed with, at best, a hard thud. And there I was, at the bottom again, in every sense of the word. I’d find myself sprawled out over a heap of rubble. Clearly others had been there and left deposits of their junk, of stuff – all discarded by those who had come before me. Or so I thought. It would be years before I recognized all of the debris as my own. At that point in time, I saw the piles only as soft, hard or sharp landing spots and spent a lot of my hours there trying to figure out a way to put myself down on only the cushiest of places.
I had so much to learn.
And I did, gradually, learn. Over the weeks and months and years, my eyes adjusted to the dimness. I began to recognize pieces of me here and there, the flotsam and jetsam of my life to that point. In the early days, I expended huge amounts of energy just figuring out how to climb out. I wanted one thing and one thing only – to get out. I would scramble and scratch my way up the craggy walls to the top, to freedom. Or so I thought.
Once I began to see in the murkiness, though, I had a little lightbulb moment. I saw – maybe on my twentieth visit, or perhaps the thirty-fifth, that I might be able to put all that junk to use. I stopped cursing all the folks who were using my volcano (and yes, that’s how I’d begun to think of it) as a dumping ground. Maybe they were leaving me gifts or tools to use in my never ending quest to Get The Hell Out of Here. Because whenever I made it out, I did get to go back home, back to Real Life, back where I belonged. Magically, somehow, inexplicably, I did. Until the next express flight back to my circling spot and the fall that I now knew would come.
Back to all that trash though, because that’s where the first tiny hints of treasure were. Once I started to pick up the pieces of junk, in order to rearrange them in some sort of way that might resemble a sturdy set of stairs, I couldn’t help but begin to really see them. And once I saw them, it became clear that they were all parts of my own history. They had belonged, at one point or another, to me. Here was the whistle my track coach wore and used – in my opinion, excessively. Here was the pot belly stove my ten year old self acquired in an attempt to redecorate her bedroom in the style of an era she saw as safe. And over there, the paddle that, all too often, was wielded against her for years, ending around the same age. The window frame the five year old me gazed out from, day after day? It was in another pile. And so it went. I’d pick each item up, turn it this way and that and most of the time, end up sitting there and crying or laughing as it stirred up yet another set of memories. At first, I could only look at one or two things per visit or “falling in”, as I had started to think of it.
Over the years, I developed tools to help me dig through the once chaotic stash. I both hated and loved those shovels and rakes I had fashioned from bits of things from long ago. The pogo stick handle worked well with a sturdy album cover, the hairbrush I loathed was attached to the end of another favorite weapon once used against me – the yardstick with the paint marks here and there, left over from years of literal renovations. I got to a place where I was actually rather good at wielding them against the stacks around me. And then things began to shift… I stopped work on the staircase for a while. I’d become skilled at grappling up the rough walls – so good that my scramblings had begun to polish the dark, uneven rock and it started to take on a certain glow. The tiny bit of light that filtered from the top of the volcano all the way to the very base was somehow refracted by those walls and I could see a little more clearly. And that was both a good thing and a bad one. The light that you might think would have been so very welcome actually cast long shadows, which could scare me, much as the shadows made by passing car headlights terrified the young girl in my childhood bedroom. Beyond that, I had become accustomed to the dark. Like so many things that are not actually a positive force in our lives, it became familiar. Welcome. Safe, in its own way.
Which leads me to the part that is, perhaps, the most difficult to admit. And to share with you. The part where the shadow of shame still resides.
Deep, deep breath here.
You see, I really had come to like it there, on the floor of the volcano. I did. It became the easiest, best place to be.
And so, more and more, I stayed there. I lived and breathed and rearranged all my stuff, over and over again. I became one, so to speak, with that dark, isolated, messy place in a way that meant that I also became dark, isolated, messy. There seemed to be some unwritten rule, though, that I could only stay for certain periods of time. Someone or something (it varied and was always a surprise) would boot me up and out to the top, where I’d walk the perimeter of the opening for as long as I possibly could. Eventually, I would get so bored that I’d take my dirty, depressed, solitary self back to my house in the suburbs and force myself to resume some semblance of living in what others told me was the Real World. I’d muddle through for a time, using the reserves I had gathered in my safe place. I’d mother my child with everything I had, sure that it was never enough… that it never would be, hoping only not to do harm. I slept a lot, in the same bed with the man who had promised to love me through sickness and in health. And somehow, in a way that is still beyond my comprehension, he did. My own heart was so heavy, so covered over in soot and dust that the love I had stored inside was trapped. Nothing much could get in or out and that blockage would often land me right back in my volcano. Somehow, I could breathe more easily there, amongst the now organized wreckage of my life.
That’s how it went – back and forth between the two worlds. A little more light inside the volcano, and significantly less in the structure that stood at my mailing address. I spent years, stuck at one or the other or in the path I’d worn down between them. I’d rest on the well swept floor of what I now referred to as my cave, then go back and drain my batteries trying to negotiate my days in the world outside. Two speeds – on and off. Lather, rinse, repeat. For years. Years.
Somewhere along the line, in a painfully slow way, I began to see glimpses of a third world. It came to me, as many gifts do, in my dreams and slowly. So slowly, and in fragments – tiny pieces of shimmery glass – some cut and sharp, others like sea glass, polished and barely opaque. Gifts from beyond. At first, I didn’t think to collect them because I was so mesmerized. I could only gaze at them in wonder and move my focus from the shiny object to the darkness surrounding it, jaw slack and mouth open in pure awe. It was just incredible when it happened, Beyond words wonderful. I was not experienced at taking in this kind of beauty, this kind of good, and found it overwhelming, exciting, a little scary. Like everything else at that time, these gifts came randomly. A surprise each time. They were clearly shy. Like creatures of the forest, these sightings happened only when I was not seeking them out. It was interesting, though, that the glimpses came both in the volcano and in the land of the 1960’s Colonial. I remember being pretty intrigued by that part. Certainly, they gave me reason to stay, in one world or another. Little by little, I stopped fantasizing about cutting the cord and floating away from all of it. For years, that had been my wish and my prayer. Only the weight of all the love trapped in my heart kept me tethered to any part of this earth.
I wondered, sometimes, if these shards and round edged pieces of beauty were, indeed, tiny parcels of heaven. Were they the tears of the God who knew just how very lost and alone I was? Or were they sparks from the applause of those who knew I had the potential to traverse the path of the awakened ones? I may never know. Maybe both. At some point, though, it didn’t really matter. I just began to see clearly that, in actuality, I was not alone. Perhaps I never had been. It would be some time still before I felt certain that I would never be alone, that none of us are, but for then, it was enough to know that someone or something or some force that felt kind was with me.
That’s as far as I got. These words sat in a drawer for years and years, after being read out loud to a circle of beautiful souls in a sacred place. I forgot, for a while, that they existed, until I found myself called to write the real stories, the non-metaphorical ones. The ones I was never, ever, ever to tell.
This book is the story of the first half of my life. It’s all about the debris in the volcano and how it all got there. It’s about finding my way through the darkness of depression and the constant drain of extreme anxiety, the two companions gifted to me by a childhood of trauma and abuse. It’s about figuring out a way to allow myself to be guided by the light in the world, about learning to take it in enough to see all the good it illuminates. It’s about choosing to live in that light, and changing the patterns of generations before me. Maybe it’s about shifting DNA. I don’t know. I’m just glad to be here.
My hope is that in telling my story, others will see that they can choose too, that the ending of their fairytale is in their hands. That good can prevail, that light is the truth, that love wins. Always.
Posted on July 18, 2015
…it seemed a part of her life, to step from the ancient to the modern, back and forth. She felt rather sorry for those who knew only one and not the other. It was better, she thought, to be able to select from the whole menu of human achievements than to be bound within one narrow range.
~ Orson Scott Card
I stood on the land, on our earth, at the Rock of Dunamase, and I felt it all. The Vikings, the Normans, the Irish – the footsteps of the ancients whose blood still lives in my veins and whose voices my soul knows so deeply. And I remembered.
I knew, so certainly, that keeping this part of me separated from the “real world” I spend my days in is so very wrong. And I hope I never forget again.
It’s time to weave the two together, for us all. It can only help us heal.
Are you with me?
Posted on July 12, 2015
The door was ajar and in the wind, the hinges made a strange cawing sound, much like the ravens that flew overhead in the evenings, heading home. That morning, though, the air was heavy with the storms that had blown through overnight and those that were still to come.
The garden beckoned through that painted door, it’s deep green beginning to peel here and there, the hand forged locking bar rusted a bit at the edge. She knew that if she walked through it, there would be damage to find – broken branches scattered about, certainly, and perhaps much worse. So she hesitated, her heart as heavy as the air surrounding her body still clad in plaid flannel pajamas, a once elegant silk shawl around her shoulders. And then she slipped her bare feet into her garden clogs, sighing much more loudly than she’d meant to.
It wasn’t the first mess she’d needed to investigate, and likely – hopefully – it wouldn’t be the last. Her life had been one long, strong rope of tangles and knots and she’d spent most of her time and energy unraveling them, or so it seemed. Sometimes patiently, often ripping at whatever tightness she found in her heart, determined to smooth out the conflicts and the chaos, wanting desperately to make some sense of it all. Sometimes she wished that there was a grown up around to take care of things – like whatever lay beyond that garden door.
Sometimes she wished she could just go out to play. That had not been part of her equation, not even when she was a little girl. So she squared her bony shoulders, lessening the stoop that had come with age, grasped the door handle and swung it back with far more strength than one might think her aging body could muster. And she began again.
Another wee story from the One Story: Ten Facets class I’m doing with the lovely Jena Schwartz. Image from private garden in Churchill, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Posted on July 11, 2015
I finished this painting yesterday, and I knew it had something to do with the landscape of my heart, and perhaps the landscape of your heart, of our collective hearts.
Here’s how it began, all drippy and swirling, with clear quartz grains thrown in to bring light, harmony and healing.
And then it progressed – more light, alchemy and peace.
Then I saw what it really wanted to be. It’s huge – four feet square, and I literally felt as though I were painting my heart out. And in its final form, it feels like diving deep into my heart and soul, into yours, into the collective place where we keep the love we might be giving each day, in some sort of misguided effort to stay safe. Comfortable. Undisturbed.
I woke up this morning with this –
May I explore the depths of my heart and find peace there.
May you explore the depths of your heart and find peace there.
May we all explore the depths of our hearts and find peace there.
And with that peace, may we find our way to love.
Depths of heart
acrylic and quartz on canvas, 48 x 48 inches
Posted on July 8, 2015
I’m doing a lovely program called One Story: Ten Facets with the wonderful writer, Jena Schwartz. Here’s the free writing from today’s prompt – written as I would twenty years from now. A practice I highly recommend, visiting your future self. So much magic there.
Twenty years ago, fifteen years into this century, I thought I knew what the rest of my life would bring. And of course, I didn’t have a clue.
Now, from the top of this hill, from the three quarters of my own centennial mark, I can see it – so clearly, so differently from the view point I had back then.
In 2015, things, I thought, were so much better. And they were, truly, better. I’d found my way past the thick stone walls and heavy iron chains the oh so young me had wound tightly around my heart in the dark times, in the days when I fought so hard against what I was being told – that I was ruined, broken, damned to hell. I’d begun to feel immense compassion for and so much gratitude toward the brave and tortured girl I had been, to see that she’d done the nearly impossible just by getting up out of her twin bed with it’s chenille spread and facing each morning. By breathing and by staying. I’d learned to love myself, in tiny increments at first and then more and more fully, eventually even openly – and in doing so, opened that heavy door I’d kept slammed shut for so long, allowing others to love me.
What I didn’t know, in my 55th year, was that I had so much left to do. That I’d pull a Benjamin Button and learn, as most were seeing their lives as done, that mine was just beginning. I hadn’t the vaguest notion that it was possible to embrace each day in the way I do now, to play with such wild abandon, to create such bright beauty that others were inspired to spend hours just gazing at the canvases I’d painted with my heart wide open. And I really didn’t know that my greatest gift for the world was also the greatest gift to myself – to breathe deeply and live each moment fully and well, trusting in the deep knowledge that I am loved, that I always have been, that each of us are.
Posted on June 23, 2015
You don’t have to be
(or even much improved)
The scars you carry tell
(they help us to know you)
They remind you of who
where you’ve been
(all you have encountered)
Let me ask you a question
(may not have heard before)
Do they mar your beauty
they create it
(enhancing your light)
It’s your imperfections,
that make me want
Posted on June 19, 2015
Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.
~ Desmond Tutu
As my heart hurts and my brain struggles to comprehend all that goes on in our world today, the only thing I have to offer is hope.
My greatest hope, personally, is that every human being on this planet recognizes themselves in each other and that in doing so, we begin to heal.
Posted on June 3, 2015
The way I regard those who hurt me today will affect how I experience the world in the future. In any encounter, we have a choice: we can strengthen our resentment or our understanding and empathy. We can widen the gap between ourselves and others or lessen it.
~ Pema Chodron
I hate the word “normal”. Really hate it. The whole concept of it, actually. I think “normal” is the enemy of humanity, in many respects. And there’s been a whole lot of “normal” being thrown around lately. It’s divisive, and it’s widening the gap in huge ways.
Here’s the thing – let me spell this out very, very clearly for you:
There is no such thing as “normal”.
I just watched a video clip of Caitlyn Jenner’s new reality show, “I am Cait” and while I’m amongst the ones wildly applauding and extremely appreciative of her rather spectacular arrival on the world screen, the article is focused on her words “Put it this way – I am the New Normal”.
I have to disagree – or at least, expand on that a bit.
Caitlyn Jenner is a very brave individual, yes. And I do sincerely applaud her very public coming out as a woman, a beautiful and articulate one. I believe that she is doing incredible work in the world, just by openly being who she is, in her sixth decade. She may redefine the crone years in ways we can’t even imagine now. I know that her very presence – aided mightily by her reach on social and mass media – will open doors and windows and ceilings everywhere, particularly for our youth who struggle with gender identity, a group we marginalize in such horrific ways that they seem to be removing themselves from the planet on a daily basis. I had tears in my eyes when I first saw the Vanity Fair cover, just imagining all the people this will touch, the families who will perhaps be able to open their hearts to their loved ones – because let’s face it, if it’s on TV, or FB, or media in general, it does normalize any behavior. Sometimes – often – that concept scares me, yet here it is, being used for extreme good. It’s just lovely, in my opinion – and if you don’t think so, you’re entitled to your own beliefs. I don’t really want to hear about them here in less than civil ways, thank you very much.
And that’s not my point, anyway. There’s a difference between normalizing and being “normal”.
As I age, I see that being normal is really the last thing on earth I want for myself, or for anyone, really. While I love the joke about the definition of “normal” being a setting on my washing machine, Merriam-Webster defines the word, in part, as:
2 a : according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle
b : conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern
3 : occurring naturally <normal immunity>
4 a : of, relating to, or characterized by average intelligence or development
b : free from mental disorder : sane
Which is fascinating, when you think about it. Both conforming to a standard and naturally occurring. To say nothing of both average and sane. While I value my sanity and yours, and I’m all for what occurs in nature, I have no desire to be average or to conform to standards that I had nothing to do with forming.
Do you? My guess is that if you read my blog, likely not.
Perhaps the Urban Dictionary’s top version, by a guy named Bill in 2005, might appeal to you more, too.
A word made up by this corrupt society so they could single out and attack those who are different
Normal is nothing but a word made up by society
It certainly feels more true – especially that last part! Because what is really true is this – we are each unique. Yep – just like snowflakes. We each carry our own genetic design, which is then molded and if we are lucky, polished, by our environment. By the company we choose to keep. By the decisions we make.
It is the gift of being human. The whole point of our lives, perhaps. We get to choose, to be exactly who we are – and we live in a time which allows us the freedom to do that – in many parts of the world – in bigger and better ways than ever before in our history. And we can help others access those freedoms, too, but perhaps that’s a whole different post.
The gift is that we create our own lives. Our reality, our legacy. Mary Oliver says it so beautifully in her poem, The Summer Day:
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
You don’t have to be on the cover of a national magazine, or have your own reality TV show in order to be who you are. It doesn’t have to be so intense as finally embracing the gender you’ve always felt in your heart while you embodied the opposite one. It can be quiet and still, it can be easy. If you love fanfare, then by all means – shout that you are a sculptor, NOT an accountant, from the highest rooftops you can find! And if not, then slowly begin to find ways to embrace what you love rather than what you have been taught to believe is “normal”. Little ways. They will add up, and change will come much more quickly than you can imagine.
I’ll bet in doing so, no matter how you find your way there, you’ll discover what I have along the way. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit this, but I thought (likely because it was drilled into me, to many of us) that being normal was the way to be safe. And that safe was the goal, that it was the best way to take care of myself and more importantly to those who raised me, to show my love for those around me, to take care of my family.
IT IS NOT.
Being safe, in this respect – in the being normal and not causing trouble way, will only keep you stuck. Paralyzed. It did that to me, for decades, and apparently it did that to Bruce Jenner, too.
Being yourself, on the other hand, is the fastest way to develop self compassion. It’s so much easier, so much, to love yourself when you are yourself.
It is that simple, people.
And in the being who you are, in the discarding of “normal” and the embracing of your own unique being, you create compassion for others. You can see the truth of what Kurt Vonnegut said best, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” Being kind, first to yourself and then to others? It changes everything.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if being kind to ourselves and each other became the new definition of normal? What a way to narrow the gap.
Maybe it would save the world.
(and yes, that is a photo of a tulip. it’s not normal, either, thankfully)