Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Just a Moment


Before I got sick in high school, I ran cross country and track.  At the end of each season, there would be an awards night, invariably during which a slide show of pictures of the student athletes would be shown and Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” would be played.  I had already sat through a lot of these presentations during my older sister’s very successful running career, and I remember yearning for the day when my picture would be up there.  More than that, I ached to fulfill the song’s message: to have that special moment “when I am more than I thought I could be”, so that I could “feel eternity” and “be free”.  It didn’t have to be in running.  It could be in whatever field I chose to pursue, but I was sure, with that silky, soaring voice egging me on, that, one day, it would happen.

I think a lot of us live this way—waiting for our lives to start.  We train ourselves to do this with the stories we tell and the ones we consume.  After all, how many movies or novels are there about someone living their lives from day to day as best they can?  A few perhaps, but most of us find them unbearably boring.  We crave adventure, love, excitement.  We meet our favorite protagonists when they have been tasked with a great struggle and we leave them when they have found love or have met some elusive goal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love those stories.  Heck, I’ve written those stories, but I think they, like the song, can confuse us about how we might want to live our lives.  For a long time, I thought “One Moment in Time” was such a great, inspirational song—and it is.  It tells us that through hard work and determination, we can become whatever we dream.  And, history has borne this out.  It can be true—but not for all of us.  Sometimes we fail.  Even when we try with all our wits and might and heart, sometimes we can’t capture the brass ring we believe will make our lives whole.  And, I for one, would like to believe, that’s okay.  As Mick Jagger has told us countless times: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need”.  Our job, a part from trying, is to recognize what we need when it arrives.  But here again, I’m talking about waiting.  Living for some time in the future.  For that time when I’ve lost the weight, when my body works the way I want it to, when I get this job or have that relationship.  We put our attention on hold until that magical time when we feel like all our ducks will all be in a row and the euphoria induced by this knowledge will keep us sailing through life.

I’ve been frustrated again lately about my lack of outward accomplishment in this lifetime and haunted by fears that I will never have my one moment in time.  And I realize that even though I am doing a lot of things to achieve my goals, a part of me is just waiting.  Always waiting.  And you know what?  I don’t want to wait anymore.  I don’t want to think of my life as unfulfilled because I haven’t won an Olympic gold medal or gotten a publishing contract.  And, come to think of it, I don’t want just one moment in time—hoping and believing that that instant will carry me through the rest of my life on clouds of ecstasy.  I am determined to have many moments—like when one of the little song birds comes for a visit on my window ledge, or one of my nieces gives me a hug for no reason, or noticing the crazy vivacity of acrylic paints.  Or recognizing how beautiful my harp sounds even when I am struggling to learn a hard passage.  Or feeling how just how soft my little, grey cat is when she comes to greet me in the morning.  Or sensing the subtle trickles of honeyed relaxation that seep through my muscles whenever my mother touches me.  Or remembering how grateful I am that my legs are capable of mobility, even when every step is painful.  Or, or, or.  The truth is I could go on for days.

When I was a kid and my family would eat something particularly delicious, my parents, both native German speakers (though different dialects), would instruct us, “You have to eat this mit verstand.”  I instinctively knew that this meant it was so good, it would be criminal not to savor it, but the literal translation for the German is “with understanding”.  We were supposed to eat with understanding, with gratitude, and with an attentive curiosity about what it was all about—every facet of it.  That is how I would like to experience my many one moments in time.  I don’t always do it—a lot of times I forget—but, I think for me, this is where eternity and freedom truly lie—in realizing the saturation of life in any sort of time—whether it be joyful or dull or difficult.  These are the moments I am living for and that I am resolved to live in now.  And if I get a publishing contract or somehow jump into an alternate universe and win a gold medal, I will endeavor to meet those moments with understanding, too.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

Real Work

Being Here

“This is the real work.”—my words to my mother as we sat the dining room table a few nights ago.  I felt like I was about to spin out.  I’ve been more tired this week and my tasks have become overwhelming.  I was getting scared—and when I get scared, my body freezes in place, and my mind tries to run away.  But this time, I didn’t want to do either if those things.  I’ve been down those roads.  I know where they lead.

Some years ago I had a dream in which I was walking in the woods near the house where I grew up.  Traveling uphill on an autumn day, I enjoyed the colorful leaves decorating the trees.  After a while a car drove slowly past, and it occurred to me to become nervous.  Some yards ahead of me, the car stopped, and a man got out and hid behind a tree as if waiting for me.  My inner alarm blaring, I turned on my heels intending to flee down the hill.  But as I did, I saw a second man step out from behind the first, pointing a gun at him.  Already in flight and frightened by what might be done to me, I didn’t stop to examine the scene any further.  I fled down the hill and formulated a plan of where I might go to hide.  Suddenly, I found myself swamped in cold water and snow.  It came up to my waste or higher as I struggled to make my way through and escape the torture that seemed to pursue me.

When I related the dream to my mother at the time, she replied, “Well, you won’t like what I have to say about it.”  “What’s that?” I asked, steeling myself for her answer.  “What came to me is that you were supposed to witness, and instead, you ran away.”  It’s taken me 10 years to figure out how she was right.  Of course in a physical showdown, the most preservative thing to do is fight or flee, but this was my subconscious—no physical danger, just the warring of inner demons and gremlins.  When you run from those guys, there is no escape.  And going hand-to-hand with them is less effective than one might think.

Psychiatrist and mindfulness expert Daniel Siegel tells a story in his lectures about what happens when a person is bitten by a dog.  Say the dog has its teeth clasped around your hand, your innate response is to pull away from the pain and danger.  And the dog’s response is to strengthen its hold on you, clenching its teeth and digging them deeper into your flesh, thereby causing more pain, more danger.  But, if you were to relax, and allow your hand to move further into the dog’s mouth—in effect giving your hand to the animal, its gag reflex will kick in and expel your hand from its mouth.

I don’t know if this is true in practice, but the idea, on an emotional level, is sound.  That is why, as I stated here last week, I want to embrace my illness—as well as whatever part of me is healthy—and let it all just be as it is.  Not that I don’t try to feel good, but that I don’t consume the moments of my life with conspiring or running away.  I want to come home to my body, come what may, and know that I am safe here—even if it is painful and scary.

One of the many health practitioners I’ve consulted over the years once told me, “Be in your body.  You want your body to be there for you, so you need to be there for it.”  It has taken me at least 10 years to understand what that meant (Apparently my learning curve is a nice and gentle decade-long slope!).  Now, even when I don’t feel all that good about myself, I remember that the organism that is my body is still beautiful and amazing—like a tree or a flower or so many of the other living things that I respect and cherish just because they are alive.  I have spent so long running away from pain, but now I am leaning into it, paying attention, allowing whenever I can, for as long as I can.

And this is the real work I was talking about a few nights ago—being there at the dining room table and saying to myself, “I feel like I’m about to spin out,” and letting that be, without judgment and without trying to change it.  These moments of sitting with difficult emotions or thoughts and not acting on them is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  It feels so much easier to start howling, or throwing dishes, or binging on donuts or TV.  But I know that if I do any of those things, the second I’m done, those thoughts and feelings will still be there—all the moldier and nastier for my having tried to ignore them.  But if I stay with them, or as the Buddhists would have it, offer them a cup of tea, it gets better—maybe not right away and maybe not exactly in the way I think I want it to—but it does get better.

Nature & Spirituality

“You are not here for yourself alone . . .”

    “You are not here for yourself alone, but for the sake of all sentient beings.  Keep your mind pure and warm.” – Soen Nakagawa

    As I write this, I appear to be mostly here for the sentient being known, to me, as Luna LoveGood (thank you, J.K. Rowling), that is,  the little, gray cat, who is, even now, loving me up with every inch of her body and her intention!  She is a remarkable individual—having survived being abandoned when her previous owners moved away without her and her three feline companions, and also having withstood ten months in the SPCA.  I wonder how many  people she made love to before she found a ripe heart in my mother.  Or did she simply sit back and wait for us?  Whichever the case, the resilience displayed by her and her sister Golda TrembleTail is inspiring to me.  For all they knew, their former “owners” were what all humans are like.  And what about all the people who passed by their cage, month after month, not giving them a second look because they were too scrappy-looking and not cute, cuddly kittens.  How did they have the guts to trust us—even a little bit? 

    They’ve taught me a lot about acceptance too.  I tend to have a lot of difficulty with that particular precept that seems to be a major aspect of most modes of thought and spirituality.  I read a chapter from my copy of the Tao Te Ching every day and, usually, there is some mention of this frustrating edict: Accept.  Accept.  Accept.  Acceptance is the path to freedom, happiness, and blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah.  Believe me, I do actually have some semblance of an idea of what Lao-Tzu and so many of our learned forebears are getting at (or at least I think I do).  Only, some days, I don’t feel much like accepting.  Some days it’s just too much to ask.  And then I look at these remarkable cats that I am lucky enough to call members of my family, and I realize that they are acceptance experts.  They had no reason to believe that things would ever change for them when they were in that cage at the shelter.  And they had no recourse.  They had to accept what was their reality at that time, and they did.  It’s not that they were happy about being there, but they let it be, because that was what was. 

    And then they got to come live with us.  Yes, I realize that it’s an assumption to believe that they are more contented in our home, but given the little, love bath Luna gave me earlier (she’s now sleeping in the window), I’m guessing it’s not much of a stretch.  I also recognize that their acceptance of their situation did not necessarily cause the positive change in their lives (although, really, what do I know abort the true nature of the universe), but it’s heartening to have proof that sometimes waiting patiently, and then softly meowing at the nice lady with the bright yellow bag, is enough.  It reminds me again of one of my very favorite quotes, from the movie Uncorked written by John Huddles:

    “Life is a long experience of suffering, disappointment, and chaos.  But the moment you stop squirming against the catastrophe of being alive, music flies out of dog doo.” 

    Perhaps in this case, it’s cat doo, but the idea is undoubtedly the same.  Just this morning I was squirming about the fact that I hadn’t posted anything new and interesting for a few days and maybe my whole “starting a blog” venture was another misguided pie-in-the-sky notion that lacked the necessary follow-through on my part to keep it going and turn it into anything useful.  And then a friend of mine emailed me that she too had started a blog about her upcoming trip to Chiapas, Mexico where she will help develop a psychosocial support program for those suffering state-sponsored human rights abuses there.  I emailed her back, telling her how proud I was of the work she is continuing to do in the field of human rights, and she responded by telling me the blog was my idea—that my starting this one gave her the notion of doing hers.  Sure, it’s nothing huge, not even medium-sized, but it’s good to know that when we act with purity and warmth and, with all due respect, I think I’ll add, passion to Mr. Nakagawa’s quote here, we can help others without even meaning to.

    “You are not here for yourself alone . . .” 

    In the past, I would have thought of this as an onus, a threat even—better be a good girl, otherwise everyone is going to suffer.  But now I can see it as a release, as encouragement—so things didn’t work out the way you planned for yourself, but if your intentions have had merit, then you never know who else you might have helped along the way.

 Cuddle Time