Tag: meditation

a day off

roxiannoyedA few days ago, i called a friend and begged her to help me out today. i should have been in a gallery in Southwest Harbor, but knew if i didn’t have a day off to heal, decompress and rest, i would be creating a world of pain for myself.

She agreed, bless her heart, and here i am on the couch with the computer on my lap, heating pad (another gift from a friend) behind my back, my softest work dress on and very little work – other than writing and some gentle computerized toil for clients – getting done. Laundry chugs in the washer, but that is about as ambitious as i feel right at this moment. Having the whole day to myself feels luxurious. i don’t want to make too many impositions.

As a result, mostly, i am breathing slowly and with intent. Last night, i had a vivid dream about starting a meditation group at my new 9-5 employment which reminded me, i have been too exhausted to do my normal centering, healing meditation. So, as soon as i crawled out of bed, i mediated for the first half hour of wakefulness. Then, after a few poems and a small nap, i went back to it. i curled up here, on the couch, took that first deep breath, and was immediately beset upon by cats.

For weeks my female cat, Roxanne, has been angry with me. After Darwin died, she fell into deep grief. She stopped sleeping on the bed. Her pugilistic attitude toward her younger cat brother has not improved – if anything it has escalated. The only time where this lifted was when her favorite human in the world visited, but when he left again, she fell right back into her grumpy melancholy. Most of all, she still seems to be grieving Darwin – just as i am.

However, as soon as i sat down for tonglen this morning, she wrapped herself around my thigh. Her soft fur rubbed over my leg while she purred with ecstasy. Perhaps, she is not just grieving our beloved dog, but the changes that have come upon our life – transformations over which she had no control. If she could mandate the intricacies universe, she would have her bipedal slave around a lot more often. And have a minimum of 8 cans of wet food a day that she could stare at, eat two nibbles of, and then abandon. Failing that, she suffers.

As i pet her side, vibrating with purrs of sweet comfort, i am a bit surprised at how easy it was to give her joy.

Indeed, the same is true for me. Little things have been filling me with happiness. i have been surprising myself. In some ways, i am coping with this transition much better than expected.

However, there are a few fascinating little developments. After all these years working as an artist, letting my entire life revolve around the creation of novel, poem, painting and pottery, i had forgotten how strangely out of step i can be with other people. This is different than the loneliness over which i have written thousands of pages – this is being the one person drumming out a syncopated rhythm while the rest of the band is playing a march.

i am remembering all the years of my schooling, the years in the traditional work force during my youth. i always felt on the outside, but the past few years had driven the memory from my mind. Frankly, those i was normally around wanted to buy art or made it themselves. As an artist, i was focused and professional, but typically alone and self-driven. All education, training and help i received had to be sought out on some level. Being in a structured, large business environment – one to which i have adapted with some facility – drives home that my heart beats for different things than a lot of people, my thoughts come in at a different angle, and that the speed and grace of my gait as i walk through this world are not typicalIMG_0213

Also, i am being reminded that this body needs gentle, loving care. Working at home, i could vary my tasks frequently, nap if necessary, basically live as though i were a cat. When my health crashed over the past two years, i became more and more overwhelmed because it all landed on my shoulders, but i never quite surrendered – or at least not for more than a day or two at a time. Mountains were created and then studiously moved teaspoon by teaspoon. While i enjoyed this workflow, but that is not possible at this new job. i have to be able to sit still, focus and learn at high speed. My compassion will be tested, for myself if not others. i can see the pain of back and limb as a failure, as a judgment. But, these limitations are not condemnations of me – they are realities i have to face and to which i must adapt.

Part of that was asking – begging – for help today. i could sense i had reached a limit, and i needed to be gentle with myself. It is also governing my behavior today. Oh, there is so much art i want to make, so many chores that need to get done. For weeks, i have been treating myself with kid gloves when i come home from work – resting, trying to ease my pain, letting myself sleep when i need to regardless of how badly my to-do list stomps around. (It can act like Godzilla, thrashing around, tearing down my plans.) For the first time in my life, i have been fully accepting the messages my body sends me and obeying.

i would love to tell you that the dishes and all the laundry will be done, put a way and the floors swept and scrubbed today, while i still managed to get all the clients’ jobs done and finished the three paintings that i started last week all while airing out the studio and getting it ready to reopen. Oh, how i would adore it if i could confidently say that today will become the pivot upon which my life will turn and everything will be magically stable and glorious. But, if all i can do is sleep, or write, or rest here on the couch like a large drooling lump, curled up with a smaller purring, drooling lump, then that is alright. This is about what my body and spirit need more than my ambitions and dreams.

There are many people that i fail – like my poor realtor who has never had a pristine house to show because i still live here alone, and have to work around both my health and being perpetually exhausted – but today, i am deliberately putting that guilt and shame aside. It flows out of me on my breath.

This is the day for me to be kind to myself.

If i can manage that, then i believe, the rest of those who depend on me will get better results in the end.

And for now, there is really nothing more healing than this moment of contented cuddling.

The energy of pain.

If you were sitting across the table from me right now, watching me fidget and listening to me laugh too loudly, i would tell you: this is the energy of pain.  For months i have been retreating as often as i could into mediation and stillness. The sensation of being inside this skin was so overwhelming that i hid inside the sanctuary of solitude and quiet. As a result, my ability to listen to my body is stronger than it has ever been. So, trust me when i say that as i write these words, the energy of pain sings in high relief within my awareness.

Before it gets incapacitating, pain can create a perverse surge of energy.  Perhaps this is actually the need for distraction, building up inside until it starts to burble out in images, in stories, and in attempts to work that feel more like spasms than anything useful. Limbs cause enough discomfort to keep me from standing for a long time. Twelve days out of surgery, i have to keep myself from lifting heavy things. My body needs me to be conscious of my limitations.

The miraculous shift in my flesh has made such self-restraint chafe.  i want to do and go and be! The pain is so much better! Optimism so fierce that it borders on delusion has returned to my soul! Quietly, slowly, my internal engines of inspiration, discipline and resiliency have started to churn once more.

Months ago, i made a resolution to be kind to myself. i renewed the vow at the beginning of lent (giving up my tendency to verbally abuse myself when i am in distress.) However, after so long down, after ten months watching my circumstances disintegrate while my body could not function well enough to fix the problem, i am welcoming any energy that comes to me – even that which carries this unpleasant hue.  i cannot repress the feeling that all will be well, simply because one simple surgery could change so much.

My uterus, the tumors that were trying to break out of it, and about half the load of pain i had been bearing were removed in a four hour long operation. (According to one of the surgeons a tumor that was peeking out of the organ had its own tumors, like little unwanted ears.  No wonder the process of removal took some time.) The first thing i said when i came out of anesthesia was “Oh, my God, the pain is so much better.”  And in the days following surgery it became even more apparent. Recuperating at a friend’s house, i felt like i was taking advantage of her kindness.  Despite the incisions, i felt stronger and more able than i had for at least a year.

i can tell my body is wounded and healing.  This has done nothing to fix my hips or my problems with my spine, not to mention fibromyalgia, diabetes and the other health issues with which i struggle, but this current level of pain does not incapacitate me.  Even with the buildup of energy that i am experiencing right now, i am coherent enough to write. i am aware enough to be filled with ideas and inspiration.  i could literally burst with hope, simply because i am no longer feeling completely impotent inside my skin.

Before surgery, i kept thinking about my journey. The part of me that tried to get pregnant for twelve years mourned. All the hopes and dreams that i had lost over the years passed through me like shades, giving me the opportunity to ask them to leave, to be carried out of me with my womb.  Once the hysterectomy was finished, i was filled with a sense of peaceful closure. i will always feel some grief over the family i never had, but the contentment is greater. Even more profound, i accepted something that i had said before but never quite let settle down into my cells: i am the end of my line, which means, damn it, i need to stand up and make this journey worth all the trouble and suffering.

So, if you see me over the next few days, and i am bouncing or drifting on my feet, talking too fast about random things, getting so excited about the thought of making art and crafting story again, please forgive me. i believe i am finally able to dig myself out of this hole, and i am marshaling whatever forces i can toward that goal. The energy of pain can be off-putting to the people around me, i know, but please understand, i am giving thanks every single moment for the fact that my body’s burdens have grown lighter.

 

poem: the value of life

Finally
the veils of ambition,
purpose,
and merit
lifted
just enough
for these myopic eyes
to see a clear truth
that utterly contradicted
something drilled into me
with fierce intensity
since i first learned
how to walk:

the idea
that a life
is only of value
when a body is working –
and when that labor is judged
to be successful –
is corrosive.

The command
that i acquiesce
to a form of honor
that demands
constant proof
that i am worthy
of the air i breathe
lies like a false idol.

That mindset
so gleefully judging
merit and irrelevancy
bears all the hues of cruelty.

Oh,
yes,
being of service,
doing good,
bringing art and word
into being,
much more
feeding,
sheltering,
and clothing
other people,
brings joy,
stokes satisfaction,
elevates the world –
but in this quiet stillness
as i stare out
at the brilliant sun,
i realize –

Oh,
yes,
wonders exist
in an existence
where space
can be found
to breathe slowly,
to nap,
to dream,
to scribble some nonsense
over the page.

Surrendering my ambition
for a spell of peace,
sacrificing my stress
on an alter of quiet,
these acts
do not make me
irredeemable.

In this perfect moment,
the pause in frantic action
does not diminish.

Life
as it is
has value.

Within this stillness
dwells
uncounted riches.

17 November 2015

changing the story

Today, i am participating in two events – Maine Craft Weekend and my own estate sale, trying to purge myself of unwanted belongings.  Despite how i feel – and two days of fairly heavy labor on a bad arm mean i am not feeling well – i opened up right at 8:55 am, convinced that i would make enough money to whittle down my bills.  Alas, that is not the case as yet.  As i write, at 3:08 pm, no one has shown up for either event.  Not one car has even slowed down.  My confidence falters.

Yesterday, i had six people show up, of which four were motivated buyers.  That may have saved me for the time of recouperation ahead of me (see yesterday’s blog) and, again, i take a moment to give thanks.  But, despite the advertising, today has been nearly absolute silence – broken only by a few messages on facebook from people who could not come. Each beep evoked a great wave of gratitude because it minimized the invisibility that something like this evokes.

The child who felt so lost and alone inside her family, the kid picked last for every sport, the little girl who would have done anything not to go home but tried so hard to hide her distress and act normal, the college student that felt hopelessly out of step with her peers, these iterations of self remain within me. They keenly remember the ease with which superficial social interaction could occur while a vast, seemingly impassable distance stretched out between the rest of creation and this one soul.  They see this lack of response, this searing quiet, like a failure or a judgment.

i have to change that story, but often i am at a loss of how to go about that when so much of the world reinforces it.  i am not rich, i am not healthy, i am not married, i have no children, i stubbornly persist at work that a lot of people view as superfluous. In this society, those truths alone can cause ostracism.

Internally, divorce and the long loneliness created a cauldron for this invisibility to simmer.  i long ago lost count of how many business events and classes i hosted, for which people had registered in advance, to which no one showed up. Several learned individuals have told me it is because of my location, just far enough for the scale between the bother of going and the desire to go to tip in an unfavorable direction. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just apply to business, i have had one set of guests cancel dinner parties at my house, absolutely certain that without their presence i would have nothing to offer my other friends, but forgetting to inform me, leaving me stood up with piles of food. i still cannot eat spaghetti sauce without feeling totally irrelevant to the universe. i have been told with blessed bluntness, that even though i am great friend material, i am not worth the investment of time required for the woman i had laughing a few seconds ago to make me a friend.

This has been an ongoing struggle.  For whatever reason, i must have one of those faces, or a particular energy, or a gentle enough nature that good people have no problem telling me that the trouble of getting to me or keeping in contact with me is enough to keep them from doing it, as though there will be no hurt in that statement, as though i will always understand.

And often i do. Lord knows, i understand demands on a person’s time. This broken unit is a sole proprietor.  Even though my health and the business are not going well, it does not mean that the obligations have ceased. In fact, this past year, i shamefully let down one of my own friends, because i lacked the energy and ability to help as i would have liked.  By the time i was done with my working day, i had nothing left to give to anyone.  As i drowned in the demands placed upon me, i could not take on anything else.  So, i cannot look at the absence of others without compassion. At last i am old enough to realize that the vast majority of this story isn’t actually about me at all, but about those who are not here.  They are weaving other tales built on duty and desire, right now, as i type, and how can i blame them? After all, this silent isolation did not break me.

i work very hard on my art – especially during days like today when no one shows up.  Even though i was physically miserable, i still wrote and poemed my way through the morning before settling down for an hour and a half of meditation.  Also, i accept my spirit needs quiet, even at inconvenient times.  Without some silence and isolation, i would not be still enough to get half the art done, nor would i be practiced enough at entering the flow to be able to do it when i gallery sit or wait in a restaurant.

conversation5
at Art Space Gallery in Rockland, Maine

Moreover, it has helped me realize what an a amazing gift love and affection and help are.  Perhaps because i do often feel unmoored and isolated, when a rope is thrown to me, i grab it with all my might.  Because i have such a hard time believing people when they say they care, but act in ways that make no sense to me, i cling to the moments – the proofs – that relationships actually do have salvational power.  i remember the times when i was at the end of my rope and i got a phone call, or a hug, or really any of a wide array of gifts that might have seemed utterly insignificant to the person giving them, but that kept me going into another day.

As one of those good and true friends said to me the other day, she doesn’t worry about me so much because i am so damned stubborn.  That would help me get through, she smiled, and i don’t know that she’s wrong. i live by myself well.  The fiction and poetry that i write, the faces i draw, they fill up my life even when i am running low on real human contact.  Moreover, this perverse steadfastness to my art and my life gives me a strange, compassionate confidence when i am confronted by cruelty, intended or otherwise. The people who come to me, asserting that they know what i need to do, even when they are so deeply offended that i cannot or will not take their advice, become sources of gratitude because at least they somehow saw the invisible one.  They cared enough to form an opinion. Those who tell me that i have no reason to live, that i am a failure, that hurl judgment at me and expect me to die from it become characters in books.  The many who compliment me in the moment, talking about my work or my character in glowing ways, but then never reach out again, well i can take that praise at face value and then, in the silence their absence creates, i can throw myself into my art.

That is in fact what i have done today.  The story was changed subtly. In this precise instant, i cannot get rid of the financial insecurity, or improve my befuddled, awkward attempts to get my work seen by more people, or relieve the generalized anxiety about rehabbing from shoulder surgery alone in the house, but i can say that today’s solitude brought about good poems, more work on a novel, a long spell of time when i was quiet and still and filled with peace.

Most of all, i am changed by gratitude.  By the realization that none of us are guaranteed love or kindness or support.  Those gifts, when given freely and without obligation, are nothing short of a miracle, given from human hands.  Yesterday, i received such a gift from the friend who helped me get ready for this event.  i spent a lot of time this morning remembering her effort as well as the abundance of kindness that has showered down upon me during the last six months, while everything else went wrong.  i cannot have received such amazing blessings and be invisible; the two concepts are mutually exclusive.  Thus, the story alters even further.

True friends, and i have a gloriously high number of true friends that have found me in this life, have become cherished in ways i wonder if they ever comprehend.  So my story becomes one of thanksgivings, on my knees, for those who are not here but who love me nonetheless.

meditation

time to myself

namasteThe more demands that are placed on my time, the more i am reacting to immediate needs rather than thinking about where i want to go, the less art i am making, the more i crave time to myself.

Not even to make art, although i am desperate for that too, i am longing time to center myself and figure out my next steps.

i am afraid that i might miss a life jacket thrown to me because i am too busy shouting for help.  The glorious wonders of love could be destroyed by insecurity and preoccupation.  Frustration has stolen too many days, and the more tired and pained i get, the more time that useless emotion gobbles up.

So, the next day i have when i am not in a gallery, i am going to do nothing – i am taking the day for myself.  No chores, no obligations, i will pretend that i live a life of ease and luxury.  And, perhaps, that will be enough to recharge me for another month of constant movement and focused activity.

 

the delight in finishing

This is a quick and simple blog of gratitude.

If i did not finish a project today, i have come close.  A solid first draft from beginning to end.  Of course, this could simply mean that i am beginning the long process of editing – but it was delightful to have finished.  The words written in spurts and spasms over the  reminded me that i know how to stand even in the face of troubles.

In a lot of ways, i chose the perfect focus for my energies at this moment in time.  It helped me realize how far i have come and remember all the gifts i have been given.

Now, to start the editing.

on the market

IMG_0175  The house is on the market – at least, i have signed papers with the realtor and we have started the process of taking pictures. IMG_0174 It will probably take at least a week to get the sign in the ground and all the photos up on the internet.  These are some shots I took after she left, mainly to prove to myself what 24 hours of concentrated cleaning can accomplish.  Sadly, i still have a ton of work to do – particularly cleaning the studio and moving the bits of glaze and boxes of clay still in the house over. i have not even begun what will be an impressive saga of purging: selling older art, furniture, books and other things.  i see many yard-sales in my future, as well as sales both on my online store and in my studio/gallery.  Lists of the things i can cast off and those i cannot live without fill my journal.

This was a intensely melancholy thing yesterday; i felt like i was hemorrhaging pain again afterward.  Indeed, my main goal after Kathy left was to be kind to myself  – and i was deeply grateful for both her compassion and efficiency during what is a difficult time for me.

During a class earlier this year, we were given a list of stressors.  Buying and selling homes, as well as changing living arrangements, moving homes and transplanting businesses all sat among the most highly rated causes for stress. IMG_0178

IMG_0176Obviously, i can’t be alone in being upset by such things – and, that said, i still feel like i am taking this particularly badly.  My woe refuses to be dignified.  This is a massive transition for a misfit like me: i root to spaces, i suffer tremendous anxiety that is barely kept in check by meditation, and i worry unreasonably about my beloved animals’ responses to this time of trial.  Like me, they seem to be suffering.  Both Roxi and Martin are hiding more than usual, chased under the bed by the sounds of transformation.  Roxi, in particular, has been so upset (she is so much like me) that even cuddling takes an openness and comfort that is in short supply right now.  Instead of sleeping beside me like she usually does, her paw in my hand all night long, she curls up on the couch, forsaking dreams to keep one eye open.  Unless he is the sleeping old man of the house, Darwin follows me everywhere. He is determined to keep me grounded and cheer me up simultaneously, hence all the photo-bombs of dog in these pictures.

IMG_3441So, i worry, and i stress, and i can feel it effecting my body. My blood sugar skyrockets irrelevant of food, my vision gets blurry, my heart slams around in my chest.IMG_3440 In response, i meditate more – for at least two hours last night, phone and computer off to avoid all distraction – and if i keep that up, it helps tremendously.  Still, no amount of quiet stillness has as yet turned me into a flawless person.  My memory and my work are suffering from the overload.  Even when i regain my inner peace for a time, i am still not supernaturally endowed with awe-inspiring strength or confidence. With my whole heart, i redirect myself whenever i start blaming another for my problems.  Instead, i take deep breaths, hope everything happens for a reason, and knead acceptance into my tight muscles.  Every time people ask me about my long term plans, i wince slightly – unable to articulate what i need to do. IMG_0179 Indeed, i truly don’t know what the absolutely ‘right’ course is at this stage. IMG_0177 To know that, i would have to be a precog and that – along with teleportation, telekinesis, telepathy and transmuting base metals to gold – is not a skill i have developed. Most of the time, i have no idea what to do, and no other viable options, than to keep putting one foot in front of another with as open a heart as possible.

Thankfully, i feel secure that the decisions i am making take me down the wisest path given who i am, what i have and what i know right now.  Of course, there is an element of choosing the lesser of evils, but that is what this moment entails.  So, i must move forward and accept the consequences. i have been actively holding my hands open to accept what the universe gives right now with as little resentment and fear as possible (and eventually, i feel confident, the cosmic diarrhea running through my fingers has to stop.)

However, i keep remembering something that occurred to me years ago: there is a certain nobility to endings.  They demand a sense of presence and honor that can disappear when things are stable and appear unchanging.  How we leave situations, whether it is a relationship, a home, a job, a life – that speaks at least as much about who we are as how we enter them.  As much as it hurts, i have been greatly blessed and honored to have lived here for ten years, to have created this marvelous network of friends, to have worked as an artist so wholeheartedly.  Now, to remember that gift, and maintain this sense of gratitude and grace, when the cosmos starts to have gastric distress in my general direction again.

soft velvet color

Today, i gave myself two tremendous gifts:  time and kindness.

For weeks, i have been stuck inside turmoil.  My mind and heart have been agitated, spinning like laundry on a particularly violent spin cycle, even with huge swaths of meditation. Non-art work has seemed like an incessant presence, demanding more time than my flesh can comfortably give. For now, though, none of this toil digs me out of the hole in which i find myself – or if it does, i am trying to shift a mountain with a teaspoon.

So today, i meditated for hours, interspersed with seven poems.  i didn’t use tonglen, or any other of my standard meditations, i just fell backward into stillness and silence until my spirit stopped screaming, until the urge to tear my clothes and cover myself in ash over losing my home and studio passed, until the words began to weave through my arm again, coming out fingertips still holding the pen.

Once i had come back to myself a bit, i gathered up my pastels from the house and brought them to the studio.  Truthfully, i should have thrown or glazed.  But i am exhausted. When i am in a state like this and i push myself, i make more of a mess than art.  Loading the kiln took all i had, so i let myself paint with pastel.

It has been years since i used them, probably since i was still married.  As i think about this move, i have been prioritizing the things to keep and the things to let go.  i was wondering where pastels fell on that continuum, and now i know.

image
from long ago… maybe ten years old

The soft, velvet color moving across the hardboard seduced me.  i will be keeping these ridiculously fragile shards of brilliance.  May my painting be more joyousness and coy love, like today’s effort, than the sorrow of the self portrait done so many years ago.

Art, poetry and meditation nourished me today.  i find myself grateful beyond words.

the floor

All day, i have yearned for the clarity of a thin ribbon of ink – the desperate purity of art to come and wash away my doubts.  i wanted to work on a story, one that explores the depths of our human ability to survive when the rug has been pulled out from under us.  However, neither were in the cards for me today. This is the fourth day of a migraine.  Quickly, the rest of my life conspired against my artful urges. Instead of throwing or painting, i have taken tests and done busy work and had my heart broken.  Over the course of a few hours, i found myself accomplishing much, demonstrating my limits and failings again, and landing once more on something solid and firm within my depths.  This strength always shocks me.  Usually, i see my spirit as having no floor, that i could collapse down into the void, frictionless falling that would never cease.  Yet, every once in awhile, something happens so grievous to my soul that this miraculous floor appears.  It keeps me from falling into complete devastation.  It gives me a chance to rest, to catch my breath and to think about how to climb out of the pit. Yesterday, this strength was not there – or rather, i did not know it was here.  Today, it is keeping me aloft as beautifully as any drawing or painting or story or poem.

Hopefully, as i gallery sit tomorrow, i will find my way to more words and ink.  But, for now, i will be going taking this strange, solid stillness and letting it coax me into dreams, into sleep, and perhaps tomorrow, if i remain seated on this foundation, i can build myself a way out.

motes of dust

Today was the first day in God knows how long that I had no appointments, nothing that had to be done two days ago, no one tapping their foot, waiting for my time.  This was a blessing of the highest order.  Don’t get me wrong, as I wrote in yesterday’s blog, I have a thousand things to do.  Chaos and mess surround me.  Stress and anxiety could kill me if I let them. But no one stands over me with a whip, demanding every second of my afternoon.  For once, all of the pressure and plans were self-inflicted.  Once I realized this, I gave myself a gift: I went upstairs with a book, and alternated between reading and meditating.

Stillness is awesome when I can achieve it.  Calm and quiet can nurture as much as food buddhaandspiritand water. For long stretches there was nothing but the words of the book, then for more spells I sat quietly inside this beloved space I will soon be turning over to the embrace of winter, listening to everything going on around me, opening my eyes to see tiny motes of dust dancing through the air – a ballet of sorts, just for me, feeling the dog’s heavy breathing as much as hearing it while he slept nearby.  As much as I want to sell my art, I was grateful for the lack of customers.  The stillness could gently recenter me without distraction.

That is my gratitude right now: for a chance to be still, quiet and empty myself of thoughts and worry.  I think I might steal another half hour… and then maybe I’ll give myself another gift, the chance to throw.