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Day 197 “You Have To Be There”

Some people can walk into a group and immediately immerse themselves as if they have always belonged. I cannot. So when I arrived at the retreat late on Friday evening, and things were well under way, I decided to simply make myself a cup of tea and retire with a good book to my room.

The tea station was set up in the basement of the conference center, across the room from the stairway. I hesitated to cross as a group of women had gathered for a drumming circle and I would have to cut through their gathering.

“Go ahead.” The leader nodded at me. “Don’t mind us.”

Apologetically, I made my way, not daring to look at anyone, feeling like the intruder I was. I selected a nice chamomile and while waiting for the water to boil, I kept my back to the group. Their drumming had somehow synchronized and the intensity was building. I found myself becoming very sleepy. So sleepy that I never made it back across the room, having to stop instead to sit on a vacant chair.

“I’m so sorry,” I slurred. “I don’t know what is happening to me.”

“That’s alright. Just go with it. We are here to help.”

My eyes were suddenly so heavy that I struggled to keep them open, but I did manage to see the lead woman nod to the people beside me, encouraging them to take my hands.

“What is happening?” I managed.

“You tell me,” the woman coaxed. I knew this woman from other retreats. A Native American versed in rituals and ceremonies, she frequently offered to share her learning. Until now, I had stayed away – the eternal outsider.

“I feel like I am falling……as if the earth has opened up and I am dropping….down….down.”

“Let yourself go. You are safe. You will be able to tell us what you need.”

The drums continued and somehow trusting, I let myself go, deeper and deeper into the blackness, less and less conscious of the room around me, until I landed.

“Where are you?” Her voice sounded far away, at the other end of a tunnel. “Describe what you see.”

“The ground is cushiony, green, like moss. I am in a forest. It is quite dark, but there is some light in the distance. I follow it and come to an opening. It is beautiful here, and so serene.” I feel myself breath, and relax. In my mind, I am thinking that this is something out of a fairy tale: little girl lost deep in the woods, finds herself surrounded by flowers and friendly forest creatures. “This is crazy,” I try to open my eyes again, but the room is dark and filled with shadowy figures – animals, not people. I start to hyperventilate.

“You are okay,” she soothes me. “Tell me what is happening.” All the while the drums beat.

“I can’t see anyone…in the room… only…..animals. Not real animals….more like…spirits.”

“What do you see?”

“You are a Raven, and someone over here a Bear, and Helen….it doesn’t make sense.” Helen is an artist, gentle by nature and frail. “She is a Thunderbird.” Is there such a thing? My mind tries to make sense of what is happening. “Her animal is so strong!”

I lapse again into the darkness, falling back into the woods scene. “Someone is here,” I manage to whisper. “A woman. Ohhhh…..” I am struck with a profound feeling of well-being and harmony as the woman seemingly merges with me. I know her! My heart is racing. I have seen her before in dreams and visions. Ten years she has appeared, mysteriously, leaving an impression, but I have never understood. Now the pieces are falling together and I am one with the numinous being, and an ecstatic bliss fills my soul and I surrender.

“Yes!” the leader exclaims. “Yes.”

I remained in that suspended state of awe while the rest of the evening unfolded around me. Words emerged from my mouth, but I’m not sure that I spoke them. The drummers kept up the beat, and the women responded to the commands, and a healing energy moved amongst the gathering, the ecstasy spreading until I could hold the space no longer, and the leader called me back to consciousness.

“We will not speak of what has happened here further,” she said. “We have stood in the presence of the sacred, let us keep it that way.” But as I opened my eyes I turned to the woman beside me and realized for the first time who it was – a Judas – and I knew that our beautiful moment would be spilled, and that others would not understand.

“You had to be there,” I would respond when the questions came the next day.

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Day 196 “The Nature of Nature”

The snakes are back! This time I am at a conference of women, and the presenters are going on and on without a break. I push back, insisting that we have lunch – my blood sugar needs it. So, the session breaks up and I sit alone with my prepared meal, having assumed that there would be nothing for me to eat. The conference is being housed in the country, in a private dwelling surrounded by dry, almost desert-like conditions. While everyone is lined up for lunch, one of the home owners is looking for snakes, opening cupboards, shaking out mats. And she is finding them! Huge brown, menacing snakes, and ghostly grey translucent snakes. I follow her about and watch with repulsed fascination, as she tackles each one, conquering it with expertise. “You have to,” she tells me, “Otherwise, they get you.”

I awake with a startle. Damn snakes. They have been showing up in my dreams for the past year, each one a herald of sudden change. I have come to loathe them.

But these snakes are different from the brightly coloured snakes of the past. I decide to investigate further. One image that stays with me is of a wooden box, full of fallen leaves, into which the woman pushes a pitchfork, revealing a next of snakes. Fritz Perls, father of Gestalt, suggests that all aspects of a dream represent the self. I dive in.

I am a large wooden box, made to withstand the weather: an outdoors box, buried in the ground, like a casket waiting to be closed? My body swells with the rains and contracts with the cold, and creaks and splinters, but carries on, containing whatever elements are thrown its way.

I am fallen leaves, each one a page from my own book, scattered, moldy remnants of a life well lived, past prime now, dying efforts, gone. And I am the tree, still standing proud, despite being stripped of its essence; waiting, waiting for another chance – a new beginning.

I am the woman, fighting against the elements; striving to keep her house and home safe from intrusions; fighting against Nature.

And I am the pitchfork, wielded with intent, an instrument really, with no mind of my own, plunging into the fallen bits of myself with the intent of vetting out the intruders.

And I am the nest of snakes; wriggling, writhing, full of life, despite all attempts to annihilate me. I am the force of Nature: earthy, fiery, alive. I am transformation and rebirth, healing and passion. I am life! Feared by some, reviled by others, awed by all. I will survive!

life · nonfiction · spirituality

The Drive Behind the Quest

I was nine, when I first asked God to let me die: I’d had enough of life. By the time I was fifteen, I was pleading: “Really, God. I am happy with all the experiences I’ve had. You can bring me home now.”

Once I realized that my mortality (suicide aside) was not negotiable, and convinced that God had forsaken me, I was determined to control my own destiny. Intolerance and judgment became my life maps. I went into overdrive to “get there”, wherever “there” was. I worked long hours, partied hard, and grasped at opportunities. I forgot to pack an emergency kit, so when life broke down, I was not prepared.

One thing I did know: my life wasn’t working for me.

That is when my quest began. I hungered for a deeper sense of purpose and an inner peace. I wanted to feel bliss and live from gratitude.

I first encountered the Tao through Tai Chi. “Tao means ‘how'” the instructor told me. “It seeks to explain the Universe.”

“Yes!” I thought. “This is what I need.”

I embraced spirituality with a great hunger, consuming philosophies and teachings with unbridled enthusiasm. My mind thrilled to the challenge of cryptic codes believing that I could find meaning and order in everything, and everyone, I encountered. My compulsive need to fix thrived under the poorly masked guise of “love and light”. I really hadn’t changed; I’d just chosen a different vehicle to drive.th-3

Until it all blew up and those I felt closest to walked away.

I still quest, but now it is for simplicity and contentment. I am tired of complication and drama. I have seen too much. I am focusing now on letting go; and supporting others in their choices, allowing for the beauty of life’s natural order (and disorder) to unfold before me.

Truth is, whatever control we think we think we have is an illusion for the most part. Self-control, maybe, but never where others are concerned. For me, my mishmash spirituality helps me hang up that hat: my chauffeur’s cap. I am not driving anyone anywhere these days. Instead, I hope that others invite me along because I am me, and that me spreads love, acceptance and support.

As I learned long ago, some choices in life our not our own, but how we live is.
I still have a lot to learn. Guess I’ll be around for a while.

(Feature image:  thejesuschick.com)(Other: www.inquisitr.com)

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Day 194 “Buddha Nature”

The bus I am riding on is actually a small house. The bus driver sits at the front door and collects fares. The front door opens into a dining room, where riders are playing cards. I move back further, into the adjacent sitting area. My friend Sandy is here and she has a young child; a girl. The girl remembers me although I am sure I have not seen her in ages. The bus stops, and panicked I rush to get off, only to discover this is not my stop, so I rush back on the bus. I feel frazzled, but laugh at my error and return to my seat trying to relax. Then I realize I am missing my purse. Thinking I’d left it at the last stop, I holler to the driver to go back, but then see that I’d left it on a table in the front hall. I pick it up and notice that it is lighter than it was. In fact, it is the purse, emptied of its contents. I am outraged, and accuse all the occupants of the bus. As it turns out, I know many of them, and I rifle through their belongings looking to recover mine. Worst of all, my passport was in the purse and losing that is a nightmare. I know the culprit is on board.

Coming to terms with the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is difficult, not unlike being robbed of one’s identification. In the dream, it is my passport I am worried about. My passport, in particular, is the only document that bears my full legal name. More importantly, it allows me to travel.

Replacing a passport is possible, but difficult. Metaphorically, I have lost my passport to come and go freely. Life now needs to be measured or paced, and I do not have credit to draw on. My purse has been emptied.

The bus that I travel on is me: the driver, the same robotic ego that takes me mindlessly through my daily route. The passengers are me also. Sandy is my over-analytical, uptight self, which is balanced by- or, perhaps (if I am more honest) protective of- my little girl innocence. The card players, and readers on board are me too. So is the thief.

Why is my bus a small house? My husband and I bought a small house over a year ago to retire in. We haven’t moved in yet, but it continues to be our promise for the future. Is this a premonition dream then? That the greatest struggle, or lost, will come when we move to our little house? Time alone will tell.

Derek Lin says that we each have a Buddha Self – an enlightened, loving self that lies at our inner core. As in the dream, I am struggling to find my bearings, conscious of the need to register my progress, and be on alert. I have long since moved away from a time when I trusted the process, and I am feeling disconnected from my Buddha Nature.

I can only hope that those who surround me don’t lose sight of it also. Reconnection will be my saving grace.

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Day 193 “Character Counts”

I knew something was wrong the week before my granddaughter’s first birthday.  Despite the increase in asthma medication, I was not able to get my breathing under control.  On the day of her celebration, I was in Emergency, then back home with Prednisone: the wonder drug.

This summer was more active thanks to a new home with a pool and within walking distance of a park.  Our new lifestyle felt promising, especially the fact that we were entertaining more, and enjoying the great outdoors.  Thor was still recovering from a spring full of surgeries, so his movement was limited, but he too felt more positive.

By July, the pain in my body had increased, but I told myself:  No pain, no gain, and pushed harder.  Isn’t that how the body works?  When record high temperatures hit mid July, I decided that was to blame for my troubled breathing.

The Prednisone didn’t work, so I continued to up my meds and rationalized that once the frost came, everything would be better.

Soon school was back in and with it the onslaught of germs.  I constantly felt like I was fighting something, and then one day, standing talking to a peer, I felt faint, unable to breath, and was sweating profusely.  I called the doctor.  An xray showed pneumonia.  A bout of antibiotics and I would be good as new.

Except, I wasn’t, and my breathing became more and more laboured and the dizzy spells continued, and the sweats, and I found myself back in Emergency and on the wonder drug again.  Twice, with no effect.

By December, the doctor decided that maybe this wasn’t asthma, and began to treat me for COPD, and arranged lung tests.  Nothing.  So, I went for heart tests.  Nothing still.

No, it’s asthma!  declared the lung specialist and he upped my medication, stating he would see me in two weeks.

In the meantime, I felt more and more like I was swimming against the tide, through thick, debilitating muddy waters.

I just want to be able to breath again!  I told him on my next visit.  To be honest, none of these meds are making any difference, and I am fed up!

Now I like this doctor just fine, but he has a undeniable sense of self-importance and on any given occasion is prone to answer his own questions before hearing my response, but this day he stopped and looked at my file.  Really looked at my file.  He went on-line and looked back over all the tests, and former tests and diagnosis, and sat back and looked at me with renewed interest.

You have Fibromyalgia, he said, as if realizing it for the first time.  This is not asthma.  This is Chronic Fatigue. 

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  My family doctor had mumbled it questioningly months before, then dismissed it in favour of further testing.  I can treat your lungs, he said, but it’s back to your family doctor for the rest.  

So, there it is.  A diagnosis.  Eight months of struggle, exhaustion, self-doubt, and frustration, and here is where I land.

There is relief in knowing what I am up against, but there is also an enormous sense of disappointment and a bracing myself for what is to come next.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, like Fibromyalgia, is an unknown that draws at best blank stares, but mostly, misinformed advice.  I brace myself for what lies ahead.

As the criticism, and ‘you shoulds’ rolls in, I realize that I will need clear boundaries, and the ability to deflect the controversy.  Now more than ever, I will need to walk with my head held high, choosing the path that supports me best.

Now is the time that character counts.

abuse · Family · memoir

Commanding Love

“Come sit down beside me,” my father pats the floor commanding my presence as he would a dog.  I hesitate.  The glass in his hand tilts dangerously, threatening to spill the amber contents, and his voice slurs slightly.  A dangerous scenario.

“Have I told you lately that I love you?”  He reaches a hand out towards me, and I know it is useless to object.  I accept the invitation, settling in at his feet.  He pats my head, absentmindedly stroking my hair.

“I am proud of you, Squeegie.  Did you know that?”  I have an idea.  I’d overheard Mom and him talking the other night and he’d said as much, but he seldom says it to my face, unless he’s been drinking:  a double-edged sword.

“My father was a brilliant man, you know.”

I nod my head.  I’ve heard this story before.  “I never got his brains, but you did.”

“Oh, that’s not true, Dad, you’re very smart.”

“No, no.  Not as bright as you are.  There isn’t anything you can’t do in this world if you set your mind to it.”

“Thanks, Dad.”  Where is this going? I wonder.  Last week Dad chastised me for only getting 96% on my math report.   How does anyone miss four percent? he blasted.  Sounds like you were carelessto me!

“The thing is, Veej, it’s not enough just to be smart.  You have to have goals and ambition.  You have to work hard.  Me, I wasted my life.  I let my demons take over.  Don’t make the same mistakes as me.”

I never know what my father wants from me when we have these conversations.  I feel more like his confessional than his daughter.  “You haven’t wasted your life Dad; it’s not too late.”

“Oh, yes it is.  I have been weak; a fool.”  Looking up I see the tears forming in my father’s eyes.

I remain silent.  This really isn’t about me, I realize.  My father is seeking reassurance.  I pat his knee, and let him ramble on, my mind glazing over.  The thing is, I’d actually built my hopes up for a moment, thinking that my father was going to praise me.  Of course, he wasn’t; it’s not his style.  I should know that.  Day after day, I watch him debase my mother, cursing her ineptitude.  Then he turns that venom on us children, yelling about our incompetence, and reminding us how we will never amount to anything.

“You do love me, don’t you?”  Dad’s winding down.   This is my signal to break free.

“Of course I do, Dad.”  I rise and gently kiss his cheek.

He catches my wrist and pulls me towards him.  “Look me in the eye and tell me you do, Veej.  Tell your old man you love him.”

“I love you, Dad.”  Pity floods me, temporarily whitewashing the underlying anger.

Later, I lie in bed letting the numbness of disappointment overcome me.  Praise never comes without a hitch in this house.

(Image: www.dreamstime.com)

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Day 191: The Fear Response

I am little and hiding behind the green-brocade, swivel chair in our family’s living room.  My mother is sitting on the chair, but she doesn’t see me.  The room is full of adults talking, smoking, and laughing, but I am afraid.  My father has pulled out a gun and is pointing it at another man.  I want to scream out to him to stop, but I cannot.  My voice is frozen.  I am paralyzed and helpless. 

I wake up.

And remember.

My parents loved to party when I was a child, and I wanted to be part of it.  In later years, I would perch on the staircase and listen to the exploits, but the dream takes place in the early years, when we lived in a bungalow, and I would wander out of my bedroom and hide behind the living room chair, wanting to be close to my mother and hoping I wouldn’t be found out.

My father never actually owned a gun that I know of, but he did have a violent temper, and on more than one occasion ended the evening by beating up on one of the male guests.

I learned fear in my father’s home.  I learned that to step out of line was to invite violence.

What I didn’t learn is how to define that line, so I lived most of my childhood in irrational, and sometimes paralyzing fear.  Survival, unharmed, became a goal and focus.  I spent countless hours and years upon years trying to figure out how to avoid my father’s wrath.

And in the meantime, I failed to learn about a healthy fear response.

I didn’t flinch when my older sister took me to a biker bar when I was only twelve.

I didn’t think anything was amiss when I was allowed to stay out to all hours of the night, and no one asked where I’d been.

It never occurred to me to question a strange man giving me a ride home.

When home is a scary place, everything else seems tame.