Essence of Clementine

Pain is not a punishment; pleasure is not a reward.
-Pema Chödron

I meditated this morning on impermanence. Specifically the impermanence of moods. Tension crept into my shoulders and neck again last night. Despite an half an hour on the shakti mat, I lay awake a good deal of the night feeling like there was a rubber band wrapped around my brain. My jaw. My shoulders.

And this morning is a deep pool of why bother. But I’ve stopped looking for clues, for catalysts, or causes. This will pass. I breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth three times – cleansing breaths. Then I peel a clementine. I rub the rind over my hands. I press my hands together, and to my lips. And I inhale again.

When Dix entered one of her melancholy seasons she went to England to rest with Quakers. They fed her fruit. I love the irony that these pious Christians turned to an orange, a peach, or… an apple for healing.

And quiet. They turned to Quiet.

I have been making an ever-greater effort to stop multitasking. And ever-failing. Yesterday I caught myself searching for audio apps to read the news to me so I could work on the computer simultaneously. This after I’d acknowledged to myself how I’ve been listening to podcasts in a weirdly performative way (paratheatre) while thinking about other things entirely.

So much noise. I may have stumbled on a catalyst to my rubber band situation, I guess. But this pain is a consequence, not a punishment. I know that.

I’ve been collecting worries for 9 months mow. I fretted as though my doing so would make the world easier for other people. As though it were a useful thing to do with my time. Yesterday a student complained about the educational law in Norway that prevents me from giving them the last day before vacation off. She insisted on having the last word: But it sucks. There was no way she was going to allow me to end the conversation otherwise: But you have to agree it sucks, she repeated.

How often my students are mirror versions of my own little oxpeckers. How often my efforts to change the world are substitutes for what I need to change in myself. I try to soothe what needs soothing within myself. I fret vicariously. Uselessly.

Nature Picture Library Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) pair  searching for parasites on Impala, Mpumalanga, South Africa - Heini Wehrle

I think about Dix and all her work on behalf of the mentally ill – and all her own mental pain. Like her, I’m a well-intentioned master of self-deception. Too often ignorant of my own motivations for choosing the lauded – but ignorant perspective: choosing the other, while drowning myself.

Every year I hold this thought that I will really relish Christmas. I will make things with my hands, invest in the act of creating and giving as a token of interpersonal gratitude. Instead, I rush things between grading exams and making dinner, and I curse and resent the entire season. I resent the fact that last year’s handmade candies are still in a jar on the shelf in my colleague’s office, unopened – and likely brewing something far less helpful than penicillin.

I think about all the almond flour and lemon that wedged painfully under my fingernails while I rolled the candies into small coconut-flour-dusted shapes. (What a frightening thought now, in these Covid times).

Yeah.

This year I’m making candles. I expect hot soy wax will bring with it a share of painful moments. But I’m hoping the scent of cloves and orange will help me focus on a brighter mood.

Essence of orange tends to stick around. There’s nothing smooth about it. Like a burr or a bit of Velcro, it snags and insists on attention. Like a toddler tugging at a shirttail, demanding to be lifted up onto a hipbone and carried through the day, pointing and clapping at everything that sparks a little bit of joy. Clove? That’s the old woman doing the carrying, paying attention, smiling warmly: saying put down the red pen and the grading, and come here and just sit a while.

Take a deep breath.

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