It seems everything is taking more time than it should. The wheels turning slowly. The system gummed up. If my life has been like this before, I am not sure I noticed it in this way. But I am trying to accept this. At least for now.

I was listening to a Radiolab podcast the other day about how lithium works in the body. How the salt mimics and replaces the normal sodium in the brain. But lithium is less efficient and it slows the connections of the neuropathways. The thing is, I don’t feel like I am going slower. The world is slower – and more stubborn. I am fine.

Really.

I move through downward dog and upward dog easily but feel my hamstring taught and dangerous in a side lunge. Breathe. Count on exhalations. Give in, while extending in all directions. Yoga is all about contradictions, about holding several truths at once while trying to find a comfortable equanimity. In out the stillness in-between all flowing together.

Stay in the present. Yes, but on the other hand, there is a query deadline on Sunday and packing to do for next week. Reviews and newsletters and housework. And everything feels as choked and sticky as my hamstring. And if I can’t rush through it, I just want to hop off. I am struggling to hold both truths, and leaning toward either/or. Or nothing: I want to pour a glass of wine and watch soap operas. I tell myself I deserve it. As though life should be like that: work and rewards in turn. Rewards like those flimsy gold foil stars that teachers would stick on our foreheads in elementary school. Making us feel proud and ridiculous in turns. I wanted one, and I didn’t. At any rate, they’d fall off before we got home to show the grown-ups.

I didn’t have the kind of grown-ups around who would fuss over gold stars, or even say things like “work is its own reward”. I had “that’s nice, but stay in your lane” grown-ups. But part of me has always wanted the gold stars. External rewards only abstractly connect to an actual achievement, because there’s no risk involved that way. Really being seen is dangerous.

A gold star is just a little shot of dopamine. A bit of chocolate. A glass of wine. And then it’s over. No vulnerable hopes, no expectations, no disappointments. Just a bit of pleasure. And back to work. The baseline is familiar and easy.

But I am beginning to think that tiny wins can be like pebbles in a jar. Over time, they can add up, overflow the jar and fill the whole room. Maybe the trick is to get to the point where holding a pebble, running a finger along the pocked surface, measuring its weight cupped in a palm, is as satisfying as chocolate. But more enduring.

These things – foil stars, chocolate, pebbles – mean what we decide they mean. Maybe it is possible that we are continually being rewarded by the world for just being here. If only we’d only take the time to look closely.

And breath in a continous flow.

I’ve made a list of all the things I used to do habitually, and with pleasure, before that afternoon we were all sent home from our non-essential workplaces.

I’m not sure which is the better metaphor: were these the bones that my muscles and ligaments would stack and pull to move the whole of me around in the world; or were they the ligaments and muscles that move my bones, that move me and give me a specific shape.

I’m not sure that it will even matter to know which was the kingpin that fell and allowed everything that was my life to fall as well. Or if it was even related to the lockdown. After all, we are all changing all the time regardless of pandemics or personal tragedies. Or newly-found pleasures.

Like a neglected garden, things both fall away and run rampant without attention. Maybe attention is the wrong word: diligence. Because I suppose it would have been possible for me to have paid attention, to have witnessed the destruction of my day-to-day patterns without having prevented what has happened. If mediation practice hadn’t been the last thing to whither, I might have paid more attention. I might have noticed a shift that warned of the relapse before I got sick.

It is an interesting phrase: to pay attention. And that this phrase existed before we had an attention economy. We pay for services, for goods and we invest with payments. It is worth asking, when we pay attention to our own lives, what we are investing in. This thinking seems to require a kind of split in one’s concept of one’s “self”. The rider and the horse?

I’m not a horseman/-woman by any stretch. But I have ridden enough to have been on the back of a horse while it stepped through loose rocks on a narrow ledge along a canyon wall. The horse knew more than I did about where it was safe to put our weight. But it isn’t easy giving over to the animal. To the wisdom of a corporal body that speaks a language that our conscious brain doesn’t understand. Expect perhaps sometimes in translation – via metaphor – but by then it is too late.

I wonder if better relationships with/among animals mean a less constrained relationship with one’s self? If it fosters respect for non-rational wisdom? I’m also wondering if this is related to the calm so many people who tend gardens regularly feel. Proselytize about?

Today is the first day of summer vacation. And the longest day of the year. From here this part of the world leans towards darkness again. And I am thinking I have a serious vitamin D deficiency. And have to become much more conscious – and diligent – about the details of my life.

I was looking at the department of health’s guidelines for hygiene. And even though hygiene is defined as “conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease” the guidelines are exclusively about washing one’s body, hands, teeth, hair, food. As though health would be maintained if someone were in a constant state of quasi-sterility with fresh breath. No mention of social contact (except to wash your hands and not sneeze on others), of nutrition, or stress reduction. Laughter?

I am asking myself a lot these days: Am I healthy?

I think today I am going to make my own list of good hygiene practices, based on my own definition of health.

Laughter is one. Running at the lake is another.

Right now: heading to the physiotherapist to deal with this sticky achilles.

It’s raining this morning. I think it may be why I slept late.

Sitting on the sofa looking out the window, a slipped ray of sunlight coming from behind my house, over my roof, hit the white trim on the neighbor’s roof to set it glowing against the slate sky.

This happens often. I sit on the sofa drinking my coffee and petting Leonard and I see this phenomenon. I know the sun is there. Momentarily. Then the eaves stop glowing and I know the clouds have covered the sun again. I feel my mood sink as though it were directly connected to the lux measurement of the neighbor’s eaves.

This happens so often on the weekends that I have begun to see this little moment of reflection like a kind of meditation practice. My mood is variable. And I can step back and notice its own nature, which is something my conscious mind can pull away from and observe. In the same way I can observe my hand. Or my aching achilles. What is a part of me is not the whole of me.

If there is a me. There is the image of the rider and the elephant in Buddhist symbolism. But I am thinking most days I feel more like a dog walker with a pack of variously trained dogs of wildly varied breeds. Today I’m being dragged by the loudly complaining husky, but tripped by the yappy chihuahua.

And there really is Leonard. Nudging my arm off of the keyboard. Putting his head between me and the mobile phone. Standing in my way, leaning his head on my thigh: notice me, sit with me, breathe with me.

This morning I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a film clip of a sea turtle eating a jellyfish. There was something profoundly disturbing about it. The vulnerability of the jellyfish’s beautiful body. The turtle’s leisurely matter-of-factness. It’s unrushed hunger. The small fish swimming around the jellyfish’s tentacles, even now as the turtle rips off parts of the body. The fact that someone observed and filmed the scene. This is life. Look at it. What do you do with this knowledge?

Maybe the point is to do nothing at all. Learn to look for the perspectives and try to hold them all at once? The jellyfish’s perspective. The turtle’s. The baby fishes’. The shrimp’s, and crabs’; the sharks’.

I don’t have to always take sides. Even if, or maybe especially when, I identify emotionally with one. Empathy isn’t wisdom. Empathy alone can’t determine the “right” side.

This morning watching the effects of the clouds covering the sun again, feeling my mood sink, I thought of the rash of grassfires we’ve had in the county this past week. Some quite serious.

Rain’s a good thing todayfrom that perspective.

a strong wind carries
you effortlessly along
in one direction

Now, it seems like every morning I sit down in front of the computer I second guess myself. I wonder if I have already written down the ideas that are bouncing around my head. I am sure I have. My life is all about repeating myself (and maybe repeating what’s handed down in DNA somehow?). Variations on a theme. Every bit of writing a piece of a kaleidoscope image of the same small life. This sliver through this filter. Now turned at this angle.

I don’t know why I’ve become self-conscious about this. It could be a consequence of my restlessness. Feeling like there little that is novel in my life. In the past 16 months, I have not been more than a 45-minute drive from my home. I haven’t sweat just sitting on a beach in the sunshine. I haven’t stopped to listen to buskers in the Bank tube station tunnel or gotten lost in an unfamiliar city. Though yesterday walking back from my vaccine shot at a local jr. high, I got lost here: a 20-minute walk from the house. (I am surprised how many of my neighbors have bright poppies in their stone hedges.)

Part of me would be happy to pack up and move somewhere new. But E. has ties here. And I am as happy as I have ever been. Restlessness aside. Pain aside. I am holding several states of being in my heart at once more easily than I have before. Me packing all my belongings won’t stop the hurt. I am thinking it’s a superstitious impulse. If I make a major change the whole world will have to change. The butterfly effect as an emotional placebo. A half-baked bargain with God. I’ll make it right now. I’ll change and the world can right itself.

I turn my life over and over in my hands and stay curious. This is my life as a worry stone. I suppose it is a kind of sleight of hand or misdirection. Rubbing the stone does little. It’s an eternity project: smoothing a groove with my thumb. But I am doing something in the face of my own uselessness.

It seems to me our culture ridicules self-soothing of any sort, as childish—if not infantile—behavior. We should be stronger. But meditation is a form of self-soothing. Running. Dancing until the sweat of your lower back stains your shirt. Lit candles at the dinner table. A dog in your lap. I am strong enough to hold all the good and all the bad—and not need to pretend I can vanquish the latter.

I keep telling myself.

I am asking myself again whose story it is to tell. Any child, any parent, any lover. Where do we draw the line where empathy & witnessing cross into personal appropriation. Respecting their secrets, their pains, their right to speak for themselves—or choose not to.

These days I am circling an outer ring of something more difficult than I have ever had to bear. The unimaginable. No. That’s not true. It’s the imaginable that your mind toys with like a specter like a hazy figure on a polaroid. The slender man among the trees in the fog. But it is something else when he walks into your bedroom and sits on the quilt so his weight pins your legs. He puts his hand on your sternum and breaths in your face. And he says he’ll be here for you until you die.

Only it’s not me there on the bed. I’m in the doorway. Helpless. Rubbing a worry stone. Wishing it were me on the bed. Surely I could make a pact with God? This is my story. And this is not my story. I am in the hallway. My finger making slow circles on a bit of stone.

a leaf’s edge is sharp
up close, the periphery
can slice you in two

Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.
THICH NHAT HANH

If that is not the perfect definition of real “self-care”, what is?

So many years ago a therapist told me to imagine myself as a child, and to comfort her. It’s interesting to revisit this now. Back then, I was in the position of an older sister. And now – I’m old enough to be a grandmother to her, and the exercise is an entirely different experience.

It’s funny to notice how easily my attention turns back to my current self and my current “sorrows”. Even in the midst of the exercise: “Oh, but what child takes an old woman’s words seriously?”

But I do notice this happening, and I can smile at myself – at both the my sorrows and my silliness. I’m counting this as a sign of maturity, as well as proof that I am still gloriously fallible, i.e. human.

Tending to wounds becomes habitual. So habitual that we learn early how to make them ourselves, to serve our tending.

We cut ourselves down to be able to experience nurturing. Even if we are alone in nurturing ourselves.

And maybe this isn’t a wholly bad thing: maybe this is how we learn to recognize our better selves.

This morning I’m thinking I don’t want to lose this complex relationship with myself. I’m not ready to even aspire to be singular – as the wisest version of myself. It’s enough that I glimpse her now and then these days. I’m not ready to give up childishness entirely. What if that means an end to growing –

when I’ve so much still to learn?