My memory has always been poor. I’m assuming that is what can happen when people in your life rewrite your stories for you from early childhood. I was familiar with the term “gaslighting” before it became a buzzword a few years ago.

At least I think I was. I know I’d seen the film with Angela Landsbury when I was young enough to be deeply unsettled by her — or her character’s — sexuality.

I’ve moved so often over the years, time is vaguely divided in my mind into chapters of “where I was living then”. So those mornings, in that house, when the kids’ heads could still be nestled under my armpit I woke fully conscious and fully unaware of who I was. It only happened twice. Not two mornings in a row, but close enough together that I carried a seed of panic for months. I was then still statistically too young for early-onset Alzheimer’s. But I wondered, and sometimes still do if it was a glimpse of things to come.

It was such a specific experience, lasting more at least a minute, that I still wonder if experiences like these are the source of people’s belief in reincarnation. I lay perfectly still and “sorted through” my mind to find my gender, my age, my situation: oh, yeah, I have children, two — just tall enough to fit under my armpits in side hugs.

I wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion during those lost moments. I was curious. At first. It felt as though I’d woke underwater and could see the light at the surface. But while swimming upward, I felt a growing fear that I may not reach the surface soon enough. What if I didn’t break through?

I’ve never talked to a doctor about these experiences. I figure now that I’d been dreaming. I’ve googled of course, but search results always mention “confusion.” I didn’t experience confusion. I felt remarkably clear, actually… just very far away.

I pull up these experiences now when I consider my meditation practice. Despite prevailing psychology theories, this is my conscious self detached entirely from narrative. Even the idea that this awareness was/is a dream-self is itself a narrative consciously placed on the experience.

In these moments the whole of my awareness was the “I”, watching the experiencing self — or in these two instances, searching for the experiencing self.

Swimming upward.

When I sit in meditation, I have to be careful. I have to guide myself to avoid hallucinations and other kinds of associative traps. I begin with the image of water. Blue (the air here is white*).

When I was small we would — or we did — camp in the desert and swim in springs. I remember once being tossed naked into a dark pool and feeling the cold current pushing against my feet, my legs, while the water around my torso was still and warm. I remember having the choice of where to put my attention.

I panicked. I kicked at the cold, I screamed: it got me nowhere.

I’ve found lately that there is a reason for pulling up memories. I’m beyond hope of uncovering objective truths, or even causes/consequences. I’ve given up on healing childhood traumas through memoir, but I’m convinced that it is possible that every incident tucked away — in sensual detail — in my mind is a metaphor for… everything.


*This is not at all in accordance with Buddhist symbolism, but it is in accordance with the Jæren landscape and relevant to my personal experience.

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.

Monday is rest day, so no running. And this morning I’m grateful: the wind is gusting wetly against the window. Fortunately, it hits the house at an angle and spares us the worst of it. I sit with my back to the cold and write while wrapped in a red blanket that was a gift from Di. The tealight is burning under a spiced Christmas tea mix I bought to try to get me in the mood.

It’s not working.

The coffee gets cold too quickly this morning. I’m on a second cup already, wondering how the minutes have been spent.

How I spent the minutes.

I’ve mostly been unraveling last night’s dreams. We got away for the weekend and stayed at a little bed and breakfast in a little town down south. Tiny wooden houses covered in Christmas lights, and on Sunday morning the bells peeled four times over the course of the morning. It was charming. Even in the rain.

I thought I’d put work behind me: relaxed. But last night my body pinched and twisted in frustrations and I woke in pain for the first time in a week. I’ve been sorting metaphors for real situations from outright fears and fictions. My subconscious still finds a defensive position familiar and comforting. My body, however, is no longer comfortable with this. It can no longer handle the effort of jousting with windmills.

I close my eyes and hum: haaaaaa. I imagine the gusting whipping the lake with white-tipped waves and then watch the whole world calm down. When the sun rises, the sky turns deep orange and pink. And all it if is mirrored on the still surface.

E. describes the weather this time of year as raw. When the cold feels much colder than measurements suggest, and it cuts through everything – wind or no wind.

On mornings like this, the sun rises behind a veil and the surface of the lake reflects the white, the wind. Still: haaaaaa. Because this is also true.

Even as the dancer moves across the stage, there is a stillness in the connection of her energy to the energy of the earth. A constant. There is the haaaaaa.

Because everything else changes around this one truth. And resting here in this point of reflection is the only option for peace.

what can I put in my mouth but rainwater and the truth? looking upward, the sun, a few wispy clouds, and a dream.

jobe


Last night I fell asleep on the shakti mat. E. says I snore when that happens. Hardly the image that I’m ( — uh — not) striving for with my meditation practice.

I read textbooks for another two hours before bed then woke thinking about work. But I felt refreshed none-the-less. They weren’t stressful work thoughts, but energizing ideas. It’s been a long time since I felt this way about my job. And I can’t point to any reason for things to have changed.

Something has lifted. Even in this darkness.

We ran this morning in the cold, then I did my morning yoga practice and meditation. It never fails: 20 minutes into the asana work, I lie down for a bridge and Leonard takes it as a cue to lie with his head on my face. His chin on my lips. I think maybe he thinks he is doing me a favor: indirectly pinning my shoulders to the floor so I get an even deeper arch as I lift my hips toward the ceiling. But it could be that he is just being a jerk. Sucking out my breath like a demon cat.

To be honest, these kinds of mornings make me nervous. This “high”, for no reason. This clear-headed, spacious sense of time and equanimity. This “lightness” that threatens like a helium balloon that I may lose my grip on.

This familiar sweet-spot before mania.

I haven’t written about bipolar tendencies for a very long time, and didn’t intend to today: what thoughts come, when one questions the present.

Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.ALBERT CAMUS

They say “Trust is earned.” But I am thinking that trust is also learned. Finding this middle path between distrust and blind trust, and knowing that staying in the moment doesn’t require trust at all: it requires relinquishing the fear that is rooted in thoughts of the future. I can give all my attention to the moment and spare myself disappointments. It also requires giving up my hopes.

It’s about being a realist: hopes and fears are both imaginary.

“Trust me, everything will be okay.”

“Trust me, everything changes: stay in this moment and breathe in through the nose.”

I know far less than I’d like to about Albert Camus. And about Dharma. I’ve often considered setting up a structured plan for investigation, but at the moment, I rather like how ideas wander into my field of perception and juxtapose themselves with one another.

I believe this is also a kind of beginner’s mind.

In happy baby pose — Leonard having given up on me, and stretched himself over the sofa — I notice the chandelier’s shadow stretching over the ceiling. Fading, as the sun rises and shines through the glass doors.

I consider the concept of generosity, and it juxtaposes in my mind with equanimity, and I visualize a natural spring and a basin of water. I consider the wastefulness of a stagnant pool. I consider a water clock and decide I want one for Christmas.

I don’t think I am doing this right.


So for today, I’m giving up on expectations. I sit here with a cup of coffee, a white computer screen, and an inarticulate image for a poem that’s going nowhere.

I’ll sit until it’s time to catch the train.

I’m trying to make sense of every little thing. Every book on the shelf, every spoon in the drawer, and every must-do on my to-do list. I’ve been using new software at work to sort through the information I share with students, and for the tasks I need to do. I’ve done the same thing with my writing projects.

It’s (probably deceptively) satisfying to get everything organised this way. Having an overview only gives me an illusion of control, I suppose. But it does stop my muppet mind from fretting. I can tease apart every concern and spread it over the computer screen as separate entities. With a space between each. Nothing in its own shape seems worth fretting over. Nothing in-and-of-itself seems vital.

Muppets GIFs | Tenor

What I’m still searching for is a way to do this kind of thing with all of the thoughts in my head. I want to – lovingly – sedate every little moth-like idea and pin it to a kind of bulletin board.

I suppose in some ways that is exactly what it is to write in the mornings.

This dawning space: where the contents of my time
spreads thinly, shallow as the sea
flowing over the sand – where
every gasp for breath becomes visible –
this moment of pause before
the day’s rush and the slower ebb
into the dark and the deep
chaos of dreams.

It is exactly what it is to sit on the cushion and let every thought wash up, and pass by.

Without drowning in the process.

May we have the attention to hear when something changes, the perceptiveness to know when things aren’t working, and the wisdom to try something different.

(Adapted from a prayer on a Unitarian Universalist website.) –jobe

The first of the four seals of Buddhist thought is that all compound entities are impermanent. Everything falls apart. And when they do: when they scatter as fragments, as potentials, over the nothingness.

I envision it as a depth of black felt, not cold space. And though this nothingness isn’t really nothingness, since it can itself still be teased apart, it is as far as my mind can see.

It’s here, against this incomprehensible nothingness that every temporary constellation might be perceived and admired, seen and heard. Maybe synesthesia is the beginning of understanding? Maybe it is the universe recognizing itself at play?

In the Christian tradition, God created the world in his own image. This morning I’m thinking that every coming-together, every illusion of form is just the universes’ joyful shadow play for itself. I’m some bit player: both insignificant and indispensable. My presence is vital, my role is not.

But it is so easy to get caught up in the drama. We forget we are looking at our own mind from inside our own mind: just fragments- just potentials.

Monday, and a week into Advent. A lousy night’s sleep and a cold, wet morning. A cup of coffee in a teacup this morning. I’d pulled the cup from the cupboard thinking it would be nice to hold in my hands: warm ceramic with steaming coffee. You get the picture. But that’s not reality. The coffee cools too fast with such a wide surface.

The photo editor keeps freezing, locking my WordPress site.

It’s one of those mornings where my mind wants to focus on the small events that I can put in the column of “wrong”. I got up on the wrong side of the bed.


I put a few drops of Rosemary in the burner on my desk. Take a deep breath, and imagine my spine is in the center of my body, not behind me. My shoulder’s drop.

Reset.

I need more coffee. I need a run. I need.

Another deep breath.

Reset.

I need wool socks.

Another deep breath. I should give up and go sit on my cushion in the other room, and let my morning catch up with my mind that keeps running out in front of the moment, arms waving like a muppet. Or rather, I should sit until the muppet realizes there’s no reason to panic.

It’s been a week since I’ve been on the mat. I’ve been giving my shoulders time to heal. But there is a fine line between rest and stasis. My joints are stiff and unfamiliar. I need to move.

This ridiculous teacup is useless for coffee.


Another abandoned bicycle in the park. At least no one threw this one into the creek. I could take a picture a day with all of the bicycles that people “borrow” and abandon in this small town. This morning I wonder who will be late for school because someone slightly high saw the bicycle on the dark veranda last night.

Or maybe it was personal.

I check the mailbox, to find it crushed on one side. Maybe the neighbor’s visitor Saturday night backed their car into it turning around in our shared driveway.

Maybe it was personal.

I think that my mind has been putting events in the “wrong” column for a while now – as habit. Tipping the scales and freaking out my little muppet accountant: Aargh!

The world is an unpredictable place. Things go missing. Things pop up unexpectedly.

Leonard tugs in his harness, smelling a hedgehog in the holly bush. My shoulder is shot through with cold and sharp.

It’s the consequence of mindlessly clinging to things.


On such a sharp morning I long for the roundness of a teacup. Even when it makes no sense at all.

My meditation cushion is filled with small, giving shapes that collectively conform to whatever shape they meet. Like my butt.

Butt on the mat. But first: wool socks on my feet. And maybe another cup of – hot – coffee. Another attempt to distract the muppet from everything that goes “wrong”. With a tick on the “right” column: resuming routine.

Putting the muppet in a time out corner while this body moves through Warrior one, two and reverse…

There’ll be plenty of time I’ll catch up with Monday.

“[… ] I come to into the peace of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief.”
from “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry

This morning E. stops me in the kitchen and wraps his arms around me, and I find it annoying – this intrusion into my mood. I’m in a familiar groove and flowing quickly, and he is blocking me.

I’m impatient, but I let him hold me. Probably all of 4 seconds. He tells me I’m not breathing from my center. He points out how I’m only breathing with my upper chest, simultaneously holding so much tension that even my upper chest is barely moving.

The pain in my shoulders and arms is back. Creeping up my neck, and I panic thinking about the months of sleepless nights this spring, when I held a constant ache from my ribcage up.

I want to cry.


Last night I chopped onions and garlic and chilis to make salsa. The tears ran down my cheeks and I just let them. That is as close as I’ve come to crying in a very long time.

I know this sounds bizarre, but it seemed like my cheeks were grateful for the tears. I felt my whole body relax a little while I squeezed the limes, and cut the slightly-wilted cilantro.

I was relaxed when I turned off the lights at ten. But then as sleep crept in, so too the nocturnal imp who demands I work it all out before dawn. He sits on my chest, and I find it difficult to breathe.

For a while, I wonder if it is a symptom of Covid 19. If it’s a heart attack. If it’s Rumpelstiltskin. But I’m dreaming and it’s just after one.


It’s another flat day. The sky without depth. I hear the cars driving through puddles in the street outside. I’m going to fold the clothes that are piled-up downstairs and put them away in the drawers and closets. I’m going to finish my tea. Then –

I’ll go to the forest
and sit for a while.

I’ve seen wood ducks there – only rarely.
But it’s certainly worth a shot.

And if nothing else,
I can listen to the wind
rattle the branches of the trees,
and I can breathe.