Healing as Praxis

The 26th leg av the Camino.

Today our lovely guide asks us to put our intention on “healing” today. And I meet with another point of internal resistance.

One which takes me completely by surprise.

I was listening to a podcast the other day about trauma. The interviewee’s position was that people who have insecurities have them because they were traumatized as children. And after all these years of therapy, I am beginning to wonder if there is really any benefit in using the metaphors of wounds and healing and scars when it comes to processing the emotional experiences of our lives.

The whole paradigm of trauma implies a state of perfection that is damaged. And I find myself asking: where is that state of perfection? If someone has a concept of that, my guess is that it precedes the time where they became conscious of their own point of view being discrete from the rest of the world. The toddler whose mother closes the bathroom door for the first time while she pees alone, may very well experience that moment as a small trauma: an abandonment. The spectrum of abandonment is long and varied and ultimately subjective.

Isn’t our concept of this “first trauma” a form of nostalgia? A fiction?

I am in no way belittling or denying the reality of the pain that we endure. And believe me, it both surprises me – and makes me uncomfortable – that I find myself asking these questions.

What if we framed the small and large events of our lives as something other than trauma? These are events. Phenomena. I am certainly aware that this is not a novel thought. I’ve read the philosophers, but there is always a different kind of understanding when you plod the long way around and bump into to the idea on your own: experiential-ly, not intellectually.

Healing is generally defined as a form of “restoration”. Or reparation. I find it ironic, the definitions of the word reparation – one being healing, and one being payment for being wronged. Am I the only person who has muddled the two? Expected healing in the form of payment: a lollipop from the dentist, an eye for an eye, a medal, a title – moral superiority.

It might just be me. I’m not proud of this. I often question my motives for having “shown off” my scars. Doing so always leaves me with with a feeling of shame. When will I decide I am “healed”? Believe I’ve received enough reparations to move on?

I’m considering other metaphors. These events as shapes, not ugly or pretty in themselves, but shapes I can sort into mosaics. These stories (since I cannot let go of the stories) that are not about healing and happy endings, but about the weaving of compassionate observations into a greater whole. How can experiences make me a better person, but – no: and not give me a sense of being more deserving?

I’m grateful for many of the concepts I have internationalized from my childhood faith. Martyrdom is not one of them.

What if the “work of healing” is nothing more than willful creativity? This is the material you are given: a bit of mud, a bit of coal, a fleck of fool’s gold. Make something of it that is yours.

It’s our nature to be altered by phenomenon.

Just like the trees that grow around the fence posts, that layer their bark each season – callouses that look like faces, faces that read like stories. Nothing healed. And nothing gained. Just part of the great forest.




At the Edge of the Woods

The 25th leg of the Camino.

Every day I get to sit in this little library, between the walls I’ve painted a deep green. I’ve hung dark mustard paisley curtains in front of the French doors. There are shelves of books, a great oak desk, a purple velvet wing-back chair, a standing Tiffany lamp, and a sleeping dog  – who takes up this tiny room otherwise.

This room is my pride. My bower nest.

Sometimes my love sits in the chair and reads, or works puzzles while I write.

I have always been comfortable in snug spaces. Always taken a pleasure and sense of calm in the arranging and rearranging of objects in space. Even when that was a mattress, milk crates and two-by-fours. And books.

But this space is different. The room is still small, but sitting here – my back to the window – the blackbirds’ singing sounds through the glass. Unfailingly, they sing.

In all the moving I’ve done in my life, this is the first time I’ve not felt that my personal physical space was a kind of panic room; a secret sound-proof sanctuary, the tighter the better.

I think it’s the singing that makes this home different.

Sometimes I wonder if the blackbirds that sing in our driveway are the same blackbirds that hop along the trail in the dark winter mornings – darting into the underbrush when we run by. Maybe they follow us home.

This winter I neglected them – and into this spring. I’ve neglected to notice them. Of course it matters nothing to them, it is all my loss. I fell out of habit and haven’t run regularly in this new year. This wearying year that has been off-groove for so many ways for so many people. And when things are off-groove, I retreat.

I want to write: “It’s only natural.” But it’s unnatural.

Today I forced myself to push the hamstring for a run along the lake. And something like not having seen a small child in too long, I realize that I’ve somehow missed the world going by. The lily pads speckle the southern edges of the lake already with their big, flat leaves. In the pale reeds, the cottontails are thick and dark brown. The ducks are paired off, and I am overdressed in a fleece and a jacket.

I’ve missed the smells of the woods, and the active focus of scanning for tree roots at a steady pace. I’ve missed stopping and listening to the trees in the wind, the rare woodpecker drilling – I’ve even missed the little electric jolt at the site of an iridescent beetle crawling over my fingers while I try to balance in an awkward crow pose in the middle of the grove.

I’ve missed opening myself to nature, which is necessarily opening one’s self to death. Even the mushrooms in the shade of Njåskogen look like ivory-silken funeral lilies.

All this while, away from the woods, I’ve been planning a garden. Planning. While sitting in this little room. It makes sense really. What is a garden but an attempt to tame nature? To stave off death – or at least create an illusion of control over it.

From this room I make plans for a garden in the yard that will be a kind of bridge to the lake and the woods down the road.

It’s time now.

Reaching a Crest

The 24th leg of the Camino.

Rather than denying or ignoring them as hindrances, limitations can lead us to possibility just as the planks of a bridge support our ability to span a gap.

I’ve had some uncomfortable conversations this week. Children say the darnedest things. I think about that joke that someone’s therapist knows your secrets. But they know secrets about you that you don’t know. Because no one view is the right view – we are all looking through tiny lenses at images that we flip in our heads to make sense of them.

We make sense in conflicting ways. We exist as paradox, all of us. And I am not sure I want an omni-view.

Kaleidoscopes nauseate me.

Today our guide asks us to contemplate failure.

E. is my running partner, but it isn’t always easy. He finds it motivating to say – “Only x – miles or meters left”. But that thought stops me dead in my tracks. If I consider how far I’ve come, or how far I have to go – I’m pulled out of the moment of living.

The fact is – I do like mileposts. I like having them take me by surprise. Like the flash of a white deer tail. And goals. I like goals. Until I reach them. And then they nearly always feel like failures.

This is why I try to cultivate a stoicism. I have no explanation for my innate optimism. Most people think of optimism as a good thing. And, I admit to the role it plays in resilience. But I think people underestimate the pain it can cause.

So maybe it is surprising that I am one of the people who will run back and forth across the street in front of my driveway several times until my GPS records the 5.0 kilometres for the day? Damned random optimism: the sky will open and  I’ll glimpse some kind of unimaginable joy.

A subconscious view of Nirvana is the mirage that motivates every effort.

How old were you when you realized all those beautifully wrapped boxes under the display Christmas trees at the department store were empty? When a goal is a pretty promise, it is always a disappointment. And I think I have a  habit of reaching for pretty promises. Maybe it’s all just a consequence of consoling myself when I fail: it wasn’t that big a deal anyway.

The summer after E. and I first began dating we hiked to Kjerag. We packed a lunch and headed up the smooth sheepback. The incline to reach the “bolt” is steep and studded with chains. And I pulled myself now and then with an eye on the crest, and the anticipation of a horizontal trek, and a picnic in the heather. But just as we reached the crest on that first climb, a second appeared. Then a third. Eventually, I just stopped anticipating, and put one foot in front of the other.

When we finally got to the top, it was knee-deep with snow.

So, you see, failure is definitely just a point of view.

When I think about the failures in my life they have never been associated with times I pursued a goal and missed the mark, or chose not to press on. I consider my failures the times when I’ve I set a goal and then wandered until I’d lost sight of it. Failures are lost keys and burnt casseroles. An unfinished play on the hard drive of a discarded computer.

The good wife.

The good mother.

I’m going to go for a run.




Tipping the Balance

The 23rd leg of the Camino.

I don’t want to walk the dog around the block. I don’t want to do dishes. I don’t want to write.

Working from home, I’ve lost the habit of balance. I find myself sitting in front of the computer 13 hours a day. Not having to pack up for the day and catch the train home, I sit with a cup of tea and work until late in the evening. Sometimes I sit past what used to be my bedtime. I have lost sight of the fact that there is never a time when the “to do” bin is empty, because the emails keep pling-ing in. I worry about the silent build-up of lymph in my body – all this sitting.

I don’t notice that I’m wearing thin until I’ve burned the roof of my mouth so badly on a cup of tea that I have stop to take account. This hurts. That hurts. My eyes are so tired. Where did I leave my glasses?

Focus can be a good thing. It can also be deceptive – like when your eyes fix on something in the room and part of your consciousness “sticks”. It’s easy to mistake this kind of resting as balance. But under the stillness, there’s a racing energy.

In America they have runaway truck ramps along difficult stretches of highways where many of us just ride the breaks.

Hell, it is hard-going either way: you can run wild or you can run down.

If yoga has taught me anything it is that balance is not a state of being, it’s a habit of continuous adjustment. My slipping daily practice may well be an integral part of a larger lesson here.

Do not fix in place: adjust.

Our guide points out the Episcopal Gaudi Palace in Astorga. A neo-gothic church that only hints of his trajectory toward the Sagrada Família. Antoni Gaudí died at 73. Years ago, a tour guide at the Sagrada Família told me that Gaudí had apparently zoned-out while crossing a street. He was struck by a trolley car – on his way to make confession.

There’s a lesson for you.

Pay attention. Adjust. Practice balance.
Get yourself to the church on time.



What We Do With Our Lives

… or Leaving D.L.D. 

The 22nd leg of the Camino

Today our wonderful guide lets us know what is coming on this route. No bridges. But many bakeries lining cozy plazas.

We are invited to consider the activities with which we fill our lives. Finance our lives. Fulfill our lives:

And have I not been here before? Contemplating my “usefulness” in imaginary discussions with a long-dead writer?  Sometimes we look into others only to find ourselves. Sometimes we are in love with our own hurt. A twisted Narcissus. Picking at our wounds.

There’ve been times it has bordered on obsession. But only after I’d finished that long correspondence, did I understand that my actions, like hers, were never driven by desire, but fear: a need to feel validated. A need to justify my existence.

How many times have I thought that I needed to go back and study medicine? Become a gardener, a carpenter – someone to be stuck on a desert island with.

And here we are, now: socially distanced. Each of us feeling a bit like an island. And each of us looking at what we valued in the work done by the people in our communities.

The nurses, yes. But the people who wash our desks, drive our buses, put the fresh fruit in the bins.

No one is banging on my door to hear me recite an original epic poem. But I find myself answering a phone call from a student on a Saturday afternoon. Because I want to. Because it is what I do.

Nine times out of ten I say the wrong thing. But I talk a lot, so there is that one time when I say what is needed.

And I know I threw out numbers, but I’m not keeping a tally: “You win some, you lose some.” 

I’ve stopped questioning motives. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a character in a play. (An unexpected advantage to having aged-out of Hollywood storylines.)

Something has shifted in me. Somewhere along these last years I have lost a lot of need, and desire has flooded into that space. And I hadn’t even noticed.

Maybe every kind of truth, told or achieved, must be approached obliquely?

Tell all the truth but tell it slant  – Emily Dickinson

What do you fill your life with? What do you dare to take?

I do believe I am getting old: It’s not that I’ve lost ambition. I’ve lost fear. And it is wonderful.

I have a round life
and it keeps expanding, like
dough rising for bread.