A quiet morning. So quiet E. startled himself saying good morning to someone jogging by in the opposite direction. Another kilometer along the trail, an owl swooped in from the trees and flew in front of us and into the dark. Just the sound of our shoes on the gravel.
Until we get back to the park and the grove filled with crows. I haven’t thought about this before – the way the trail breaks in two at the bridge, where most people out with their dogs turn back toward the parking lot. Where most runners turn back to hit the steep hill once again for their morning intervals.
We shouldn’t be surprised to glimpse an owl out there. I held the image in my head while I moved through the morning flow: warrior one, two, retreating… a bridge to open my clenched heart.
Tawny in the lamp-lights, from my perspective her wings spanned the entire width of the path. Then she lifted. And was gone.
I was awake at 1 this morning. Obsessing over something from years ago. Fighting magical thinking. Wondering if self-deception is morally acceptable in the attempt to hold on to sanity. Fears take on their own lives. And they wander in and out of ours as they wish.
I’m filling out a daily mental health questionnaire for a Corona study run by the University in Oslo. Every day it asks if I am disturbed by unexpected events. It is actually revelatory for me to consider that unexpected and disturbing are not near-synonyms.
So I think of the owl now. Unexpected this morning. This bird of prey, this silent flyer, regurgitated tiny, ravaged corpses. So matter-of-fact in its nature. The self-deception is that our lives are anything other than this: matter-of-fact.
I’ve questioned before whether imagination is a good thing – whether our bodies’ fluid facts aren’t the better shelter
I haven’t been able to write this week. I’ve been unraveling from the edges that brush against the world. The softness falls away, and I am a skeleton of splintered glass. Balancing fractured surfaces upright.
I took a course once on trauma and movement and the instructor said something that shifted my perspective. Drama teachers I’ve had, and have worked with use a standard image during warm-up sequences: “Now roll up: one vertebra at a time. Stacking one on top of the other.”
An upright stack of bones being pulled toward the earth.
But the body doesn’t work that way. You cannot stack a skeleton. Not in death. Not in life.
I think about this image a lot. I come back to it when I feel heavy in the world. We are animated by opposing tensions. Naturally pulled in varying directions as we go about our days. It opens us. Our ribs open and lift like wings when we breathe.
Life needn’t be a fight against gravity a balancing act precarious brain-on-bone- on-bone afraid of breathing
We can choose to fly whisper in each other’s ear I’m going to lift you now like a dancer come running trust I’ve got you even from here
This morning I lay in bed for a while. Saturdays are slow. When I looked at the far wall of the bedroom, it was as if I were seeing it for the first time. The texture of the paint over the texture of the plaster. The neatly-fitting edges of the fireplace insert. The eggshell white wall meeting the forest green wall in a deep corner, a shadowed seam.
I’ve slept in the room most nights for just over 5 years. I woke this morning as though I were staying in a new place. Or a hotel room. I don’t know what triggered the sense of unfamiliarity. There is always a tiny fear that the problem is actually that this experience is more the result of the sense of familiarity not triggering. But not in the moment. In the moment: wonder.
I thought about lying flung over a twin bed with my head grazing the green shag carpet of a rented apartment. A room with popcorn ceilings that made lulling shadows in the light of the pink nightlight plugged into the wall socket. Music coming from the other room, where there were sandalwood and paisleys, love beads and bongs. Soft laughter.
I imagined the world flipped on its head. Climbing over thresholds to move from room to room. Looking up at the furniture as if from underwater. Light fixtures rising like seaweed from the ocean’s bed.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that other people did this as children. Saw this world.
At the time, I sure felt alone.
I knew solitude before I knew loneliness I heard the world’s whispers its shape-shifting points of view unleashed, tucked-in at bedtime
My yoga practice this month has been limited to sun salutations and warriors. A single bridge in an attempt to return to my morning flows. What I thought was shoulder trouble, is really a problem with deep, small muscles in my back. I miss headstands. But this morning I was thinking that maybe time off from them has been good. Time to appreciate perspectives and purpose a bit more. A practice so rooted in routine can be something of a paradox.
Sometimes it’s important to embrace the unknown – to not know what is over the next hill, what is taking shape in the fading light…
A difficult night last night. Three a.m. text messages are never good news. Even when the news is edged with hope: a turn for the better, an “it could be much worse”.
It’s not the knowing that all things are impermanent that is comfort, it’s the acceptance of this. And I am forced to redefine the concept of “comfort” in my mind.
Again I read in a news article that it is foolish to say we live in uncertain times when the future is always, and has always been, uncertain. It’s a matter of how aware we are of that fact.
An alarm pulling us from sleep, even to offer hope, exposes our most vulnerable nerves. These truths that fade in sleep. Or in dreams, are popped into relief as a kind of rehearsal for the inevitable. Waking is a reprieve sometimes. Awake, asleep – both are ambivalent states of being. There is nowhere to escape from ourselves.
Is there comfort?
Soothing is not healing. But doesn’t try to be. What if the largest part of our job is a kind of palliative care? What if all that there is, is the soothing of ruffled feathers? A warm hand on a cheek? An intention to reassure one another: you are not alone.
Breathe, and be here with me. Even over a telephone connection. Like a dream. Listen to the wind against the window. Be here with the wind.
Reaction is not action.
In the theater, an actor’s every, individual action is supposed to be an assertion of the character’s will. Actors strive to inhabit the character’s lack of self-awareness. Acting is the inverse process of living Socrates’s examined life. Don’t act: react.
Art is, by most definitions, artifice. It has the intention of recreating life. But for what purpose? Many diverse cultures have had a tradition of hiring mourners for funerals. Actors, reacting in an act of compassion. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can care for the living. The theatrical is no less real for being theatrical.
And leading an examined life, acting instead of reacting, is no less real for its directorial perspective.
It’s one thing to accept the futility of one’s own will in regard to illness and accidents – the events of the greater world. It is another entirely to accept that there is no one to whom we can appeal for guarantees. No one’s will can stop the world in its tracks. It keeps turning under us, and we are forced to put one foot in front of the other. Because that is what we are here to do.
Even the most devout of us will caution that not all prayers are answered with yes… And they go on with that knowledge.
In a news report two years ago the journalists described the video that had been online: in her final moments, a young woman who was beheaded by terrorists cried out for her mother. Her mother, who was so far away. And unaware of that moment at that moment.
Somehow the mother, knowing this, goes on. She breathes still, now, beyond the unimaginable. The surreal. What can any of us offer her?
And each other, knowing that this is somehow all of us. All of it.
Of all the scenes in all the films I’ve ever seen, burned into my mind is that moment in Private Ryan where the soldier asks for a time-out. When I react in fear, that scene comes to the forefront of my memory.
If I had Socrates to dinner, I’d tell him that the unexamined life is most definitely worth living. Necessary even. We live for each other. Sometimes we act, sometimes we react. We give attention. We care. This is the nature of us.
This morning I light the candles, and the incense, and I unroll the mat. Through the window, I watch the tree across the street moving in the storm. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. Let my shoulder girdle settle. Spine in the center of my body.
I reach upward. Inhale again.
I am tired. I’m confused. Raw. And aware of my fortunate state of being. In this moment.
Who can stay on the middle path when the storm is blowing and the road is covered with ice?
I haven’t been sleeping well. Though I suspect few of us are these days. This weekend several of the local lakes were declared to be “safe”, then on Sunday two men fell through the ice of two different lakes. On the other side of the country, an environmental activist fell through and died.
I know that “liminal” has become one of those overused words, but the truth is these liminal spaces are dangerous. The in-betweens and the uncertainties and this continual sense of being on the edge.
Flight, freeze, fight, faint or f#%&. But before that, the suspense, the suspension of our own unconscious flow. Heightened awareness is exhausting.
Even with the yaktrax this morning, the asphalt is dangerous. There’s a light dusting of snow over the ice. The small plow pushes snow into the street and spreads sand on the sidewalk. Leonard and I walk on the other opposite sidewalk as we all go about our business. I want to run this morning, but don’t dare. I’m too unstable, too tired. I won’t be able to catch myself and find my balance if I slip.
A time-out would be nice. Is nice, when I allow myself this. Last week my youngest son visited and told me there is another possibility to the “Flight, freeze…” scenario: submit. Startled and frightened dogs sometimes do it. It’s not the same as playing dead. There’s no deception involved. It’s a matter of softening.
We are so sure that surrender is a bad thing. I’ve been thinking that there is a reason so many religions demand it. We need a time-out from our own will. A reality-check in the midst of all the prophets. Surrender to, acknowledge this moment and its omnipotence. And the next.
I move carefully from Warrior 1 to Warrior 2 and anticipate the pain in my left shoulder. I move consciously into Humble Warrior.
For no apparent reason my practice has taken several steps back. I’m trying to concentrate on ease of motion, rather than range of motion. To return to the beginning and find first a small space of release and flow, before trying to widen the arcs of my reach. It seems like an appropriate metaphor right now for everything in my life, perhaps.
After the flow sequence, I settle on the cushion and breathe. I visualize rough seas calming into a mirror-like surface.
There was a time I loved the teacups at amusement parks. Swing-sets and carousels. But just after my first son was born, I found I’d changed. Something in my body had changed and a spin in a teacup left me feeling hungover the rest of the day. Anxious, nauseated.
There’s something to be said for the carefree way children move through the world, thrilling at shadows, dwelling on twisted dreams. Playacting the bright ones. Through the magic of performance, they have real emotional experiences that are safely controlled, and parallel to what they know and accept as the real world that is outside of their control. Most children are fully aware of the difference.
I think we grow into our delusions unnaturally: Fake it ’til you make it.
I think we have a tendency to cultivate an unconscious faith in the world’s appearance. We move away from wisdom. We cling to our concepts of what we want the world to be. We tear ourselves apart trying to hold onto what we perceive to be the center while everything moves in the directions they move – as it all does – as it all will.
There’s something to be said for submitting while the world moves around us.
To choose to be care-free again? Playful instead of willful?
I’ve been struggling with inflammation and the overall discomfort that brings. But we we did a Sunday run anyway. I need it most when I want it least. It rained. I actually can’t remember the last time I went outside and it was not raining. Everything is on the edge of freezing, and at two-thirty in the afternoon the sun was already touching the horizon. It made the afternoon even softer, but melancholy as a good mourning.
At 11:02 we Northerners tilt on our axis: leaning into a new half-year of leaning towards the sun. I am ready. I am pushing it. I’ve pulled the little goLITE out of the drawer.
I should have done it weeks ago as a preventative measure, before my body swelled with melancholy and cold, softening inelegantly in the darkness like something giving in, waiting passively to be reconstituted, reconstructed.
This morning I stretch through warrior positions, and feel an internal resistance with every move. After a crying jag, the skin around my eyes feel swollen and vulnerable – today my whole body feels this way.
Even though the days will be getting longer, that fact will be imperceptible until March. Maybe it will be because Christmas lights were taken down in romjul, because the sky exploded in light and color on New Years Eve, and New Years Day was predictably anti-climatic.
New years are as difficult as colicky infants. Expectations are almost inevitable, and weigh heavily on short days. But we’ve stepped in it and there’s no turning back, no option to avoid the follow-through.
Svulstig is the Norwegian word for excessively emotional things like love ballads or national anthems. It also describes hollow flattery, and flowery platitudes. Navel-gazing profundities like I’m wallowing in here.
I’m thinking the word describes winter’s paradox- this svulstig state of swelling wetness. Even when it all freezes, it swells yet again.
I learned this week that romjul means the days where there are no rules. The flip side of lent without the carnival. This I am ready for: ring out the bells of Christmas, then wring out the heaviness of this passing year!
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.
I need more coffee. I need a run. I need.
Another deep breath.
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.