Saturday, July 4, 2020

Texas Notes: Bitter and Sweet



     EGD's Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey moved this week, but still found time to check in. 

     “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect, ” said Anais Nin. I am not so sure I want to taste many moments of this pandemic life twice, yet I often feel guilty about the lack of gratitude for my life as it is. I wonder who else feels that way? I am caught between two worlds lately— the bearable one consists of mantras used to clear my mind (aka cognitive restructuring), delightful breezes on hot days, arms raised to catch the stroke of wind under sweaty armpits, peaceful and endless walks into the dusk and then into the soft blanket of darkness, and doses of magical thinking that seem to make everything OK.
     Then there’s the world of harsh realities, which for me includes job loss (and job gain) and housing loss in the past 12 weeks. This necessitated a move during a mind boggling COVID spike in Austin, thankfully to a very sweet, (albeit temporary) soft landing spot— a tiny house, in fact, how cool is that? See? Feeling guilty for the ingratitude already. I had to tell you of the silver lining right away because I feel I am not allowed to say “this whole thing has been so scary that I’ve lost countless nights of sleep and wake up many mornings in full panic mode not knowing quite why, until I remember,” since that will just be met with “count your blessings,” “we love you,” “you can do this” and other phrases that in effect snuff out the very feelings I am trying to honestly share. This only serves to make me feel more alone.
     “But Caren, you’re _______ [insert here a yoga teacher, a therapist, a meditator, so strong] and you’ve got this!” I hear myself saying “sure, I do, I know,” and apologize for taking up so much time. I turn back to myself, returning to my true feelings of gut-punch grief for all of the lives lost and knowing that this virus has changed the world forever. I do not let myself dwell upon fears of who else might be lost. On one level this feel responsible. I have been taught not to “future trip” or worry about what might happen. On the other hand, why is it not OK to be who we are, with our fears and hopes alike?
     The good news (there I go again) is that I have found myself in a deeper way than ever before. I reside in my own skin and am comfortable there. I do not resent those with pat advice designed to cheer me up (though depression cannot be cheered up) and I just hope that I become more and more self sufficient and know what to do when the unpleasant kind of darkness comes.
     Over the years the words of Thomas Banyacya, Sr. (1910-1999) known as Speaker of the Wolf, Fox and Coyote Clan and and Elder of the Hopi Nation have been shared with me many times by wise teachers and friends. The words have taken on a new meaning— an excerpt: “To My Fellow Swimmers: Here is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid, who will try to hold on to the shore. They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river and keep our heads above water. And I say see who is there with you and celebrate. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves. Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. For we are the ones we have been waiting for. I am the one I’ve been looking for.”
     Even with the low points, forced solitude and material insecurity have given me a lush playground. I’ve been able to become self-reliant. I do not feel let down by others. I feel a love for myself, friends, family and even strangers in increasing frequency. To cultivate this — when I am up to it and not stuck in a morass of fear in between my ears — I repeat “may you be well, happy and peaceful,” in my mind towards each person whose path crosses mine. Why not? If I can learn to live with my own pain, receive love and gifts from others without demanding it, and learn to be the best cog in the wheel of life that I can be, this is a life worth living. I admit that I have stuck my tongue out at two separate drivers while on COVID walkabouts when they did not yield, but hey? Progress not perfection is alright with me.
     Carl Jung suggested that to feel a deeper sense of well-being we can find our inner partner rather than looking outwards to material possessions or attachments to other people. Turns out I quite like my inner partner. Hi Caren! (That’s not weird). In finding this unconditional love of myself with all of its aspects, I find myself chuckling more (walking down the street laughing isn’t weird either). Sometimes I have a big smile on my face that seems odd (no comment) but when I check in I feel truly happy so why not smile? Sure, the pull of a lifelong depression still, and may always, grab for my ankles or sit on my chest. It might put my insides on the outside, leaving me raw and exposed. I usually know that this will pass, and I will feel better tomorrow, or the next day, or at least the day after that.
     For years I've known that yoga and other healing modalities can bring us more into our bodies and inner being, out of our self-critical and judgmental minds, and assuage loneliness. It seems years of practice are paying off now. I still feel grief, sadness, despair and the whole range of human emotions but I also feel a stillness at my core. I no longer try to run away from uncomfortable feelings and instead welcome myself completely.
     For now, for me, it will be “clear mind” on the inhale, “don’t know, don’t know, don’t know” on the exhale, which Ana Forrest suggested during a mediation class at Moksha Yoga Chicago back in the early 2000s. The premise is that if we can stay in the moment life will feel more worth living. Or, as Timothy Leary’s friend Ram Dass reminds us, “be here now.” This is easy enough when one has few earthly problems or is able to put them aside for periods of time to meditate. I will continue to do whatever it takes — avoid, deflect, deny, accept — to be present in moments of connection with the good things in life. There was the spry little black and white speckled red-beaked woodpecker in the tree in my new yard today, my new landlord’s orange kitty Dolley using my (hairy COVID) legs as a scratching post, feeding popcorn to the backyard chickens and saying hello to the kind souls who offered me a furnished tiny home of 288 square feet (with a washer/dryer and bidet!) until the next step emerges.


14 comments:

  1. If you have an orange kitty (even temporarily, as I did for 4 1/2 years), then life is good. They're unusually sweet and affectionate. Orangies are the best!

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    1. Ours was old and not in good health. But Leo got steroid shots that perked him up enough so that he was able to spend two more summers "lion" in the sun. He loved the sun. Then he became diabetic, and that was the ballgame for our Orangy Boy.

      Now it is green and gorgeous summertime once again, and there's an empty space on the screen porch. Leo is greatly missed. We outlive our animal companions. It's a major design flaw.

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  2. Thank you. The need to be in the present and accepting it as it is, but with the knowledge that acceptance doesn't have to mean complacency, is almost necessary.
    "You got this" and "You are stronger than _____" gets irritating when you are battling for your life against an illness that is winning. The well wishers often seem to be in denial - while i have to battle the reality.

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    1. Thank you for being here. As you know, people are often well meaning and want to be helpful; however our society doesn't always have a language or tolerance for people who are not "ok." We step over homeless people who may be dying. There's a website, makeitok.org, that helps folks learn the language to use with those who are suffering. Daniel Johnston painted a mural of a frog called Jeremiah The Innocent that says Hi, How Are You? and seeks to remind us to say hello to folks we pass rather than ignoring them. The other problem is the stigma, as you know. There are ways to break it down and it's beginning, but while society loves art and music it still doesn't know, overall, how to care for the artists and musicians who may be suffering. It also doesn't know how to make room for pain or "difference" and seeks to fix instead of accepting. Then there's the whole problem of cycles of drug use, institutionalized racism, and other social ills that are not adequately addressed and create intersectionality that will take generations to undo. Other than that I will try to keep it simple and focus on self care and helping where I can and I hope you have a day with some good moments.

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  3. Thank you, Caren. You packed a whole lot of helpful guidance along with much food for deep thought in today's column. One simple statement which caused me considerable contemplation already this morning was the currently oft mentioned fact that this virus is changing the world forever. This caused me to realize just how many times over the seven decades of my life the world has "changed forever." Then I also started thinking about how my life has changed forever in some dramatic ways many times over the decades. I guess this is what life is meant to be, whether the life of an individual or a society or the whole world. Each change brings loss as well as gain. Perhaps seeing when the gains outweigh the losses is one part of living a joyful life.

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    1. Powerful words, thank you John. Now I will contemplate. :)

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  4. Maybe Alfred E. Neuman was on to something when he said, “What? Me worry?”.
    Not always easy to set aside negative distractions as things become “Yes. Me worry.”
    I too have found that meditation helps. Some days are easier than others to reach a peaceful state.
    Pets help.
    The hardest part is when you know your children are experiencing the same sort of lows and there’s not a thing that can be done or said to make things better.

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    1. Ah yes Les. I don't have children but I can almost imagine. I feel such worry and concern for clients I've served over the years, folks in the community who are suffering, friends and family that I can relate a bit. I agree that moments of respite from worry and from thinking or problem solving are our saving grace.

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  5. "I am not so sure I want to taste many moments of this pandemic life twice, yet I often feel guilty about the lack of gratitude for my life as it is. I wonder who else feels that way?"

    I think everyone has periods of feeling exactly that way. Writing about it does seem to provide some perspective, which can help in bringing hope that a more positive future is within our grasp.

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    1. Thank you for being here, and for seeing the value of this share.

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  6. I don’t know if what I have to say is at all in tune with Caren’s concerns, but I have always been annoyed by well wishers who holler at me as I stride mightily down the street in a 10k race, “You can do it; keep it up.” I damned well know I can do it. All that their attempts at encouragement do is introduce doubt: maybe I can’t do it. Please shut up, people.

    John

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    1. It is in tune, thanks John. This is a tough one. We cannot tune misguided advice out sometimes. I usually have earplugs with me, which helps depending on the situation. I am working on accepting what others say since I cannot control it, asking for what I need if they care, and trying to keep the focus on the next thing I need to do for myself or others (work, friends, etc). That said, sometimes we just feel angry and that has to be ok too, I guess.

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    2. Not meant for you people with the insightful comments.

      john

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