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.