Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Softened Fawn (for a friend in depression)

My last post was a poem, Fawn in the Grass, which offered a question as its coda:

What will we do,
oh my hands,
with this dear
in the grass?

No sooner had I posted the piece when I found this photo:

"What will we do, oh my hands...?"

We will soften. Soften our hands, our thoughts, our hearts. We will soften ourselves into sanctuary by offering one another -- and ourselves! -- what this young woman offers the fawn: essential safety, sustenance, and mercy. Look at the fawn's throat ... It's melted into the woman's shoulder. The little creature is at ease, at rest. Eyes, ears are softly alert ... fearless.

Dear friend, you told me recently that you fear the maw of depression may be claiming you. We share this wound in common; we understand one another. I am holding you in constant presence and prayer like this woman holds the fawn. I want to tell you that Spring will return, and so will you. Your soul seems to be slipping, as on black ice, into despairing Winter, and the surprise of this has knocked you askew. I'm reaching for you, right now, and I'll keep reaching. In my mind, I'm holding you, dear fawn. 

There was a time when you and prayed together, holding hands. I felt mired in despair and loneliness; you prayed for "peace in every pore." I'm praying for you to be streamed through with peace ... flooded with Light. With Love.

If I've learned anything about what can sustain us through depression, it's that we must hold fast to what we know sustains us ... and know that we are being held by the Spirit of Sustenance Itself.  The very Force of life is holding us, breathing us, softening us. 

Can you hold yourself ... hold your own hand? Can you lay a hand over your heart and remember that what you long for is what you have already known? Can you remember that Love is sustaining you right now, even if your heart feels like a black hole? You are being held: you have reminded me of this truth again and again ... and I am returning this gift to you.

You are being held ... However you know Love, It's holding you.  

(Photo credit: unknown) 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fawn in the Grass

I have been, all my life,
so afraid.
Afraid to go out,
to go in,
to stay in,
to be gone into.
Frightened of people,
of eyes, of a gaze.
Of a mouth
open toward me,
of teeth, of jaws,
of a word.
The word is 
Fear. I have lain here,
livid with fear.
Feral, mammalian fear:
the deer. 
The dear
infant fawn
curled in the grass,
mother gone.
The dear little one
who waits
to be preyed upon
or prayed over.
What will we do,
oh my hands,
with this dear
in the grass?

(Photo: artist unknown.)

The Ten Thousand Things

Oh, Lord, we tire
of chronicity,
the same old,
same old, our ten
thousand terrors. 
But ten thousand
await us in the shadows
of fear, which are
light in disguise,
awaiting our hands
to wring
inevitable love
from the stones
we have piled
around our ten thousand
failures to love.
We learn again
the chronicity
of compassion,
the shock of our will
to care again,
to soften our hands
away from the stones, 
to reach for the faces
begging for light,
the first
being our own,
for a dusting
of mercy, for the alms
of tendresse
to spill 
from the boundless
bowls of our hearts.

(Art: "Metta" -- artist unknown)


See that cloud? That’s a brain. See the lightning? That’s an aphorism. James Geary, our world’s foremost expert and collector of aphorisms, calls this “most intimate, idiosyncratic literary genre” a “Swiss army knife for the mind.” Aphorisms, he writes, “come in small portions, are exquisitely formed, and always leave you wanting more.”
I’ve fallen in literary love with this form, and since my brain was bashed last summer, my thinking and memory come and go in rapid spurts. Taking in, holding onto, and pondering one aphorism at a time is one of my good medicines. In this healing journey from injury, I’ve taken this gem from Novalis to heart and mind:
Every specific fact is a source for a special science.
Science! — the cradle of curiosity. Peering into a fact, fleshing it out, turning it every which way, peering at it from as many perspectives as we can imagine. Curiosity itself is a holy fact, and I’ve forever been curious about words. Sometimes I think that every human act begins with a single word: a Yes or a No. Mindful or not, our yays or nays tend to drive us.
In the aftermath of traumatic and existential injury, No often takes over. Fear tends to drive the ship, and we retract. No more! No more!, we cry.
But Yes! refuses to give up. Yes to the cardinal’s song, to the lilac bush that’s flinging out a scent that carpets entire neighbourhoods. Yes! to telling our stories because someone in the world will point to our story and say Yes! to their own. Yes! to comprehend in our marrow that
To admit a common human frailty is to activate a common humane strength.
Nearly 11 months since I was injured, I’ve noticed that certain glitches seem to have settled in for a long stay. My right leg tends to collapse, and my gait can be gimpy. My eyes can’t tolerate much light; my ears, much sound. Names and faces don’t easily blend into a coherent memory. What can I do? First of all, I can remember an aphorism that I made up as a touchstone:
Instead of saying “I can’t,” say, “Adapt.”
So I’ll take my gimpy leg out for a walk, and let my nose lead me to some lilacs. I’ll lay down on the floor and do some somatic sequences that soften the spasms in my neck. I’ll nap, or play some music that I can breathe along to … music that, if I tend to it with my breath, will ease my rhythms into an adagio tempo. I’ll look out my window to the sky, and receive the spaciousness. I’ll do this:
Turn disability into this ability.
I’ll invent some aphorisms. They do strike like lightning from a stormy brain! And even if my brain is storming with fear and panic, I can reach out and clutch to the fact that
There are as many factors in a situation as there are hairs on our head.
Somewhere in the storm, synapses of courage are firing. Synapses that insist I am so much more than injury’s effects. Synapses that remind me of every competence I’ve gained, every goodness I’ve committed, every beloved mentor and friend who has walked beside me and shed some love into my soul.
Light, too, is inevitable.
Remember … remember.
One grace at a time.
(Photo: Kara Swanson, Positive Lightning, via National Geographic)

We hold to sustain (Three stories)

~ I woke, in the ambulance, and there was only her. Her face above me, like a sun that eyes could stand, and she stroked my hand as she had once stroked my hand the first time I’d met her.
“I love you,” she said.
And I knew the point of love right then.
The point of love was to help you survive. 
The point was also to forget meaning. To stop looking and start living. The meaning was to hold the hand of someone you cared about and to live inside the present … The ever-moving, ever-changing present. And the present was fickle. It could only be caught by letting go.
So I let go.
I let go of everything in the universe.
Everything, except her hand.
~ from The Humans, by Matt Haig … Matt who also wrote a piece called Reasons To Stay Alive (We all need reminders now and then, don’t we?)

~ Peter A. Levine, one of the world’s sages of healing from trauma — a true artist of what I call traumorphosis — writes in his book, In An Unspoken Voice, of being hit by a car while he was crossing a street. In an instant, he went from strolling to a friend’s birthday celebration to being flattened on asphalt, paralyzed and unable to breathe. What was his first saving grace? A pedestrian who quietly sat down beside him and identified herself as a doctor, asking Peter (while paramedics were assessing his injuries) how she could help. 
“Please just stay with me,” Peter told her … and she held his hand and his eyes with such tender composure that he began to tremble with tears and a first shudder of release from shock. Emotion set in … presence. “Her outreach and physical touch,” he writes, “provide a source of orientation.” Her softening gaze, and the scent of her perfume, further allowed a “sense of stabilization and relief.” Most of all, Peter knew that he was not alone. 
Please just stay with me …This is so often all that we need. A few months ago, I was at a birthday party, sitting at a round table with seven friends, sharing a meal. Since my brain injury last summer, to be with more than one other person can overwhelm my capacity to track sensation with my eyes, ears, and skin. Seven folks, passing food and happily gabbing, was too much. I sensed a leave-taking: a numbing around my head and a blurring of sight. Panic, setting in. I stood up, left the table, and walked into my friend’s living room. Sat on the couch and wrapped myself in a blanket, laying a hand on my solar plexus, telling myself to breathe. 
"Stay here … Stay now."
The host of our party, being a mother of a child who has autism, understands sensory overwhelm and how to soften it. She sat beside me, asked me what was happening, and with my permission, drew my head to her chest, right over her heart. My right ear lay over the rhythm of life; she covered my left with her hand. She tucked us both into the blanket and breathed deep. She stayed with me … and stayed until I could orient myself enough to look around, notice where I was, and begin to move again. I sat up, and two more friends joined us. Each friend held one of my hands, and one laid a presencing hand on my thigh. We shared gazes and quiet conversation — checking-in questions and simple, soothing talk. Eventually we all returned to the table, and dessert was served …
We hold to sustain … to soothe and to soften … to guide one another home.  
(Photo: “Hands of Love” … artist unknown. My thanks to you.)

"I can't do it!" and the birth of a blog

“Cradle your life … and save it. Cradle your life in the hands of your heart.”
So said my friend, a long time ago. So said I, to myself, last night.
So said I, when all I could hear was “I can’t.” So said I, when I picked up the phone and dialled, and surrendered to the sound of a beloved voice. A friend whose mercy resounded in the marrow of me. 
This blog will be mercy for our marrow … an invitation to soften into the sanctuary of our own goodness. 
Traumorphosis: transforming the aftermaths of traumatic injury into stories that save and salve us. Softening our way into the goodness that we are, no matter what has happened to us. 
Softening shame, fear, secrecy. Re-minding. 
As one of my friends recently told me, “Change the channel!” Grabbing the remote; disengaging the autopilot. Seeking what softens.
Today, I soften “I can’t” into the knowledge that I will pass through it into can … into will.
A recent can’t was about going to church. I couldn’t do it that day. I had to honour the No that resounded; the no to driving a car, to being in the company of several other people, to being able to absorb sight, sound, and complex stimuli. Last summer, my brain was injured in a fall, and one of its persistent effects has been to render the ordinary as overwhelming, the mere as sheer. Sometimes, to take a shower can fell me for an hour. Sometimes my ability to write by hand degenerates into illegibility, or I can’t follow the steps needed to make a meal. The sound of a ringing phone can pierce my ear like a blade, or I lose the ability to form a sentence halfway through a thought. I teeter on my feet and crash into walls, and my hands lose their ability to hold onto things. Sometimes my senses can’t absorb the simple presence of another human being.

One of the gentle disciplines I apply is to discern every day — sometimes from moment to moment — where my abilities lie on the can – can’t continuum; is the can’t rooted in fear or on a realistic assessment of what’s possible right now? What can I do when a glitch appears as insurmountable opportunity? When I find myself unable to spell a word — “insurmountable” — and it takes four attempts, plus a peek at an online dictionary, to get it right?
I can pause … and breathe … and notice. 
I can act to soften the impact of panic; I can stand up, plant my feet on the good earth, and gaze out my window at the sky, which is ceaselessly open, spacious, and moving. “Movement is life,” said Moshe Feldenkrais, one of the world’s great teachers of somatic (body-based) re-education. Movement is life: move those feet, those hands, those eyes. Move beyond the glitch. Move the mind into curiosity, the body into mastery. Spell out that word. Take a breath … and another. Lay down the fear; pick up the mercy and apply it. Write, write, write out the word; make the opportunity surmountable. 
I’ve hidden in plain sight for so long … and a relentless pressure whorls within me to emerge from secrecy and shame, to make my story sacred by sharing it, by blending it with others, to add one more weave to the fabric of I can. The tipping point into revelation? My dear friend’s voice, reminding me that in my vulnerability is my calling … and a video I watched this morning. A brief story shared by a man who felled himself over a bridge, and lived to tell the tale. 
Albert Camus once wrote, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” Today I think of invincible Spring. My neighbourhood’s dotted with green.
Oliver Wendell Holmes — who was a doctor, among other things — wrote, “Expression is the one fundamental sacrament.” I added a coda: “… and love is the one fundamental expression.” If I reach, reach, reach into the wellspring of mercy that is my good heart, I locate love that softens the glitches, the terror, the panic. Words do arise.
“Physician, heal thyself.” I will, and I do, with the one fundamental expression that never fails. Love, in a form perfectly suited to this moment. 
Right now, it’s these words, this story, this truth. Softening comes through this passage into invincible Spring … this refinement of every can’t into a can.