Archive for category musings

born into twilight

twilight sky and barbed wireToday is my birthday. So much has happened since I exited my mother’s womb those many years ago. The story of my birth and my mother’s labor are lost forever. All I have are a few hazy details.

“Oh I had twilight sleep,” my mother told me. “No memory of any of it,” she said, shaking her head each time she mentioned it, as if trying, again, to summon the experience that her body had, to shake it out somehow. “They told me I said really awful things,” she confided once. “The drugs make you crazy.” She also said it was good thing, of course. She’d felt the pain of childbirth before; I’m not sure how many of her births were “twilight” but I’m pretty sure at least one of her preceding birth experiences had happened too fast for many interventions. Maybe she really chose twilight sleep, willingly. I don’t know, and I cannot ask her. Why give birth with pain? Twilight sleep was the modern way. Like formula was modern, better than anything a woman’s breast might produce. I can see how she would choose that, or maybe feel there were no other options.

I read up on twilight sleep. From the distance of the years (it was abandoned in the late 60s/early 70s) it sounds like the stuff of nightmares, like some kind of awful date-rape drug, a mixture of Morphine and Scopolamine. It erased any memory of labor and birth, but did not eliminate pain. Often women became panicked, or even psychotic, and attempted self-harm. They were routinely restrained to their beds with lambskin-lined straps, to prevent bruising as they thrashed, a common thing when the dose was wrong.

But the body remembers even when the mind forgets, and a shadow always crossed my mama’s face when she talked about my birth, about the twilight sleep.

“It was the strangest thing,” she said. She seemed to disappear as she said it. Her face misted over, like a mirror fogged.

“In twilight sleep, sensation is still present though in diminished degree; the patient feels the pains of uterine contractions, frequently she moans, draws up her legs, and in other ways shows that she is suffering, but these painful sensations are not recorded in the memory cells… if asked a question, she will answer often in a dazed and confused fashion.”1

Today, on the anniversary of my birth, I’m thinking about pain, about the necessity of feeling what you feel—emotionally and physically—in order to move toward wholeness and health. Of course, seeking pain relief is not a bad thing. But there’s the issue of agency. Who is deciding that this is the best thing? (The same people who decided midwives and unmedicated births were a menace, that’s who.) Even if it was what Mama chose, I struggle with the issue of awareness, and the idea of not having a loving advocate while in a state where you will not remember what is done to you. (Remember, husbands paced in the waiting room back then, banished). I imagine having twilight sleep presented as the only ‘sane’ option available. Of being railroaded and gas-lighted.

While my own birth-giving experiences were not without interventions, I remember them all and I consented to each one. I felt tremendous pain, which I lived through and processed. No shadows cross my face when I remember the births of my children. I’d do things differently now, given the chance, but I made my own decisions, and had my then-husband with me the whole time.

Reading about trauma taught me that what is not processed, felt and released properly becomes trapped. I think of the trauma of being split from your body as you give birth. Far from being forgotten, unprocessed trauma lies in wait. Perhaps it was the cause of my mother’s battles with depression. Perhaps it was the cause of mine, too?

Suppression of feelings is what leads to deep despair. But I’m not depressed anymore.

Now I hunger to feel what I feel, in real time. Still, I find myself retreating into old patterns of escape. Patterns so fine I cannot even see them. Perhaps they were died into the wool of me, during my twilight birth? Knitted in during childhood experiences that divided my mind from my body? Unraveling takes time.

Last summer, I worked with a life-coach in her final months of training, as her test-client. The coach asked me lots of hard questions. Questions like: “and how do you feel, right now?”

I often answered in meandering, rambling ways, embroidering. She’d cut me off. “Where are you? I’ve lost you,” she’d say. “Just tell me how you feel, and where you feel it.”

Often, I didn’t know. This stunned me. Really? I didn’t know? How could I not know?

“Say you don’t know,” she coached. “Say you feel confused.”

Slowly I wake. Reams of paper, hours of walking and thousands of sun salutations later, that “where do you feel it?” question still often makes a shadow pass over my face, still frequently dazes and confuses me, still makes me shake my head as if that will help the right answer emerge from the fog of disconnection.

With another birthday comes new threads of silver hair and some bit of wisdom. I see one thing, anyway: the heart of anxiety, or my anxiety, anyway, is avoidance of feeling what I am feeling.

Or maybe: the heart of anxiety is not feeling safe in your own body.

Or maybe: the heart of anxiety is being told how to feel, to having your lived experiences denied.

Or maybe: the heart of anxiety is feeling your body is not yours to control. To have men in power who want to take away your birth control, free your rapist/harasser (if you dare to speak up at all). On a day when we have an overt misogynist in the White House and many, many other such men leadership positions, when social media is filled with #metoo hashtags denoting individuals who have been sexually assaulted or harassed, I think of the assault of not remembering the day you gave birth. Of the men that decided that was a good idea, and the women who really didn’t get a lot of choice about their birth experiences, as men made those decisions for them.

“Even if I had been asked what I wanted during childbirth,” one woman who was given twilight sleep shared, “I wouldn’t have known what to say.”2

I think of the islands of memory that were considered a ‘side effect’ of twilight sleep. Of the women I read about, laboring alone for hours in a drugged haze, feeling the pain with their bodies, who afterwards could only recall being shouted at to be quiet. Of women with eyes bandaged shut, ears stopped up, so as not to have ‘sensory memories’ to latch onto. Of the fear their bodies surely remembered, while their mental memories were magic-erased by scopolamine, a drug made from deadly nightshade. I think of the breach of trust inherent in this treatment. Birth? Oh, who’d want to remember THAT? I read about a woman, surely not the only one—who didn’t believe the baby given to her was her own, and subsequently had no attachment to her baby. I read of children born as perhaps I was, struggling to breathe (a side effect of twilight sleep), whisked away from their mothers for hours because the mothers were under the influence of dangerous drugs that made their behavior unstable, and robbed them of memories of their own experiences. Of the fathers who were also robbed of the experience of being there during birth. Of the way misogyny wounds women, and also men.

I think of my mother’s obstetrician, the same one who told her twilight sleep was the way to go, the man who weighed her at each visit, insisting she keep her weight gain under 25 pounds, and berated her when she gained too much. Because he was watching out for her, so she could “regain her figure.”

That’s a whole other layer of #metoo.

How am I feeling? Grateful for my mother’s incredible strength. Wistful that I can’t ask her more questions about how she felt. Angry at the continued denial of cultural misogyny by so many. Happy for another year of feeling what I feel, and saying what’s on my mind, what’s in my heart—or doing my best to learn how, anyway.

Better late than never.

 

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2066377/?page=3

2 From “A reclamation of childbirth” by Barbara L. Behrmann, PhD

 

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i will be happy when…

quote "surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be." —Sonia Ricotti

Today I started off writing from the prompt: “I will be happy when…” a prompt I used to just ROCK out on endlessly, and I realized I can no longer easily write to that. It made me laugh out loud.

Huh! I am happy now. Not every minute. But now. I am right now. And IN every happy minute, I am there, finally. The wall that kept the happiness slightly removed has dissolved, or mostly anyway. Old pathways persist. I am learning to sit in the sad moments, in the fearful ones, in the frustrated ones, and feel what I feel. My happiness is dependent on being awake to the joy in each day, as well as to the pain and suffering in each day.

Maybe it is:
I will be happy when I allow myself to surrender to what is. Let go of what was, and have faith in what will be.

It isn’t just about noticing the birds singing and the way the crickets are, right this minute, chirping in a way that makes me feel it is late September instead of August. Or about feeling the way the warm water flows over my hands as I rinse my dishes. It’s not about deep breathing or asanas. I mean, yes, that is part of it, noticing things, feeling things, being focused and single-minded.

(As a person whose emotions sometimes swallow her whole, this is often a challenge.)

I spent so many years, numbing myself, holding my vacation days just out of reach like a pretty sunset I kept driving towards, endlessly. Holding my happiness hostage to conditions being just right. And I did enjoy the vacations, those golden-hour weeks. Except when I worried about what would be waiting for me on my return. Except when I avoided feeling things that were other than happy. I was on vacation. It was my earned happy time. Merry-go-round.

I’m still sometimes drawn back to circling like a hawk around yesterday and tomorrow. But I’m learning.

I have what I need. I have permission to be happy NOW. Today. Even if I am worried about something or other. Even if I am very worried about bad things that are happening. Injustices. Brewing wars. Feeling powerless and doing what I can and it seeming not ever enough, not enough. Even if it’s hot and sticky outside, which I hate, and even if I can’t see some of the people I love as often as I’d like, even if I miss them a lot: I can still be happy. I don’t have to wait for the vacation or the visit or the pretty weather. Or a new president (I would like a new president though). I don’t have to wait for an agent to love my work, or for becoming certified at something or successful at anything. My happiness isn’t dependent on being a certain weight. My happiness isn’t dependent on being young. I’m not young anymore, and yet: I’ve never felt more at home in my body and the world. My happiness, I have discovered, is dependent on one thing and one thing only. Accepting what is. Even if what is IS NOT what I want. (Plus poking around to find what is sometimes a bumpy process, and yes, you can stir up an angry hornet’s nest, get stung all over, and still feel happiness again despite the welts.)

This spring I skidded into a deep trough of grief. It was a place I needed to go, but resisted, heels dug in, fear holding me back. I clung to the past. My anxious mind flared. “What if you are never happy again?” it fretted. “What if you feel the hard things and it never stops hurting?” My suffering came when I resisted.

When I let go and finally let what I felt rise up—I discovered I was also finding joy. Lots of joy. The more I allowed those scary suppressed feelings to be seen and felt, the more joy rose in me afterward.

Joy feels like the water on your hands when you are washing the dishes and the afternoon light paints patterns on the kitchen floor on a day you have not gotten it all done. On a day when you did what you could, and felt what you felt to the best of your ability, and forgave yourself moments of confusion. Maybe I’ll never quite know myself, and what I feel, all the time? Probably not. It’s also okay to just be with not knowing.

I don’t have to figure it all out to be happy, do I?

It feels good.

 

 

 

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jump into the well of fear

graffiti saying 'jump in do it i did' pointing to water
Prompt: Close your eyes. Breathe. 
Name a fear you have. Breathe again.
Now, write about where it lives in your body. 10 minutes, go: 

My fear is not being understood by the people I love.

This fear lives in the dungeon of my throat. It is the murky water at the bottom of a bottomless well. There is no light here, and so I have to imagine how it looks: like a midnight mirror on a starless forever after. Nothing shines back at me, there are no glimmers of recognition, no waves of love, only swells of anger, churning the black water.

There are military ships crisscrossing the water, painted with lead-based gunmetal gray, their decks studded with heavy guns and heat-seeking missiles in evil-looking launchers.

My fear holds me hostage below decks on the largest of the battleships. I’m in a metal-caged brig in the deepest hold. The light is yellow and blurry and the air tastes stale.

A row of judges sit, dark-robed, heavy browed, convicting me of the crime of being myself. The primary judge is a white-wigged woman with a sharp nose. She addresses me, in a bored tone. “How could you expect to be understood,” she asks rhetorically. “You are not understandable, not acceptable.” She looks at me as if I’m a used tissue someone has dropped. She shakes her head in disgust. “Not understandable,” she repeats.

Like the queen in Alice in Wonderland, she only wants me to lose: my head, my heart, my voice, my confidence. But most especially, my heart.

My heart lies beneath this dark sea, at the bottom of the bottomlessness of this well in the dungeon of my throat. In my panic at being alone and not understood, I’d forgotten where I was. Here, in my body. I remember suddenly to breathe in, and when I do, I turn my gaze away from the judges. I listen to my steady inhale instead of their scornful murmurs. And I hear it. My heart. It is beating, far, far below the prison ship.

Steady dear heart. The dark water glows green. I know this even with my eyes closed, even in the prison of my fears, even as the judges cough and scritchy-scratch their pens across banishment decrees.

My heart swells, filling me with hope. A rising tide lifts all boats, even heart-sinking gunmetal battleships. The fleet of war ships circling my throat dissolves like sugar candy in the warmth welling up.

I think I’m ready to go deeper.

_____

I think about fear a lot. I read about it, too. Fear can literally get stuck in your body. Fear tends to incubate rather than dissipate over time, according to Joseph Le Doux, researcher/expert on the amygdala. Naming your fears and feeling them in your body can help you move past fear.

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quasimodo and the trash girl

photo of white woman in chair. 1960s.

My mom.

It’s been twenty-five years since my mom died. Of course I always wished I had been able to compare notes on motherhood with her (she died just weeks after my firstborn came into the world). But now what strikes me is how much I’d like to be able to talk with her about roles. About how they define you and sometimes trap you, and how you must grow past them. And why that seems so hard!

I want to know how she grew past her roles of wife and daily-mom and daughter, all in a few short years. How dizzying that must have been. I wouldn’t know, because for the most part, she didn’t tell me. Always said she was “fine,” and diverted conversation back to me, and my life. And then, suddenly, she was sick. I’ve learned not to wait on having conversations with people I care about. Or at least, I’d like to say I try to do that. I don’t always succeed. It can hurt, for one thing, and what is more human than avoiding pain? Plus I still get trapped in roles.

(And where exactly does a role end and a boundary begin, anyway? Life is so tricky.)

I’m no one’s daughter, no one’s daily-mom, no one’s wife, no one’s most-beloved. I’m just: me. Of course I still play roles—writing coach, yoga teacher, design consultant—but those roles are not cemented to  relationships with specific and dear people. They are more like the roles in a play, I suppose.

A couple weeks ago, I saw a live-theater performance of the Hunchback of Notre Dame in Indianapolis, and spent the night afterwards with extended (and very dear) family. The next morning was unseasonably cool. I snuggled up on their deck and thought about the play. The day was bright with birdsong and the chatter of neighbor children. I couldn’t make out what the children were saying, exactly, but it was clear as the blue sky above that they were working out the rules of a game.

YOU will be THIS, I will be THAT.

We don our costumes early in life. Even after we grow into adults, we are, inside, run by the rules of childhood. By the labels we and others stamp on ourselves. The artistic one, the troublemaker, the bully, the little mother, the Daddy’s girl. On and on. Some of us shake them off for who we are meant to be. Others bloom into their labels, and transcend them. And I would once have denied the past ran me at all.

In the dark theater, I watched Quasimodo sing his pain and longing. Watched him be labeled at birth as monster. I think we are all “half-formed,” and destined to stay that way, unless we unearth the past and question it a little. I was the baby, the cry baby, the gullible one, the artist, the poet, the one you could trick and tease and scare easily. The one who would finally, inevitably, cry. And be told, again and again, that my tears were wrong, I was wrong, I was “too sensitive.” I learned it better not to ask for understanding; that I was making something out of nothing. I could not be trusted, and so I did not trust myself, or what I felt or even reality. It was all my artist’s imagination, my poet’s drama. Better not to cry, or, if I did cry, better not to say why. I was the unstable one, the emotional one. My mother, at her wit’s end, used to threaten, “I’m gonna give you to the trash man, if you don’t hush up.”

Now, my mother was not a monster. No, she was flesh and blood and bone and beautiful. She folded me in hugs I still feel. She was human, and struggling. I love her with all my heart. Still, she could not handle my tears, which, looking back, I think may have mainly, early on, belonged to HER, tears she could not cry lest she never stop. Mothers of four have no time to cry.

I can see her, hands on hips, pointing out the window at the trash truck, I remember her saying it—and not just once—forgetting or not caring (I think forgetting) that a little girl who still believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny would never question that the trash men could take her away. I was terrified that the dark men with menacing white smiles and sooty coveralls were indeed going to lift me up like I was a clangy garbage can and roar me away in that smelly loud truck, and I’d never see my Mama again.

And so crying began to terrify me. But tears bubbled and burst out periodically. (Still do). It’s how I’m made.

Recently I had a revelation. A friend was laughing about how she thought of crying as an “emotional enema,” because she always felt so much better once all the tears came out; she felt clean and light, ready to face life again. Until the next time. Sometimes, she said, you just need a good cry. But right then it stuck me.

Crying always—with a few notable exceptions—made me feel worse. The tears bring up shame, brackish and foul, from the dark channels of early childhood. From roles I am still acting out, unconsciously?

The half-formed girl—Quasimodo girl—keeper of secrets in the attic, sleeping terrified clutching a crucifix, the voiceless one, the broken one, the trash-can girl—all my past roles lurked in the recesses of my grown self. They burrowed in deep, and curled hidden inside me for decades, only coming out at the most stressful times, sleeping and waking restlessly, pulling my strings.

On a sunny morning in Indiana, thinking about the past, memories of marriage and motherhood surged in this place of some of the best days of both those roles. Stretched out with my journal, watching the bees buzz in their hives, I felt a new me emerging, ready to really listen at last to all the hushed-up stories of trash girl’s pain, ready to watch it flame up and burn off and billow like the charcoal smoke rising up from the barbecue.

For this moment on this deck in this place, I felt at home with myself.  Home is now, I thought. That is the feeling. Of being home in your body. I learned that term from a friend who held me while the hardest pieces of my childhood surfaced, jaggy, tearing me open. Held safe, I learned I could cry and feel better, instead of worse.

Now I am learning to do that alone, as I sort and grow. I’m learning to cry and sometimes actually feel better, lighter, clearer.

Quasimodo no more, maybe?
“What is ‘whole’ in Latin,” I asked my brother-in-law, who had come out to put brisket on the barbecue.

“Plenus?” he ventured.

Plenusmodo. Full-formed. Whole.

Mom knew Latin. I wish I could call Mom now and talk. About the roles she was saddled with by her childhood, about the things she locked away. About why she hid her tears and pain and struggles. Maybe we could let go of our roles, drop our masks, and just listen to each other? That’s all anyone really wants, I think.

To be seen beyond their roles in life. To be held, and heard, and loved for who they are, at the beating heart of their being.

 

 

 

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imperfectly perfect

sunset and electrical wiresIt’s high time. I have to have a talk with my Self.

I jump right in. It’s going to be awkward, what I have to say. And Self can be very—fragile and defensive. No sense in beating around the bush.

“Self,” I begin (because it’s always good to call people by name, to personalize it, right?) “You are so not perfect. Face it: you’re just human. You make lots of mistakes. You can’t do it all. You will never be perfect,” I repeat the not-perfect part for emphasis, to be sure she’s getting it. “Just relax, Self. Good enough is good enough.”

Self answers, in her most icy annoyed tone: “I never SAID I was trying to be perfect!”

“Then why,” I ask. “Why are you so impossibly hard on yourself when you fall short? When you say the wrong thing, for instance. When you can’t get it all done. Or when your writing isn’t quite—on the mark?”

Self thinks hard.
Self remembers something a friend showed her the other day.
Underlined in a book she doesn’t even know the title of (can you believe she can’t remember?) she read the words of some learned wise person who said that perfectionism is a form of egoism. That it springs from thinking you’re so good you have to do better, be better, be—perfect. And that it’s actually quite generous and healthy and more productive in the end to allow yourself to be imperfect. To treat yourself kindly, to encourage your Self.

Self thinks of the last few days, where she felt so inadequate in her Self and also so damn worried about the state of the world. As if she were falling short by not fixing the world. As if she could somehow do more than her best and miraculously end hate and prejudice and also finish her novel, and meet some deadlines all in one week. She has a choice here: get mad at her Self —or relax.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Self suggests. And as usually happens when my Self and I relax into what is, instead of what we fear, we find joy again and the world suddenly reveals its lopsided and absolutely imperfectly perfect beauty. Everything glows brighter.

Good enough is good enough.
And the sunsets in June are the best.

 

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writing new songs

photo of birds on a bleak sky and grain elevators

Somewhere along Rt 46 on the way to Bloomington

Last Sunday I drove through a deluge to Bloomington, Indiana, to say goodbye to my older daughter. She’d finished her graduate program, and after the celebration that afternoon, I was going to help her pack up a uHaul van with all her worldly possessions. Her new life in a new state, hundreds of miles away, awaited. I felt happy and excited for her. New adventures, new influences, new experiences awaited her, and she was ready. I tried not to think how my days of driving over to hang out for a day, to have a swim and a bike ride with her, were over.

Driving along Indiana 46 through Nashville and Brown County, I was flooded with memories of the fall evening in 2009, when she and I made that drive together, for the very first time. It was raining buckets that night, too, raining so hard that I was unable to see more than a couple of feet in front of the car. I was unfamiliar with the hilly, twisty road. There was no place to pull off. I just kept going, creeping along at ten miles per hour during the worst of it, afraid to stop completely, afraid to go faster. My daughter, uninterested in the college tour I’d arranged, was silent next to me. She had no desire to go to INDIANA of all places. Funny how things work out.

Back then, I was struggling with my work/life balance and felt wobbly about many other things, too. One thing hasn’t changed.  I still feel wobbly. But I’ve acquired a few tools to cope. One is that I accept the wobble without judgment. Or try to. Sometimes I still resist it. After all, teetering is scary and frequently results in pain. But is pain always bad? Maybe it is essential, like rain?

I wonder if seeds feel a stabbing ache deep in their hearts, right before they burst into bloom? Do the flowers in the garden that is mine—suddenly, inexplicably mine —do those flowers cry tears as they leave their snug underground root homes, and push into the bright, overwhelming world?

I wonder if the bird songs I hear this May morning are songs in tribute to an earlier time, a warm time in a safe, blue-egged world?  Do we all sometimes yearn for what we have left behind?

Like the birds and the flowers, I am always pushing out of the past into new sunshine. After the first dark nights of spring—those ones where the nights are bitter and cold—I think after those are past, the songs and blooms open into new dimensions. The harmony of life is always rooted in the oldest times, in the home, the baseline—oh, but the melody! The melody—it is ever-changing, renewing, like the new birds hatching, like the new flowers blooming. The melody reflects the newest influences. How much sun, how much warmth, how much care and how much love we drink in, how much love we shine back.

My melody tastes smooth and green today, like the perfect ripe avocados I slice on my beans and rice. It tastes like strong espresso in the morning, tastes like a deep cleansing breath, tastes like my dark red root chakra, tastes like my heart opening up like a sun-drunk peony, yellow-pollen dusted. My melody smells like oatmeal bubbling on a gas stove, feels like being touched and feeling loved, like sinking into a steaming bath in a claw-foot tub. My melody sounds hushed, like the deepest shade of listening, shivers against me velvet-soft as a word heard in the dark, and held safe.

My harmony echoes the old beats, the cutting fear that smells of metal like blood and swelling August summer nights and darkness, sharp, salt-edged, a scream unheard. My harmony is dropped, not held, dropped like a penny in one of those spinning funnels at the fair. My harmony smells faintly of baby powder, Annie Greensprings, and the onions I chopped crying at Taco Bell, sweating in my brown polyester uniform. It smells of a hand clamped over my mouth,  and also of kittens mewing and apple juice and laughter and marshy-fresh tide-pools in Biddeford. Of Carolina pines, of Gilbey’s gin with squirt lime, it smells like a grimace, a shuddery gulp, a shiver, and a tight hug.

Somehow, new songs are written,
aren’t they?
even when you can’t see where you are driving
can’t see the where the edge of the road
falls away to cliff
driving blind
new songs come together
out of old and new notes
bright and aching and alive
forever, and always, new songs.
Driving back from Bloomington,
rain pattered my Subaru’s roof
like a drumline, a sweet soothing rhythm
this road will never be the same,
without her smile at the end of it—
I wrote new songs in my head
driving alone down Route 46
thinking about what I left behind
one last time, one last time.

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Tales from the (perimenopause) crypt. #2

photo of note on napkin that reads: it's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it." -CSLewis

Happy rebirth-day to me

I don’t know the actual date of my rebirth-day. It was a Monday, the day after Easter, 2012. I suppose I could easily google it, but I prefer to let the day float in time, tied forever to the anchor of Easter. I wanders through time the way the ancients believed a woman’s womb wandered in her body.

My rebirth day began like any regular day, only slowed down. It was so hard to summon the will to get up. I’m pretty certain my husband called goodbye from the hallway, heading in to work early. I made coffee for me, hot black tea for my daughter before she scooted off to high school. I sliced an apple, sprinkled it with cinnamon, ate listlessly.

I had a full day of deadlines ahead, but I was tired as I climbed the stairs to my attic office. When I walked, my leg throbbed. I couldn’t focus, and there was a tickle in my throat. Damned perimenopause. After working through lunchtime, I decided I should go to the doctor.

“I had a terrible charlie horse on Easter morning,” I told the receptionist. “It really hurts a lot. I need to get into see someone today, please.”

“Is it swollen? Red? Purple? Streaking?”

I looked again, but it wasn’t. It looked exactly like it had the evening before, when I’d rolled my yoga pant-leg up and asked my daughter if it LOOKED swollen. Cause I could see in the mirror: it did not. Like me, on the outside my calf looked normal. The hurts were inside.

“Dr. S has a slot Thursday at 3:30,” the receptionist offered. “Or call at 8 am tomorrow and we might be able to work you in same day.”

I felt defeated and suddenly tearful. Working from home, my bedroom was just across the hall from my office. I did something I never did. I laid down in bed, while the sun was shining bright in the sky.

I sank under the covers, felt so peaceful, amazingly peaceful. I began to drift off—and then, wham! I woke with a start, as if someone had shaken me. An insistent inner voice demanded that I go, now, to a doctor. Any doctor. By this time, my daughter was back from high school. I limped downstairs and asked her to please drive me to the urgent care. I was so exhausted I couldn’t have managed to get there. I felt numb.

In yogic philosophy, samskaras are pathways worn into your thought processes by repetition, like the ruts worn into a pasture by cows plodding to the barn at feeding time. Over and over, that trip to the barn. Conditioning. Samskaras can be positive, but most of us struggle with our negative ones. The ruts of repeated beliefs and behaviors are worn so deep. Change seems impossible. My samskaras—my willingness to turn away from my own pain, to ignore it, disown it, to discount my physical sensations and emotions—a path of not trusting my own body and mind—almost did me in.

At the urgent care, I got really lucky. They were slow, and I was seen quickly. The nurse who did the patient interview was thorough. After the question about family history of heart disease, when I said my father died from a heart attack in his mid-fifties, he made a note on his clipboard and excused himself from the room. Seconds later, he returned. “We’re not going to charge you, you need to get right to an ER. We think you are having a heart attack.”

“But I don’t have chest pain?”

“Tell the ER we suspect heart attack,” he repeated. “Have your daughter drive you straight there, so we don’t have to wait for an ambulance.”

It was, in fact, not a heart attack. My charlie horse was not due to potassium deficiency or even perimenopause, at least, not directly.  It was due to deep vein thrombosis, thanks to the low-dose “safe” birth-control pills that were supposed to make me feel better. And the DVT had been throwing off clots, caught by my waiting lungs, slowly filling them. “Multiple pulmonary embolisms in all lobes,” the cardiologist said. “Usually, this is diagnosed on the autopsy table. Any one of those clots could’ve caused instant death. You’re very lucky to be alive.”

And so a new samskara was born on my rebirth-day. “Very lucky to be alive.”

I know now, I was always lucky to be alive. I just had been focused on the wrong things, avoiding confrontation, denying what was true, ignoring pain, smothering joy, trying to cover up pain instead of facing it. I’d had it wrong for so long. But that day, I began anew. “Very lucky to be alive.”

Old samskaras are persistent, though. My self-defeating ones haven’t gone away.

Turmoil falls like rain, slipping and sliding me into old familiar grooves. I pick myself up faster now, though. I let the rain wash over me. I even laugh at it sometimes, laugh at myself for slipping. I remember a summer day when I was with a dear friend, someone from this new lifetime. We were walking once, and got caught out in a deluge. I reflexively began to cover my head, futilely, looking for a place to run. Recoiling, I was trying to change the reality of the rain that was falling, reverting to old habits. He, on the other hand, laughed up at the sky, let the rain wash across his smile.

I felt a surge: I was lucky to be alive, in the rain, with my friend.

“Very lucky to be alive.”

We grow old, if we are lucky. Life hurts sometimes. Pain comes, uncertainty comes, loss comes. Sometimes it feels unbearable.

This dewdrop world —
Is a dewdrop world,
And yet, and yet . . .

The Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa wrote that, after two of his children died when they were very small. He somehow found, even after such losses, beauty, and the will to go on. He too must have known he was lucky to be alive.

Life is hard, change is hard. I once thought perimenopause and my changing body and crumbling marriage were the end of me. That I was powerless, defeated. It seems almost comical now, looking back. Yes, my marriage ended, the imagined future I had hoped for ended with it. And yet—

“I’m lucky to be alive,” I think, with each pink bursting dawn, each deep breath, each morning’s first sip of hot coffee, each warm hug, each aching goodbye, each day and hour I get to live and write and walk and feel, the good feelings and the hard ones, too. Maybe someday I’ll wear away my old faithful, fearful samskaras with gratitude. Maybe someday my fears will dance hand in hand in the rain, smiling, laughing, transformed.

I’m still figuring out what comes next, and I accept I always will be figuring it out. Always falling down and getting up.
Always –“very lucky to be alive.”

 

 

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