Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Scheduling a Breakdown

Last weekend I went up to the wilderness campsite I’ve leased for the year and set up camp.

After four hours of driving I arrive and erect two tents: one for sleeping and one as a kitchen. It’s hot. The air is filled with the scent of sun-soaked pines and sparkling water. I blow up my air mattress and collect some fire wood. I test the camp stove to make sure it will still light without exploding. I set up a folding table and unpacked the pots and pans and dishes- cast offs from my mother’s basement collection of domestic flotsam and jetsam. Finished with setting up, I put the cooler and the cardboard box full of apples and peanut butter and muffins back into my car to avoid attracting bears to the site while I am taking a swim to cool off. After floating on my back in the clear water, face up-turned toward the sun, I emerge and haul a bucket of water back up the steep incline to the campsite.

And then I sit down.

The campsite is at the top of a huge granite rock- grey with streaks of white quartzite and pink feldspar. I sit at the edge of the rock looking out over the lake below, staring. My head is empty of all thought- but not because I have achieved any kind of Zen-like serenity. I am like one of those wind-up toys whose spring has finally completely unfurled, making further movement impossible. I am incapable of thought. I have come to an abrupt halt. I can go no further. I just stare.

And then, the weeping begins. Tears course down my face. I do not bother to wipe them away. I wouldn’t say I am crying- crying seems too active. It’s as if I’ve sprung a leak, as if I am simply full of unshed tears that are now spilling from my eyes. I’m not particularly surprised at this mind-without-thought, body-incapable-of-movement weeping. I have been moving constantly for three months, dealing with the logistical and legal matters of marital separation. I have been in survival mode, barely touching upon the grief and anguish of this loss. For three months I have been like a shipwrecked woman swimming for shore. I have ignored the pain in my chest and the ache in my muscles because I must keep swimming or drown. I can feel the postponed grief waiting and now, in this moment, it cannot be fully contained.

But like the swimmer who sees the shore and still has some distance to traverse, I know I must keep swimming. Surely it is as easy to drown yards from shore as it is in the middle of the ocean. This week we will sign the separation agreement. Next week my soon-to-be-ex-husband will give me a cheque and I will sign the title to the home we shared over to him. Two more weeks of necessary details. I must be careful. I must remain flexible, able to discern between what is necessary and what puts my ability to reach the shore at risk. I had planned on being at the campsite a day earlier, but a migraine and a prolonged episode of tachycardia (rapid and irregular heartbeat) made it seem prudent to wait a day. I must continue to pace myself. There is still a distance to go. I do not so much think this as feel it- a slight tensing in my gut and an almost inaudible whisper beneath my exhale, “Breathe. Not yet. Breathe,” forestalling complete collapse.

The weeping subsides. I do not make it stop. It just stops, as it started, without my conscious participation. I get up and build a fire to heat some water for tea.

Tea in hand, I consider the surge of weeping and wonder if I am headed into some kind of breakdown. Am I scheduling a time and setting up a place of collapse, a place where no one will be counting on me for anything, where nothing has to be taken care of, where I can weep and stare at the wind on the water for as long as it takes for movement to find me? I have cleared my calendar for August and imagine spending that time here alone. Perhaps it is a sign of my survival ability that I have set up this opportunity for collapse. Opportunity For Collapse. Now there’s a catchy book title! Or how about a workshop: How to Organize Your Life so You Can Have the Breakdown You Need and Deserve! And yes, yes- people who are eager to be helpful will tell me that a breakdown is really a breakthrough. It’s not even that I don’t think that’s true. It just doesn’t help much when you know there's an emotional tsunami on the way.

The wilderness of the Canadian shield is my holy ground, the place where I am most able to simply be, to lose self-consciousness and welcome self-awareness of what is. I trust I’ll be held here. I have been held here before. And on some level, although it is a distant echo at the moment, I have faith that the Mystery will find and make itself known to me here- will let me know how I am to move forward. But before any new movement, the feelings that have been kept at bay will have their way with me, will be felt. And part of me is curious. Yes, curious- wondering what it will be like, this letting go into the place where I do not know how to continue, do not know who I am now. Perhaps this combination of holy ground and holy curiosity is what will allow something. . . some new healing or meaning or wholeness to emerge. I don’t know. But even not knowing, I will go there anyway with my heart full of hope and unshed tears awaiting release.


  1. Awesome to find this post here this morning. Its what I look forward to on Wednesday mornings and with your remoteness both physically and emotionally at this time, not to mention I thought I remembered that you had posted that you were not sure you would be blogging for a while, it warms my heart to see this entry for July 14th. This effect that it has on me is two fold. First and foremost it is about you my friend. That you are taking the time, in your much needed respite and solitude to still reach out to us and let us know where your head and heart are. Secondly, for me, what your blog brings to me, gives to me is something to cling to in this ever changing world, where the only thing I can count on is change. So on both accounts.....THANK YOU MY FRIEND!!! Since I cannot physically be there to give you the big long heart felt hug that you need, I will, in my head and in my heart, hold you closely in my thoughts and in my daily prayers that the mystery does indeed find you.....wraps its arms around you in a loving embrace, and give to you the guidance and direction, peace, love, safety, and protection that you long for.....that you desire, to show you...."Where do you go from here dear." Take care darlin and once again thanks so much for keeping in touch with us, letting us in, even for a fraction of time, to your head and your heart.....just know that you are soooo loved by many. P.S. If ya run into a beaver that answers to the name of "Warren" tell him that I said "Hey"!

    .....chris in cumberland, maryland

  2. I so envy your comfort in the wilderness. I would never had the courage to go off by myself. I had to laugh at your title - if I were going to have a breakdown, I would undoubtedly schedule it too. You do know who you are. Here's something to chant: Free to be me.

  3. This post is so beautiful, it touches me deeply. That spot in the wilderness, sounds perfect, I long for a place like that. Its good to be away from everyth8ng. I've often done this, kept my emotions to myself until I could be on my own and feel them fully, to let them ot and feel the release. I found that once they were gone I was left with an eerily peacefulness.

    When travelling in Australia with my family I found myself doing the very same thing, "just breathe, almost there, just breathe" as we where walking along a track on a island, when we arrived at the beach I Took myself off sat on top of a rocky hill away from everyone, over looking the sea and just cried, and when I was done I just stared at the sea, feeling it swallow me. I'm not exactly sure why it happened, but it did and after it made me feel so much better. So Im thankful for that.

    Its good to let everything go....and to just be. Your words open me up to life, Thank you once again Oriah.

    :) xxxxxx

    Phoebe, England

  4. Making the bed. Setting up camp. Preparation. Its interesting. Why do we prepare. How are we ever going to know what its like to live in the moment, or does living in the moment just require preparation. How do we let life happen around us, to us, for us. Why do we need to feel prepared, for friends and family at a social gathering, for the birds and trees in the middle of nowhere, for tucking tissues in our purse before we head to a wedding and/or funeral, for buying waterproof mascara, for all of this, I wonder if my preparation skills have become too refined.

    Went to the bookstore awhile back and saw a magnet, read it over and over and over again, clenched it in my hand -- it was the last one left, bought it, went straight home and put it on the fridge: LET GO OR BE DRAGGED.

    I want to sit legs crossed next to you, hold your hand tightly, gaze over the sights, feel the hot rock underneath us, smell the scents the breeze gifts us, and breathe with you. I am so grateful for your posts, they prepare me, for the days I fear to face. You give me hope, and thank you for sharing, even during your darkest hours.

    Much love,

    Nattie from Portland

  5. The timing of your topic couldn't have been better/worse. My teenage (soon to be adult) daughter disappointed me badly and so unexpectedly yesterday that for the rest of the day all I wanted to do was burst into tears, but for some reason I couldn't. I know I will find a quiet time like you did where the tears will finally feel free to flow and there will be no stopping them. But that will be ok. I know it will pass and it's only a pool of emotion needing to break free. Another break down of sorts but at the same time it opens you up to heal and move forward.

    Thanks for your words.

  6. I know exactly what your saying Oriah, having just lost my 2 month old grandson to a heart defect I felt the punch in my stomach and heart that still has not eased. My own loss couple with that of my beautiful son feels like double the sadness and I have actually sat here writing with tears just running down my face over the past few weeks, no sobs, not really crying (just my sadness leaking out to relieve the pressure).

    Even now as I write these words in agreement with what you're feeling it begins again. I find it interesting that we must schedule our breakdowns. But we must as there is still and always so much to be done, my son needs me to be strong enough to lean on, to be there on the odd occasion when he voices his shock and grief (this baby had a lot of hope of a normal life, the doctors had chosen not to go ahead with a small surgery as he was doing so well and.. let him go home in the meantime far from the urgent surgery is tiny blocked heart would need - he died on my son's loungeroom floor with us all watching the paramedics do their best. And my son had kept him alive until that point himself with CPR.. we are bereft.

  7. Oh Annie, how heartbreaking for you and your family. As I read it I think of my sons- how I would do anything to spare them that kind of pain- and, of course, it is not up to us to spare our sons and daughters from life and all of the losses it holds. I send prayers for easing of the pain, for places to cry, for healing of the hearts. In some of the Native American traditions is it said that if a child dies under the age of one year (or sometimes 3 years) the soul took life knowing it would be here a short time, knowing the death of it's body was to bring some kind of heart opening to the parents of the child. I don't know if this is true- and I don't know if it brings any real comfort but that is what I have been taught. Oriah

  8. Thank you so much for your honesty,Oriah.Although a fan of your writings for many years I have only just discovered green bough.It couldnt be more timely,I am about to go through a marriage break up and the knowledge that you are going through the same and dealing with it in your honest,spiritual way makes me think that I can do this.I need to do this to live in the way that is true for me.Thank you

  9. when I was a kid my mother would often announce that she was going to ''book herself into St. Cadocs for two weeks!'' (the local psychiatric hospital). Everyone used to laugh when she said this but secretly I was really frightened. I wonder if she was wishing that she could shedule a break down. She eventually took an overdose when I was 17 and survived because it was a serious cry for help. I admire you so much Oriah for taking resposibility for You. Lately I find that when my tears come I need my friends to hold me in the despair and they do. I wish I was more resilient though and could indeed be alone with myself and trust the Mystery to hold me. Thank you so much for your post, for sharing.

  10. Thank you for the beauty you continue to bring forth, Oriah - not in spite of, but because of your pain.

    Know that you are safe and infinitely loved and cradled like a baby in the arms of the Great Mother. There are many of us upholding you in love and prayer.

  11. Anonymous re: you mother. How sad for her that she could not communicate her desperate needs (she probably wasn't even totally conscious of them)- and how hard for you when you were young to hear both the threats and then deal with her suicide attempt. Makes my heart ache for the 17 year old (that is, of course, still there in you.)

  12. Hi Oriah,

    I used to have a button that said, "As soon as this crisis is over, I'm going to have my breakdown." And it was proverbial how many of the teaching staff I was woorking with would come down sick on the first day of vacation. We drive ourselves till we can collapse.

    I've been so admiring of how you've carried the weight of recent changes without buckling, and i'm so happy that you have a place that feels safe enough to put that weight down and let the pain be felt.

  13. YOU

    You are the familiar face of my world.
    missed when gone for the briefest moment
    lost sometimes
    and remembered
    for beauty, for grace
    You are patterns connected
    a sound of voice
    a glimpse of face
    welcomed, embraced

    I live with you.
    breath with you
    talk with you
    walk with you
    hear you

    You are the experience of my life.

    My life is full of you
    living, going,coming, trying,
    running, losing, demanding, crying,
    laughing, working, praying, dying,
    creating, sitting, eating, flying,
    calling, pushing, waking, sighing,
    sleeping, shouting, needing, vying,
    shivering, defying, mad, quiet, loud,
    powerful, proud, lost, destructive,
    sick, healthy, weak, exalted,
    wet, crazy, sane,
    defeated, slow, fast,
    fishing, caring, waiting, fighting,
    playing, ignoring, resting, writing,
    hoping, loving,hating,walking,talking.

    I love you.

    I woke up one day this week and wrote these words down. And after reading the posts wanted to share them with you (all). They do not really say all that I felt. They are a good try. Life is for walking with those around you no matter what happens. Oriah do you see how hands and hearts are joining together around you? Even though the pain resonates in many ways for all of us we live together. Beauty.


  14. My heart is grateful to have found your words. I have no specific trauma or chaotic storm that I can point my finger at and say, "There, that is the place it began." It is a thousand fractures in the side of a stone mountain. Yet I am breaking down non-the-less. I cannot decide if I should just walk into the ocean at night and disappear. Or stay and endure the madness. IT swirls around in tiny rivulets of pain, sorrow and hopeless nights.
    Thank you for touching the stream and letting it radiate out to us all in an echo of understanding in the midst of unrelenting grief.

  15. Funny, as I sit with my wounded heart and spirit, I ask myself...where is the compassion and pain that I have inflected on others who have loved me and who's dreams I have ended for them? It helps to not make it about me.

  16. Hmmm. . . while I can certainly see places where what I have done or said was hurtful to another, I do not think I have the power to end another's dream- because their dream really isn't about me.

  17. Oriah,
    Did you ever feel like you are mad?

  18. In terms of a failed relationship and of a life being spent without my partner, sure feels like an end to a dream. Someone once wrote: "The only way through grief is by grieving" When I do get my scheduled breakdown at the end of the day, I now have to wonder what it is that I'm greiving for if not an end to a dream of what once was? And that is what made me think about the men who have loved me and who I ultimately rejected along the way, they might too say their dreams of a life with me ended. I guess what I am saying is....what right do I have to feel hurt and rejection when I have also hurt and rejected others. Did I feel their pain as deeply as I'm feeling my own?

  19. Two answers to two anonymous posts. First re- hurting others and losing dreams: Yes, we do have specific dreams about specific people- but below that I think the real dream is about something more essential: love, acceptance, belonging, intimacy etc. When we pin these dreams to particular people (who of course have their own dreams) it often does not work out the way we had hoped/wanted. And yes, there is grief about the loss of that specific dream. The quote on grieving is from Annie Lamott- and it is to say that all losses must be grieved if we are to go on. But we can carry with us the essential dreams - and we are the determiners of how those dreams are fulfilled (which is of course not to say that we control everything- thank goodness we don't.) Being hurt can make us much more compassionate toward others' hurts, can give us perspective on how we may have hurt someone else. But I wince at the notion that if we have hurt others (and how could we not have?) we do not have a "right" to feel our own hurt. Feelings just are. They do not come by right. If you are hurt or rejected, you are hurt and rejected. You can use this to be more compassionate, but that compassion has to include yourself and your own hurt.

    AS to the quesion of madness. Well I have had my moments :-) but happily just moments- usually under very high stress where I felt for a second like I was not going to be able to function. As I write this I think of the moment when I was driving my car with my dear friend Catherine in the passenger seat when she had a brain aneurism burst. I had a moment when I felt like I could not hold it (some semblance of reality) together. But I did- in part because I knew she needed me to. Generally, no I do not worry about being mad- although I wonder sometimes if adapting to some of the general madness in the world is not, in and of itself, a type of necessary madness.

  20. Oriah, someone steered me to your blog today, and I'm glad they did. I too am recently uncoupled -- three months now -- though through death rather than divorce. But the grief is the same, as is our reaction to it. I spend time wandering in the desert wilderness every day, unchecked tears coursing down my face. They come whether I want them or not -- like with you, they just spill over. And my head is empty. I don't know how I managed to get here, a thousand miles from where he died, with everything we owned given away or stored, all the chores of life and death taken care of. But here I am, so like the unwound wind-up toy you mentioned.

    I'll be thinking of you tomorrow as I wander, hoping that you will find healing.

  21. ptbertram- I am so sorry for your loss. Keep wandering- perhaps it is in the movement that grief flows through you and healing can begin. Blessings, Oriah

  22. Purged and reborn in the wilderness of Northern Ontario. You are so very fortunate.
    I've spent a lot of time up in lake of the Woods and Rainy lake. Lake Nipagon was my favorite.

    I was divorced in 1991. Everyone was profoundly scard. I moved to the middle of nowhere in Montana and have walked and ridden my horses in the mountains every day for 14 years.
    It has made me stronger, more serene and content than anyone I know.
    Stop in for a visit if you are in the neighborhood.

    Robert T Fanning Jr.
    75 Bridger Meadow Lane
    P.O. Box 7 Pray, Montana 59065
    Phone 406-333-4121

  23. Oriah,
    did you ever feel like wanting to die?

  24. Okay, this is how it is. You cry, then you stop crying. It all happens without you even having to try. The crying, the stopping, is you in this life, now. You just have to find the arms that are big enough, arms that are as big as this grief. That's a point in now that stretches you into new territory. There is love, there is love, there is love.
    I keep coming back to "The Invitation". That uncompromising arrow to the heart of all-that-is. Skewer that heart. You live, you hurt, at some point you die. And, you are eternal and unchanging (or at least, the very heart of you). I think that is the point. So dissolve into that point.

  25. Oriah,

    I've just come across your words, after a good friend shared your beautiful poems and eager to read more, I discovered your blog.

    I didn't expect to find such sadness... but i guess this is life and reality, and though I've only just learned about the beauty you craft & emotions you weave into words, I'm touched. Thank you for your openness + please know that you have one more person out there who is sending you Mettā and an extra reserve of strength to cross these waters.

  26. re: question about whether or not I ever want to die. I have been in extreme pain at times in my life and, wanting the pain to stop, considered if dying might give that relief. But I have always wanted to live more than I wanted the pain to stop- which I suppose is why I am still here :-) Life is sometimes hard but it is also good and beautiful and fulfilling- and even when I do not feel these positive things I have faith they are there and the pain will pass as clouds that are covering the sun will part, revealing again the sun (which of course never went anywhere but was just hidden for awhile.)

  27. My son introduced me to your blog - knowing that I'm struggling as a writer. My style is not as yours, but the pain you are feeling is universal and a luxury, in that you and I can afford the time to acknowledge it. I want to pray, but feel I don't deserve what it is I want to pray for. I wish I could stand at the top of a Mountain, hold my arms outstretched and scream 'the truth' at the top of my voice, maybe then I could cry as well, but I think my tears would submerge that Mountain and I'm afraid of using self-pity as my boat. Thank you, you woke me up to myself today.

  28. Oriah, I found myself smack in the middle of perplexion while reading your post this morning. Primarily because I didn't realize you were walking thru the process of separation.
    Somehow when someone meets and connects with another, there's some sort of cheerful joy that comes over me as if to say, "yes, another one has found a companion." (which in some way interprets to 'yes! another one plucked out from loneliness and despair, another one embraces togetherness in harmony.')
    I find myself struggling with "being alone" and yet relish in this fact at the same time. But in moments of quiet solitude too often I experience such an unease with "flying solo".
    (I'm in the middle of this quest to discover the deepest darkest secrets of embracing myself right where I am, especially in those moments of unease. Nosce te ipsum "Know thyself"
    Reading your post reminded me of my dislike of the word impermanence. Sorta thru me into "what's the point" anyway? And yet I know that the joys of companionship outweigh any possible turmoil when two souls find themselves on two different paths.
    So here's to the journey Oriah! Here's to you and your willingness to share so much of your personal experiences with us. Thank you for posting!