Saturday, July 31, 2010

Month Long Retreat

Dear friends,

I am taking August off for personal retreat. It has been an unexpectedly chaotic spring with the ending of my marriage. Now, with the legal separation details worked out and signed, and having been bought out of our shared home by my former husband, I turn my attention to recuperation, rest and renewal.

So, I will not be posting blogs in August. I will spend time in Northern Ontario camping alone and drawing on dreams from the water and rocks and wilderness I love. I may do some writing. I may stay there continuously or go back and forth to the city depending upon what my body and heart need each day for their healing.

I will resume posting on September 8. I have enjoyed doing the blog weekly- the commitment has kept me connected to my writing in a small but disciplined way and I always enjoy the comments and conversation that results here and on my FB page. I have also deeply appreciated all the prayers and support you have sent my way during this difficult time. I have felt held in the hearts of so many - and am deeply blessed by this gift of caring.

So, (and here you have to imagine me singing :-) "See you in September. . . " May your summer (or winter if you are in the southern hemisphere) unfold with joy, Oriah

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Coming Home To Myself

What is this strange reunion,
this homecoming to someone I did not know I had left?
Bittersweet, it’s hard to separate
the joy of returning to myself
from the sadness of missing the one who is gone.
What is lost and what is found are tangled together,
like legs caught in the bed sheets
after a restless night of love-making or loneliness.
The dream of shared desire was a wisp of smoke, a hope,
a mirage I sought to make substantive,
a reality I tried to earn,
having forgotten there is no bargaining for faith or love.
These are by grace or not at all.
Something I am
- some essence, or awareness, or presence-
is watching this woman I am, re-member herself.
Walking on the city street,
I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a store window:
Long hair, full-skirted dress and sandals-
all three white light mixed with silver, mercurial-
fabric and hair floating around me on
the dark heat rising from the black pavement.
And the thought comes: “I feel like myself again.”
I am surprised, and a little shocked.
I did not know I had wandered so far
from who and what I am.
Far enough to have forgotten the fragrance of home-
the warm cinnamon scent
of the place where the animal self
surrenders to unguarded joy,
the place where the heart feels free
to welcome the unfettered passion
for moving quickly or being very still.
I had wandered so long
I’d stopping missing or even looking for myself.
But I longed.
Although even that became muted,
an underwater echo, blue green, and easy to miss.
Each day now a little more of who I am
is retrieved from the ocean floor:
the pleasure of my own cooking-
fresh eggs scrambled
with rosemary, and mushrooms, and sharp cheese;
the feel of silk across the back of my neck,
a cool caress to tender skin,
reawakening the need for touch;
the strength in my legs,
the joy of taking long strides with nowhere to go;
the quiet of the morning,
as I sit facing east just before the sun appears,
and then, the moment when the sun crests the horizon,
my gaze behind closed eyes flaring crimson and gold.
No recrimination for my absence
I am welcomed as the prodigal daughter
Longed for,
Looked for,
Home at last.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Tuna Story

It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I have not written this week’s blog, so I am sitting in front of the computer screen staring at the flashing cursor, waiting, hoping for inspiration. I let my hands rest on my lap and take a deep breath. I’m aware of the chair beneath me, holding my weight. The door to the balcony is open and suddenly I hear a small child giggling in absolute delight. She is clearly having a wonderful time. I find myself smiling. In fact, it is practically impossible not to smile just hearing the peals of laughter. Walking to the balcony door I can see a little girl, about four years old, being pushed by an older child on the swings in the small park outside my apartment. With dark shining hair, dressed in a bright pink t-shirt and shorts she squeals and giggles each time the swing sends her high into the air, sticking her short brown legs and small white sneakers up toward the sky. I stand and watch for a few minutes, taking pleasure in her unbridled delight.

When was the last time you laughed, really laughed a long belly laugh that made your eyes water? Just thinking about it reminds me of my mother’s mother, Nana- how infrequently she laughed and how I loved it when she did.

Nana was a serious woman. Eldest of a large family with an abusive alcoholic father she’d had to leave school at fifteen to get a job and support her mother and siblings. She had four brothers who were always getting into trouble and one sister who was fifteen years younger than her- my Aunt Nonie. Nana had a reputation for being fierce and at times, downright harsh. She had very definite ideas about duty, obligation and what moral people did. She worked hard and didn’t appear to have very much fun. She was a formidable woman.

But she loved me. To me she was often soft and loving. I delighted in the rare occasions when I saw her laugh, really laugh. And nothing made her laugh harder than telling The Tuna Story.

Apparently, Aunt Nonie believed she had an allergy to tuna fish. Nana, as much as she doted on her younger sister, thought this was nonsense. She maintained that Nonie just didn't like tuna and so claimed to have an allergy. The bickering about tuna went on well into adulthood in the way that these things do in families. Nana married my grandfather and they had my mother. Nonie eventually married, moved away and had a family. And still the disagreement about tuna fish was maintained. Nana never really argued about things in so many words, but when someone said or did something she didn't like her disapproval was plain. She’d make a soft snorting noise, purse her thin lips and frown. Nana could frown with her whole body. You could feel that frown even if her back was toward you, could feel it in the set of her shoulders and the stiffness of her stocky, fully-corseted body. All four feet eleven inches of her was involved when disapproval was being communicated. As I said, Nana was a serious woman.

Aunt Nonie frequently visited Fort Erie, the town where they’d grown up and where my grandparents continued to live. On one of those visits she and my grandmother went grocery shopping. I don’t know what got into Nana (a woman not normally susceptible to spontaneous outbursts) but as they walked down the aisle of canned goods, she suddenly grabbed a tin of tuna and whirling around, shoved it under Nonie’s nose and yelled, “There! You think you’ll break out in a rash if you smell the tin?”

Except it wasn’t Nonie. Nana had not noticed that her sister had dropped back a little and another woman- some hapless shopper- had moved up the aisle only to have this tiny grey-haired figure shove a tin of tuna at her and scream something about a rash. The woman froze in terror, and Nana, shocked and sputtering, tried to explain. But she couldn’t, because she and Nonie started laughing. The harder she tried to explain the harder they both laughed until the two of them were doubled over in spasms, tears streaming down their faces while the woman made her escape.

When my grandmother told this story- often after my Aunt Nonie’s prompted her with, “Tell them all about how you threatened some poor woman with a tin of tuna,” we would all start laughing. And Nana would laugh that deep belly laugh as she told the story, her eyes filling with tears and her face getting dark pink. I laughed with her, for her, delighted to see that she could have a moments of real silliness- in the grocery store and in the retelling of the story.

There are a lot of stories about my grandmother that would not make anyone laugh. But this is how I like to remember her- sitting at her kitchen table telling the tuna story, laughing and wiping her eyes with the corner of her apron. Like the sound of the little girl’s giggling in the park, just thinking about it, makes me smile.

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.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Just Weather

It’s hot. The kind of hot, combined with humidity, that reminds you that living in a large city is not the healthiest place to be. The air is thick with the smell of steaming asphalt, lingering car exhaust and rotting garbage. People hurrying along the blistering concrete look wilted and get easily irritated when someone is blocking their way or moving slower than they are. Strangely the heat does not seem to lift much at night. I got up at five this morning, walked out onto the balcony hoping for some relief, and stepped into a warm soup of heavy air.

There’s a saying about Canadians- that if you ask us how we are or what we have been doing, we will give you a weather report. There’s some truth to it. Maybe it’s because we experience such extremes in one place- forty below to forty above (that’s Celsius- which translates at the bottom end to just about the same and at the top to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.) We tend to keep an eye on the weather so we know whether we need snow shoes or flip flops. I like it. It makes me stay in touch with the environment, reminds me that some things are beyond my control and that the only thing I can do is try to prepare for the possible while knowing it is unpredictable. When I spent some time in Los Angeles I found it disorienting not to have to check the weather report or the temperature before leaving the place I was staying. The weather was pretty much always the same. You needed a light sweater or jacket in the morning or evening and otherwise, could simply stroll out in the same clothing each day. It made it too easy to disconnect, to feel as if my tiny human intentions and plans for the day determined everything about how the world unfolded.

Weather is particularly good at giving us perspective because it is so impersonal, so beyond our immediate control. Oh, we may complain a bit, but the truth is that we are aware that our reactions to the weather are pretty ineffectual in influencing more than our experience of whatever the weather is. That’s the point: weather just IS. If you want to go skiing but it warms up and the snow melts, it may be disappointing but you don’t take it personally (most of the time.) If you plan a picnic and it pours rain you may feel some frustration, but there’s no one to yell at, no one to blame- and that’s a good practice to develop.

So, one of my mantras when I am feeling frustrated about things that are clearly beyond my control (like, for instance, other people, interest rates, and- some days- my health) is, “It’s just weather.” Because, if it’s just weather, I know a number of things are true: it’s not personal (so there is no point in making myself miserable by taking it personally); it will pass and change; and there is little or nothing I can do about it, so I may as well do what I can (put up the umbrella, shovel the walk, wear a hat) and not suffer over what I can’t do (control the uncontrollable.)

This is perhaps surprisingly challenging to remember even when dealing with the small stuff. Years ago, when my son Nathan was about twelve, at the end of a long and tiring day, I dropped a macaroni and cheese casserole meant to be our dinner. It shattered on the kitchen floor. I stood there in disbelief, staring at the mess.

Nathan, seeing my look of frustration (and no doubt anticipating where that frustration might unfairly land) said, “Oh no. Who can we blame for that?”

And of course, I laughed, my anger dissolving in the recognition that as much as I wanted to direct anger somewhere it wouldn’t be warranted or do any good. So, I just started cleaning up the broken glass and macaroni. In some ways, the broken casserole was “just weather.”

This seems to be some kind of key to living a happy life: recognizing what is “just weather,” that which is beyond our control and will inevitably will change. Sometime when we prepare for “weather” (the uncontrollable) we guess right- we have our umbrella handy when it starts to rain. And sometimes we get wet. Either way, it’s just weather.