The monsters of the deep are made;

Dead Sea

A decade ago I voluntarily sought out counseling for emotional and mental difficulties, after an upheaval unlike any other I’d experienced; an upheaval seemingly impossible to overcome. I remember my counselor, a very gentle woman with grey, careworn curls and a soft voice, giving me a questionnaire on my life experiences. I answered as honestly as I could. She reviewed my answers on paper and informed me I qualified for “mild to moderate depression”, before lightly setting the paper aside to interview me further.

Upon her pronouncement – well, honestly, I felt as if I’d passed a test. On one hand I was mildly discouraged to discover something unwholesome had taken me over despite my best efforts. On the other, it felt a bit validating to know I had a reason to seek out this kind of help. I wasn’t just making it up, for fun. (for fun!)

This latest episode of depression has differed quite a bit from my experiences in the past. Unlike ten years ago, I am more consciously aware of my innermost difficulties. Perhaps a good analogy is that of receiving dental work with, or without, anesthesia. The same procedure, the same pain, the same violation of the body occurs in both cases. But with an analgesic the mind is in a sense less aware of what it is going through. Many consider painkillers to be a mercy – even a necessity for all of life’s discomforts. There is some doubt about the wisdom of such an approach, as medical and spiritual traditions continue to inform us.

As I cope with this latest bout of depression – without the use of intoxicants or medications, or my previous habits of smoking, over-spending, over-activity, and over-eating – I am acutely aware of my discomfort. Without the anesthesizing effects of Valium or alcohol, without looking to my partner to “make me feel better”, I confess I go through some very scary spells indeed. Today I felt a paralyzing coldness creeping over me, dragging me to the depths, a more powerful experience than I’d ever had. It felt like drowning, but in a muffled darkness, not a liquid element. My husband, asking after my pneumonia, says, “Does your chest hurt? Is it your head?” Depression like this is a bodily experience, a bloom like influenza, down to my bones.

I am sad my partner and children do not live with a woman who is entirely well. I think I could somewhat cheerfully step through my own pain, but my sense of responsibility to them is a tripping-stone on the path, an obstacle I struggle with. A hangnail I worry at, not allowing patience, and healing. I know I am not seeing clearly, because to require I do not suffer illness for their sake is to spit their unconditional love back in their faces.

I know I owe them not perfection or Wellness precisely – but honesty, gratitude, self-love and self-care, humor, gentleness, and my presence. And for me – because I practice while things are good – I know it is entirely possible to be present while in so much pain. It really is one breath at a time, an exercise in mindfulness, breathing, awareness, lovingkindness, and acceptance. It is no different than when things are easier, and perhaps that is the biggest mystery of all, one I find a great deal of joy in discovering, over and over again.

Tonight while my children attend a community hockey practice I wash my son’s coverlet; I light candles, file papers, and dress for yoga. A headstand will help! Time with friends, sweating on a mat, enjoying my body – will help. My gratitude practice – through wellness and illness – will help.

I am glad for you who read here, and who can accompany me in some way on my path. The rocks are sharp underfoot; a foreboding stoniness of the cliffs loom around me, and a bitter wind slaps through my jacket. But the thought of you keeps me alight, the little flame in my chest, that shan’t be extinguished as long as I draw breath. I make my way to your campfire with a gladness in my heart that may not be happiness, but it is joy.

even when I’m uncomfortable, sometimes in pain

Tonight in yoga we are challenged to work up to a tripod headstand; a few minutes later, to fly into Crow. Unbelievingly (to me), I find myself able to perform three supported headstands (with an assist by my lovely partner C.) and my feet even leave the earth for a moment in Crow.

Testing the waters. I don’t have to do anything impossible. I just get to try a little bit, to stretch myself a wee bit. To get to know this body.

Today was cold, and sunny. I received phone calls and got to help a friend to two. Ralph stayed home and cooked delicious Thai fare. Ginger, garlic, peanuts, lime, noodles. Hot coffee and cream heated to scalding to go along with.

My children are happy. My son wakes this morning after a thirteen-hour sleep. My daughter, in the grocery store, puts her arms around me and we hold one another. She is as tall as I am, her hair smelling of dry grass, beautiful and simple. The children carry out our groceries and bargain for chocolate before dinner. I almost don’t care at all but I argue with them about it anyway, for familiarity’s sake.

Home and the house has the winter tidings: cats scruffily resting on clawed-up leather couches, sunlight hitting dusty surfaces, a kind of dry comfort to the air inside. Ralph cleans the fridge and starts hot water to boil for coffee. I set up my sewing machine and construct a tiny sea creature for a baby.

Tonight: my body aches – in a lovely way. Hot shower, and fragrant lentils wrapped in a warm tortilla. Another day put to bed and for what, except it is indeed very delicious to still draw breath.

Tonsillitis

the ground I stand upon

Tonsillitis

My son takes a day at home, a nasty bout with tonsillitis. (Pip helps him rest.) Today he is much improved; he arranges a picnic with his grandmother, and I drive out to pick my daughter up at the bus stop by myself.

She steps off the bus and she’s so happy to see me her face lights up and flushes. Do you have any idea how it makes me feel, that this is her response to me every day?

Later: the rain hits the roof in torrents; darkness whirls outside. I’m sitting in a theater, listening to my castmates practice. Smiles, laughter, silly impromptu dances, yes – but everyone is in earnest. Our director helps each performer with notes, with mood, with blocking.

I miss my home. I miss feeling a part of; feeling like the center of the household. Sewing for others, and writing and volunteering, and now this production – I am not the at-home provider the way I once was and I am still finding my niche. My children’s worlds continue to expand and although my life is very full, the sea change leaves me unsettled.

The gas tank, and the bank account, are empty. My son’s illness, though not a serious one, is very sad and frightening. He is one who hallucinates and has terrible dreams, when he has a fever. Sometimes my hands stretch out and find his edges; he feels like a little boat tossed in furious seas. I hold him close and kiss his head and yet my heart is tossed to and fro as well.

I bake – chocolate pumpkin bread – I boil eggs. I buy raw milk, I peel oranges. I tackle the laundry with sincerity – we have the worst dryer we’ve ever had and our little laundry hallway is piled deep.

I try not to worry: how will I afford groceries the next few days? Instead I buy lamb for a friend who recently had an illness, and cannot digest many kinds of meat. With satisfaction, that is the last $8 in my account. I am glad to gift her. Another friend asked me last night – why don’t I keep things? I told her, “I’m a Buddhist. We are all about non-attachment.”

Giving a gift when I have but little grounds me in a way almost impossible to articulate. I know I do not need to, either.

the untrained mind

Tonight I wrote, by hand, a letter to the men responsible for my child’s sexual assaults.

I wrote by hand until my hand cramped. I wrote as articulately as I could. Even as I wrote I knew I had a bit of spiritual wisdom; wisdom I did not used to have. Even as I wrote I knew that these men had destroyed my sleep, my peace of mind. They had taken things from my child, things that can never be fully restored. Doubtless they had taken things from other children. They had removed my security regarding the person I love most.

But they had not taken my compassion, and they had not taken my faith.

Folded-up sheets of yellow paper sit at my elbow. I will read my letter to one of my spiritual mentors, the woman who told me to write this letter. She is a Catholic and I am a Buddhist but she is the only human being who has given me lasting comfort because she is not afraid to tell me the truth. Of all those I have had the dubious honor to deal with during this time – the advocates, the professionals, the social workers, the counselors, law enforcement – many who have added to my confusion, one who has misled us intentionally, some who have caused my child more harm than good – this woman alone has been able to help me because she has been where I have been and she knows the thing, the Bravest thing, the truth about faith that so many are afraid to surrender to.

I will likely never meet the men responsible for what happened to my child. I wrote the letter anyway because my friend told me to, and I trust her.

People think a sexual assault is just the assault. But when the law gets involved, it is much worse. We have had agencies, strangers, crawling up in our family business. My child has had interviews in a police room, suffered many night terrors and panic attacks (for many months we were entirely ignorant as to why), been submitted to a rape exam, and had many freedoms curtailed. My child has endured mistakes by the adults, professional and familial, who are supposed to protect. My child has endured the inept, clumsy, and stupid mistakes Ralph and I have made – because no parent is prepared to deal with this well, no parent.

This has been the hardest thing I’ve gone through, no matter how carefully I’ve tried to do the right thing. Since late September my world has changed and it has been relentless. My anger, my confusion, my grief has exhausted me. It has kept me depressed and anxious so that even while I function “properly” and do the things I’m supposed to, I am never without this pressing fear, a fear few intuit or even think of. Prayer and meditation have helped; helping others has helped immensely. “Restraint of pen and tongue” has been a godsend. Doing the next thing I’m supposed to – doing the housework, returning texts and calls, helping friends – has kept me sane.

Tonight I needed there to be a point to all of it. To what has happened. Because I know there is. So even though she was dead-tired I grabbed my friend and mentor. I talked with her and she told me some things. I cried – but less than you might think. Because I am ready to understand a little more than I’ve thus been able to understand.

Before we parted she told me, “It’s like that tree across the way. The leaves will fall soon and they’ll pretend to be dead. But you and I know they’re not dead. They are fertilizer for other things to grow.

“This experience is going to be food for you, it is going to make you stronger;

“But first you have to fall.”

Wishkah River, today.

pebbles and periwinkles

Wishkah River, today.

“Did you see that rock? It was propped up – suspiciously,” my son tells me, in a conspiratorial tone. He reaches down to secure the recalcitrant stone – it’s about an inch oval, a quarter-inch thick. I am not sure what was so suspicious about it. But he is moving on. Then – a winged, red-eyed insect struggling in the water. The kids quickly come to its aid, fishing it out using a leaf and laying it on a sun-warmed rock.

“We need to make a sign,” Nels says, “‘Do Not Disturb This Butterfly’.” Phoenix and I share a quick glance. “Nels, no one is going to come along any time soon. The butterfly will dry off and fly away soon,” I tell my son. Still tenderhearted!

Wishkah River, today.

Goodbye, winged insect! And – good luck.

It got a little over ninety in town, so getting out to the river was just right. Somebody was scared of wading in the current, but that somebody got over it. Very proud, I am!

Wishkah River, today.

We borrowed my mother’s truck; my car is still not running.

“Patience, persistance, & prayer”, as I always say in my boring-ass way.

Below: a river panorama; quite lovely viewed large:

Wishkah River, today.

no such thing as junk, not really

Today I was responsible to prepare food for a large group of people – two full meals, and beverages, and seventy cups of coffee, and cream and sugar, and all of that kind of thing! I had spent the last week planning the repast and finding the best, most economical, and heartiest solutions I could. I spent a couple days arranging and shopping for, and storing, the ingredients for these meals.

A labor of love.

Yesterday I made up the lunch centerpiece – a massive pot of chili. Four kinds of beans, hominy, corn, chiles, tomatoes; garlic and spices. Between that, and caring for my children, my pets, and a few other kids, it was a hard workday. In the evening I thought, Well at least I got through all that!.

Then last night at 11 PM, shortly before bed, I adjusted the burner under the chili. And within five minutes, I’d burned all of it horribly. The entire pot. Past the point of serving. Past the point of donating to a soup kitchen, or doing anything but throwing it out.

When I perceived my mistake I put my head in my hands and cried – only for a moment. I quickly realized I was very angry with myself for making a mistake. Once I realized why I was angry, I knew I didn’t have to be angry.

And a few moments later I knew with clarity, There must be a reason. There must be some purpose to this error. Of course I can’t see it. I don’t know why. I don’t need to know. I simply don’t understand. Not understanding, the incident passed into the past, where it needed to be.

I made a new plan. I went to bed, and slept as well as I could.

Today’s event – with the help of three individuals – went well. A new pot of chili was made, and served alongside everything else – fresh fruit and pastries, bagels and cream cheese, homemade honey cornbread, coleslaw, pico de gallo, sour cream, onions, cheddar cheese, pop, juice, coffee. Everyone was fed and happy. I worked hard in a well-equipped kitchen, and after the attendees left I finished my duty by loading up the dishwasher over and over and putting everything away as it emerged sanitized.

After, I came home and rested.

Then later, in the evening, I was asked to speak about faith to a group of women.

This was funny because I’d been thinking about faith. I’d been thinking about it, because of the soup. What possible purpose was there in ruining that food? It was a great deal of time, and no small expense. While I was reimbursed for all food costs, I did not feel right adding in the new soup ingredients, as it was my error. Some of our grocery money – gone. A waste. A total loss.

And in turn, the soup had reminded me of another story about faith. A story close to my heart, that of a friend who’d been sexually assaulted as a child.  Years ago when I sought her counsel – because I admired her way of life – she had told me, incredibly, that the sexual assaults she’d experienced as a young child helped her survive a later assault as a slightly older child. The details are unimportant. I remember sitting at her dining room table and looking at her flatly. I said, “—–, I don’t have the faith you have.” I meant it then. I saw the faith was real for her. It wasn’t real for me. I wasn’t angry or offended, but I found it incredible she could have peace with her painful experiences, as she so clearly had. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

And yet, over time, I came to see she was correct; or rather, that the way of faith was the correct way for Me. And I have come to see things as my friend does.

See, that’s how I knew the soup was burned for a reason.

So tonight, when asked to share on faith, I shared my friend’s story (without her name or details – of course). And I shared my soup story.

See, faith is simply a choice. There isn’t a “have” or a “have not”. There is a choice. I can’t talk you into it. And I no longer try. But now that I know it’s a choice, things are simpler for me.

I ended my story with – something like – “I’m a Buddhist. I know now there aren’t really big or little problems. There are just Problems. Once you see that, it’s a choice of faith or fear. It’s simple. If you aren’t here to learn about the way of faith – why are you here?”

I was so tired after I shared. I knew I’d spoken from the heart. I knew I hadn’t spoken suavely or with much decorum. I rested my head in my hands. There was a small beat of silence in the room.

Another woman responded, a woman I’d never before met. With her voice shaking, she began to speak slowly. She said I had shared the exact thing she needed to hear. Her past had been haunting her. She said she’d never understood until that moment, the purpose of three rapes she’d endured, as a younger woman. She said she’d forgiven these men, she’d done her healing work, but she’d never understood the point of it all. Then she said she now knew the purpose was to prepare her for what happened to her in her twenties. She said, “Tonight… I’ve received enlightenment. From listening to a woman I don’t know and have never met before.” She nodded, looking right at me. The room was silent as she nodded. She looked right at me, with my frazzled-out hair and my dead-tired eyes and my nearly completely faulty memory of what I’d shared in the first place. She nodded and I felt smashed flat. I had nothing to offer anyone but she seemed the better off that I shared my little twig of a life.

Later, I hugged this woman and we parted. I’d never seen her before and I don’t think I’ll see her again.

What is funny is of course I didn’t really help this woman. Because I only know about faith, as other people taught me about faith. I have no original ideas. I know this today.

But you know what? As I made my way home that evening I thought of this woman and how she said she’d been helped so much after years of trauma and I realized,

Oh, that’s why I burned the soup.

It took me so long to figure it out I almost laughed aloud.

There are even more reasons –

But most of them, though, I never really will know.

your bible and your gun / & you love to party and have fun

The weather is so gorgeous right now. It’s raining, but it’s also sixty-five degrees out. A summer rain. Just deepened from gloaming into night. So lovely. My potato plants are going to yield produce early. I can walk on a soft lawn through summer. Barefoot.

Today: a lot of work, all of it good. But I’m tired, and afflicted with nausea. In waves, it comes and goes.

& poor sleep the night before.

Distraction. An argument with my son, after he breaks something precious of ours. He leaves the house for a date with friends, hot on the heels of exchanged cross words. I clean the bathroom sink and as I hear the car pull out the gravel driveway I put him in my prayers (again). I love him; he is such a struggle for me at times.

My children are especially bright, especially clever. They notice that I have a hard time forming a completed thought. That housework and errands and groceries and cooking and cleaning (and writing and sewing) distracts me. I can work in my own world; the kids are by turns patient or angry. I apologize for my scattered-ness; maybe this is one reason I hold them so often, so many times during the day. I’m here, dear one. I want to stay.

At five o’clock Nels tells me he wants to go to Vacation Bible School – the last night – after all. I’m standing in the kitchen doorway with a clean kitchen towel and feeling despair. My car isn’t running, I can’t ask anyone to take the child; I have a large meal to get to another family way across Aberdeen. But I told my son to make up his mind and he’s made it up. The lasagna in the oven and a sink full of dishes and I drive him across town.

On the way home and police lights on the side of the road. I’m grateful we are all safe. I have been trying to drive more carefully, noticing others seem more careless during the summer weather.

We are safe. Right? I don’t feel safe. I have been re-living a trauma over and over again, and this has been sapping my strength the better part of a year. I pray, I meditate, I work, I rest, I help others, I am kind to myself. And yet I still haven’t gotten over it. I hear all the correct words in my head – the people who know more than me. They say, “Remember, this happened to your child – it didn’t happen to you. Don’t make it about you.” I know there are people who have the key, who are more correct than I.

And yet I feel a kind of terror I’ve never felt.

I think I sourced it, about three weeks ago in a gathering of relatives and friends of alcoholics. I think I know why I don’t feel safe.

Believe it or not, knowing why I feel so unsafe actually helps. It isn’t something I can share while certain parties are alive. But it is something I can know and share with trusted friends.

Unsafety. I can live in Unsafety. I can do this thing.

merry go round broke down

My car went kaput today. At least we pulled over safely. We weren’t that far from home. I’d paid the bills, dropped off the mail, and fed myself.

I got the kids home and set them up with food. Ralph and a few generous friends hauled my car home.

FUUUUUuuuUUH

*slowly lowers head to desk, gently sobs tears into plastic fake woodgrain*

Here’s the thing though. The secret. Life is good. Life is good because I like myself. I like myself because I’m at peace with the dharma.

“It’s boring. But it’s part of my life.”


Strugglez

like a muddy puddle and lately everyone’s been stomping in it

home sweet home

I received a blog donation yesterday. What a boon! Some went to tonight’s dinner – a lemon roasted cauliflower, and a goulash which is baking while I type. Some ($8) went into Ralph’s gas tank. And a little went into two hot sandwiches for a young man and young woman out in a parking lot, with cardboard signs. My son delivered the sandwiches and the individuals tore right into them. Nels watched them from our car as we pulled out. The look on his face as he saw the effects of helping another – it was wonderful. I have been feeling so down about myself lately and so isolated and so icky. These little gifts help a great deal.

Driving off Nels is suddenly struck – “Mama, what about you? What are you going to eat?” My daughter puts her hands on my shoulders and lovingly squeezes. “How are your kidneys?” she asks. “It’s good to ask about your Mama,” Ralph tells them. I’m thinking, as the sun hits us in my husband’s too-loud car and I know that even though I am hungry I will be fed soon enough, Yeah, it is a good thing, it’s a wonderful thing, raising kids who feel cared for and who believe the adults in their lives are caring people. Because then our children are free to grow into the souls they are.

Tonight at the treatment center our little panel of clean-and-sober individuals were queried by the clients interred – especially one man Z., a self-labeled “skeptic” who kept trying to poke holes in a life of sobriety. He asked a few very direct questions, including asking me how I balanced my life with young kids, with that of helping others who wanted to stay sober. He asked a man on the panel named L. – a man with twenty-five years’ sobriety – how that man could still call himself an addict when he hadn’t had a drink or drug for a quarter-century. “I’ll be an addict until the day I die,” the elder responded, “- and so will you.” I thought, Hardcore. I don’t say that to others although I think it sometimes. I have a lot of things I don’t say aloud because I can’t be sure they’re okay to say aloud.

The young man Z. kept asking us about our methods of living without drinking and drugging. He was not convinced. I thought: So you don’t believe anything anyone says. If I tell you I do this work to keep my family and to get my good health, you don’t believe me. If L. tells you he’s still an addict, you don’t believe him. You don’t believe it’s possible to live without drugs and alcohol – and be happy. You don’t believe us even though we’re proof, and even though part of you wants to believe us more than anything because you are starting to be real tired of having the same problems over and over.

In the treatment center his intellectual violence is all in theory and unpleasant enough. In the real world it will be unimaginably harder.

I’m pretty sure Z.’s attitude is not properly labeled “skepticism”. It’s something else. It’s some kind of Perversity and a lot of people are imbued with it. All the same, I am disturbed by Z. because I know what it’s like to have that kind of mind. Pessimistic isn’t even the word although it’s an element within. What I realized after a year or so of ruminating on this kind of mind – the mind I have – was that it comes down to a kind of arrogance. I know more than anyone else, even about their experience – although I am careful not to say this aloud. If you tell me God saved your ass I am “skeptical”. If you tell me you did it on your own without help – I’m “skeptical”. I don’t believe anyone, or anything. Until Proof. What the fuck is Proof? Anything I can have Proof of is like sand shifting under my feet. One moment lulled into comfort; the next, terrifyingly off balance. I am never comforted. Never satisfied.

It’s a horrible mind, but at least it’s a searching one. I came to the Buddha, and the dharma, and the sangha through the exhaustion of this kind of mind. I exhausted this Mind and it exhausted me.

Tonight I’m torn up; I’m troubled. Yesterday as I prayed and meditated I asked, “Let me not be overwhelmed by the troubles of others.”

Strugglez

that marmalade quote I like so much

I made an error, recently. I relied on two entities who were sending checks. Both of them, insurance entities. Both of them insist the payment is on its way. They’ve told us this a little while now (months; weeks resp.). So far in our post office box blows tumbleweeds.

I counted on that money (that was my error). I bought the things our family needs. Now we are in a tight spot.

It’s easy to let a mistake slip into feeling sorry for oneself; into self-criticism. I can be patient with this a while.

But I also know an antidote to this, or at least a spiritual balm. An antidote to self-pity, to self-recrimination: work. Or as my friend John used to say, “chores”.

Not mindless work for the sake of doing it, but the work I should do no matter what. The work I’d do no matter what because it has to be done.

I have rice to cook, for an event I am helping with tonight. So. I saute up fine-minced garlic in olive oil and coconut oil. I set aside broth to simmer; season rice with pepper.

Dishes. Laundry. Yoga; coffee.

Breathe in; breathe out.

My son will wake soon. He will then be the next thing I get to attend to. I don’t know what our plans are for the day – our reduced circumstances have cancelled our road trip – but I do know I bought him lychee yesterday and he loved them as much as I thought he would. I do know I bought him a fifty-cent creampuff at a bánh mì shop and he saved that for this morning.

I do know that he and I will be provided for in some way – whether I can see it, or not. I often can’t.