THE SELF…

THE SELF

Jose Ignacio DomecqAfter my divorce late in 1992, one of the first things I did was to take a trip to Spain to attend my favorite uncle’s 80th birthday celebration. Other than flights back and forth to boarding school where I was seen off by my parents and met by my maternal grandmother, I had never before travelled alone, so it was quite an adventure.

In Madrid, before I drove to Jerez for the party, I met my cousin, Marina, with whom I had kept up a lively correspondence over the years since the time she had lived briefly in Mexico and we had become friends. Marina invited me to go see an Argentinian woman who read the tarot cards. I didn’t really believe in those things, but it sounded like fun and as I was starting out on a whole new life, I was interested to see what she would say.

images9KRW67GHI went in first and sat in front of a woman in her thirties who held a deck of cards in her hand. As I watched she turned up a row of cards one by one. I don’t remember the faces on them. Then she raised her eyes and looked at me.

“What are you so afraid of?” she asked in Spanish with an Argentinian accent.

Considering I was not conscious of being frightened, I had no answer. Yes, I had been afraid before leaving Mexico. When my uncle wrote and invited me to his birthday party, I mentioned to a friend how sorry I was not to be able to go.

“Why not?” she said, “You’re free; nothing to stop you. Go!” It took me all of five minutes to realize she was right so I got my plane ticket, reserved my hotel and flew to Madrid all alone. I was so nervous and excited that I couldn’t sleep on the plane; I watched three movies. When I arrived at my hotel at around 9a.m. I was exhausted and miserable. Before falling asleep, I decided I would catch the next plane back.

Nevertheless, when I awoke at 1 p.m. with the sunlight streaming in my window and a light breeze blowing across my face, instead of fear, I felt exhilarated. That had been several days before my meeting with the foreseer and I hadn’t felt a bit of fear since. Yet the Argentinian woman insisted that I should look into the matter as soon as possible.

lg_2014%20Citroen%20C1%20Hatch%202With her admonition in mind, I decided to be daring and rented a car for driving alone to Salamanca. After a night in the Medieval University city, I was about to return to Madrid but, when I reached the highway there was a sign pointing in the opposite direction, reading Zamora. During my studies of Spanish literature I had discovered the fascinating character of Doña Urraca who came from Zamora so, instead of heading for the Capital City. I turned right and took off on my first adventure.

ciudad-de-zamoraZamora was not a disappointment. I stayed there overnight in a roadside hotel and left the following day for Madrid. However, still thinking of my card reader’s advice, I did not take the Freeway back, but rather decided to travel secondary highways which took me along the border with Portugal. My chosen route took me through a beautiful mountainous country which was a nature reserve. After a while, I noticed there were no other cars on the road, neither coming nor going and my immediate thought was, “what if I have a flat tire?” Needless to say, I began feeling a bit nervous, but the crevices and peaks were so breathtaking I soon forgot my worries and enjoyed the scenery. It was over two hours before I reached anything that looked like civilization.

I spent the rest of the trip driving all over Spain without a quiver in my heart, and I hoped that would do it as far as fear was concerned. I returned to Mexico over three weeks later without a mishap and feeling like a seasoned traveler with the world just waiting for me.

About ten days later, a friend called and said she was going to run the rapids in the state of Veracruz and would I like to come. The rapids sounded like something that would really frighten me, so I accepted and a week later I found myself on the bank of the Fish River (Río Pescados), donning a helmet and a life jacket, grasping an oar and climbing into a imagesHPPW3T2TZodiac with 9 other daring people.

We had been carefully instructed how and when to paddle forward or backwards, what to do in case the instructor yelled “high side!” (which meant that the raft was thrown against a rock and the people on the side the rose had to push hard to force the zodiac back to level position), and how to hold ourselves tightly by tucking our heels under the cushiony inflated tube that formed the side so as not to fall overboard while, at the same time keeping our hands free to handle the paddle. We had also been told what to do in the case of falling into the water (something I had no intention whatsoever of doing): be sure, the instructor said, to go with the current feet first so you don’t hit the rocks with your head; do not let go of your oar. If the river pulls you under, don’t struggle, it will bring you out again by itself; do not let go of your oar. I repeated the instructions in my head although if there was one person who was not going to fall out of the zodiac, that was me.

rafting 2The instructor (our captain on the descent) also mentioned that the heavy September rains had glutted the river, raising it from a number 3 rapids to a number 5 (the maximum is 6), so we were in for a good ride. This news made me even more decided to not fall overboard. I’ll admit I was scared, but I was doing it, wasn’t I?

The rapids were fast and furious, and we worked really hard to keep the zodiac straight (steady was out of the question), but I was getting the hang of it and beginning to feel more confident when a large rock appeared in the middle of the waters.

“There might be a hole on the other side,” yelled our captain, “¡hold on!” I wondered what on earth a “hole” was in the middle of a river, but didn’t have much time to think about it because we were accelerating and had to paddle faster than ever to keep the raft under control as we rushed past the boulder and into the “hole”. I now know what a “hole” is. It is the effect of a great amount of rapidly flowing water washing past a large obstacle such as a boulder; immediately on the other side of the obstacle, the water form a kind of furious depression before shooting out again down river.

As we entered the enormous “hole” that the boulder was causing the water to form, the zodiac literally folded in two and then sprung open again flinging the three persons in the rear into the river. I was one of them. I suddenly found myself in a vortex of water (no oar in my hands, of course) that was flipping me over and over like just one more pebble in its current. I struggled to get my head out of water and finally managed. But, just as I opened images9FC0Y7JJmy mouth to breathe, a wave hit me square in the face and the river pulled me under again. Suddenly I had twisted and turned so much that I no longer knew what direction was up. My mind produced one thought: “How can you be so stupid to come and drown in a river called Fish!” and I knew at that moment I was going to die, so I just stopped struggling and sunk into the deep sorrow of that certainty.

Of course, the moment I stopped struggling, the river pushed me to the surface, I gasped for breath, saw an oar stretching towards me and grabbed it. Someone pulled me onto another Zodiac and I was saved. The experience of joy was immediate: I had not come to the Fish River to drown that day.

The moment I was safe, in my mind I suddenly experienced that something had been out of my body. For some time I spoke of an “out of body” experience, saying that I had been out of my body, but now I realize there was no I at all, just as there was no “out”: it was a non-local, non-personal experience of what I have since called ‘cosmic compassion’ for a minuscule body being tossed about in the rapids, and whatever it was, could not experience itself, because there was no self, no identity whatsoever. The experience was only realized (made real) when self was restored by my body being pulled out of the water.

For me, this experience was instantaneous so that my self-identity returned in full the moment I was pulled from the water. For others –Byron Katie and Dan Siegel, for example—the period of self-less-ness lasted much longer and the experience transformed their lives completely. You can listen to Dan’s experience through the following link: (https://www.facebook.com/eOmega.org/videos/10153492113806325/ ) and Katie’s is in her book Loving What Is and several others.

As my experience happened when I was still at a very primary stage in my evolution (I wasn’t even to hear of Byron Katie for years to come), I immediately related that happening (or non-happening) to some form of the religious idea of soul so, henceforth, I believed that there was a part of me that didn’t die.

Today, I don’t even try to define it or give it a name: it is what is when the self disappears, the self that lives the dream it calls life. It is the “stroke of insight” that doctor Jill Bolte Taylor talks about after experiencing a massive stroke (https://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight?language=en) and discovering the difference in perception of the two hemispheres of her brain; the no-where-to-go-nothing-to-do of Jeff Foster’s Life Without a Center (https://batgap.com/jeff-foster/), the freedom of the Don’t-Know mind with the four questions of Byron Katie.

I have not re-experienced that no-self, I don’t have to, I am here to live in the self at this moment and enjoy it. If I find there is something I am not enjoying, well I have what for me is the simplest way of setting myself free: I have 4 questions and a turnaround for which I am forever grateful (see www.thework.com).

WHAT IF…?

 I think the most pernicious thoughts in my existence start with a “what if…” and then the death sentence: “What if I’m doing it wrong” (it being life itself), and what if I don’t find out till the day I die. What if I have made a mistake and there is no going back. What if I have lost the opportunity to… what? Do it right!

Although it can happen at any moment, panic loves to arrive about 3 a.m. when there is nothing around to distract me from that drowning feeling that everything is all over, that I have had a chance and botched it, no more chances: I’ve done it wrong.

It was shortly after having moved to Salies that the last remembered “what if” panic hit. Everything gone! The apartment rented! No going back! OMG! What if it was a terrible mistake; what if I regret this for the rest of my life. What if, what if…

As I sat alone in the restaurant of a local hotel waiting for my plat de jour, looking out the window at the leafless trees and paling grass of a cold January day, the “what if” crunched my heart. What if I had made a mistake and now it was too late. Even if I did go back to Madrid, there was nothing to go back to. I heard in my head my daughter’s voice: “Why do you always have to be so drastic?”

Then I remembered another time. I was 18 and had come home from Barnard College for summer vacation. I had not been happy at Barnard –as a matter of fact I had been terrified of the way my life seemed to be going there- but I was planning to go back for my 2nd year, solely in order to attend my best friend’s wedding. My parents, however, informed me that this was not to be. I could not go to my friend’s wedding because it meant an extra expense that they couldn’t or wouldn’t cover at that moment. Without the wedding, there was nothing to make me want to go back to college, so I decided not to continue my education but rather to stay home where I felt safe.

Once the decision was taken, once I had faced my father’s disappointment, once I had sent the final letter, the horror set in: “What if I have made a mistake and my whole life is ruined.” It was then, in the middle of the night, in the dark and quiet room where I lay realizing that all of my Destiny had changed with that one decision, that panic set in and “what if” became the key to my own private torture chamber.

Of course, it is not possible ever to know what would have been if I had not taken that decision, so there is nothing but horror at the end of the question. Every single one of those unimagined and unlived moments, that vast ocean of ignorance for one to drown in again and again, the future that might have been and now will never exist, turns into a living hell in the terror of the moment: What if I have made the wrong decision?

The second time I remember it happening was a week before my wedding: What if it turns out I don´t really love him, what if he is not the One? What if I am terribly unhappy, what if it doesn’t work out? My mother heard me crying and came to sit with me on my bed. She told me we could call the wedding off if I wasn’t sure. But what if I called it off and then discovered that He was the Right one and it was too late? What if no one else ever wanted to marry me? Eventually, the mind must find peace in the what is, and leave go of the what if. I was married a week later.

Then again, when my second husband and I decided to move from Mexico to Madrid, there was another what if? Panic! In the middle of the night: What if we don’t like it, what if his business doesn’t work, what if… what if… it is the wrong decision?

I remember calming myself with the thought that if it didn’t work out we could always come back. But we had sold most of our furniture and put the house up for sale. We had shipped the rest across the ocean and signed a rent contract in Madrid for two years. My husband had closed down his business, hoping to start a new one in Spain. There would be no coming back, at least not for me, although my husband left after nine months. There is no going back ever. Change happens and nothing is ever the same. The past doesn’t exist; we could never go back to it.

So in four life-shaping moments I have felt the what-if panic and yet never been sorry for any one of the “decisions” that led to those moments. And I have put the word “decisions” in quotes because, as Shakespeare would say, “there’s the rub”. The whole posing of the question is downright wrong from the beginning. What if is short for “what if I take the wrong decision”. But did I ever really decide anything? What if there is NEVER any such decision to be taken?

The Barnard “decision” hadn’t been mine. The only reason I was going back to college was because I wanted to go to my friend’s wedding; it had nothing to do with the college. What I was doing and experiencing in Barnard was terrifying me, I felt I was losing myself. When my parents didn’t let me go to the wedding (and how could they know it was the only reason I wanted to go back) there was no decision to take: my whole being balked at the thought of returning and the decision had been taken for me.

The “decision” to get married… I was 20 and from the photographs, pretty good looking, but for some strange reason, I thought this was my last chance; my father had the bizarre notion that if I didn’t marry this candidate, I would become a nun. I had already broken off our relationship once and then spent 3 days crying before coming back to it; another break would be definite. It was a no-brainer. I got married. What decision? I had thirty years with the man who fathered my two beautiful children and most of them were pretty good.

Long before I moved to Madrid, I had visited the city and gone with a cousin for a card reading. Towards the end of the session (and everything the woman said I wrote down and watched as it happened) she said “You aren’t going to die either in Mexico or in New York (where I lived and where I had been born)” and in my mind I immediately heard “I’ll die in Madrid”; it was like a certainty, like an announcement. At that moment, it seemed absurd; I even thought that it would have to be in a plane crash when arriving here from Mexico. But I can see now that the decision was already taken, so that a year later, when my husband said that, due to the economic crisis in Mexico, he wished we could go and live in the United States, I simply pronounced the words that would seal my fate: “I don’t want to live in the US but if you want we could move to Madrid.”

And Salies, well that was even more obvious. It was the third time I was coming up to spend August here. I was a couple of hours out and thinking about being bored with the experience I had had the previous two summers because there were no French courses to take and my one-month visit didn’t give me time to get to know anyone or integrate in the town’s activities. I was wondering in my mind if I should look for a new place to spend summer months, when a voice asked: “Why don’t you move to Salies?” Again, as in other life-changing instances, it was not ‘my thought’; it wasn’t anything that was in my conscious mind: it was a question that came from nowhere, and that even seemed absurd at the moment as I was in the process of judging the place dull and boring.

But then, during my stay in Salies, I found myself drifting past Real Estate offices and looking at the ads in the windows. Finally, I went in to one that announced Spanish and English spoken and said I was interested in looking at some apartments. After seeing three or four that were absurdly expensive (I calculated I could rent one for about 60 years for the price I would pay to buy it) I apologized and said I really wasn’t interested in buying and probably would rent something.

“Oh, that’s great!” the realtor exclaimed; “I have just the thing for you.” And he took me to the perfect bachelor’s apartment and I rented it on the spot, paying a whole year’s rent on the condition that they redo and equip it. There was no decision: I just found myself going through all the motions. After that was done, I told my children in an e-mail not to worry, I was not going to move to Salies. Now, I couldn’t have done that if I had taken a decision could I have?

It was not until driving back to Madrid from Salies, with no idea in the world why I had just rented an apartment, that the realization came to me (I had nothing to do with it) that my dream of getting rid of all the stuff I had accumulated over the years was now possible if I moved to Salies! Not only that, but as there was a perfect someone to take over the workshops I gave in Madrid, someone who was a dear friend and had trained with me, well I was free to go. Such a joy entered me that I didn’t doubt, even when I saw all my things (grandmother’s dining table, mom’s sideboard, pictures, books, sofas, chairs, rugs… everything I had been given or bought over the years) leave with other people. It was a gift to see how happy they were to have all my old stuff (I say stuff but there were very nice antiques, and lovely bronze and glass furniture, beautiful sculptures and paintings, and almost all my books). The sale garnered me over 36,000 euros and there was so little left that the movers only charged me 500 euros to take it to France.

After my brief “what-if” moment during that lunch in the Casino, I soon found all the delights of living in a small town surrounded by countryside of rolling hills and deep forests and I am going on six years since that life-changing… I was going to say “decision”, but that isn’t possible, is it?

Far from regret, I find only joy in what life has chosen for me. Will I stay here, some people ask? How would I know? I am not the one making the decisions, so I don’t worry about it. A higher consciousness is at work here: No mistakes, no what-if’s. Only peace and –as Katie says– ‘following the simple instructions’.

DO WE “DESERVE” ANYTHING?

You often say, “I would give,

but only to the deserving.”

                               The trees in your orchard say not  so,

nor the flocks in your pasture. (Kahlil

Gibran, The Prophet)

 

APPLE TREE

Recently I worked with someone who was upset because her life had become so happy and she couldn’t seem to enjoy it. She believed she didn’t deserve any of the happiness that was coming her way. So her thinking was that she should know she deserved it 1) just because she was alive and 2) because she had “suffered” so much previously. The fact was that she couldn’t enjoy what life was giving her because she believed she should feel entitled to it. Her thought went something like this: “I am angry because I don’t believe I deserve all the good things I am receiving in life.” It was a double whammy! She wasn’t enjoying what she was getting and on top of it, she was punishing herself for not enjoying it. So I went for the jugular.

“So you deserve what you are getting in life, is that true?” and then proceeded, internally to do my own Work.untitled

How do I react when I believe that I deserve all the good life gives me? What happens when I believe that either my previous suffering or my hard inner work has earned me the blessings that are showering down on me day after day? Oh, how the Ego loves that! Oh, how it puffs up! I earned this; I am doing it right. Or perhaps it turns judgmental and feels it is about time it got something good! After all I have done, after everything I’ve been through, how can life treat me like this! What the Ego doesn’t do is feel grateful, and gratitude is the attitude (rhyme on purpose) that fills me with joy.

applesTo begin with, I didn’t do anything to deserve being born; I wasn’t even chosen. I just happened, popped into life so to speak, and there I was. I did nothing either to be loved and cared for and not left to die the moment after arriving. As a matter of fact, I did all the opposite. I screamed for food or warmth or comfort or attention; I peed and pooed my diaper making a stinking mess; I didn’t let my parents get any real sleep for a long time after coming and, later on, I ignored their wishes at every opportunity and did whatever I pleased. Besides that, I never thanked them for a thing; quite the reverse, I blamed them for every little supposed “trauma” that I believed I had (until I stopped believing that traumas actually exist). Seen with clarity, I didn’t even deserve to live. If any parents were in their right mind, they would do us in immediately after birth if they had the bad luck to get pregnant and allow that state to evolve, ungrateful little wretches that we are!

Oh, but I was sooooo cute! Really! Drooling on my mother’s silk blouse, making tooth marks on the gold locket my father had just given her, being born with four toes on my left foot so that my parents had to spend a fortune making sure both my legs were more or less the same length when I grew up. Wetting my bed stubbornly until I was eleven… What was cute about me?images

And after the age of six, when I fell absolutely and uncontrollably in love with the idealized image of my father, I treated my mother like a second class citizen. I made it so obvious that I didn’t want her along on our walks that most of the time she would let me go alone with my father; later, I decided she was beautiful but stupid so I would be intelligent and win my father’s love away from her. Many a night while my mother went to bed, I sat up with him discussing important things that she wouldn’t understand. And I did my mother the favor of hating her because she wouldn’t let me have him. My poor mother! What had she done to deserve me as a daughter?

And my mother wasn’t the only one I couldn’t stand. I didn’t even go near my little brother, who was six years my junior, except to torture him and make him cry. I remember one day in a doctor’s office, I wouldn’t stop picking on him and my mother finally got so desperate she lost her temper and slapped me across the face. Of course, I never forgave her for that one time or understood her desperation. Arrogance was my middle name: I definitely deserved a different mother or perhaps no mother at all so I could have Daddy all imagesY6UE8290to myself. Now I know that if I deserved anything it was that slap and many more!

But somebody somewhere seems to have come up with the strange idea that we deserve everything good simply because we exist or that we don’t deserve anything because we haven’t lived right. Ha! And then when we get the good things, we can’t really enjoy them because we can’t figure out what we have done to deserve them. And, unless we judge them –which we do sometimes- neither can we figure out what someone else has done to deserve his or her “ghastly” life. Well the answer, at least in my case, is NOTHING.

That is why, that signal day, when I couldn’t understand why I was so miserable when I had done everything I knew to do to be happy, my thinking was exactly that: having done the work, I deserved the prize (happiness) and Life wasn’t doing its job! So Life finally sang it to me as it was: Brianda, Life doesn’t owe you anything.images75TMJUY2

Since then I live mentally (and sometimes physically) on my knees in gratitude for all I have received, never having once done anything to deserve it. Or as Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet: “For in truth it is life that gives unto life –while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.”

 

FALLING DOWN, GETTING UP

stone gratitudeTwo messages received during my birthday celebration have stuck in my mind: one said, “That’s right, be happy” and the other thanked me for reminding its author of the importance of gratitude.

I have often told the story of how I awoke to gratitude, so bear with me as I repeat it briefly.

After my divorce I couldn’t stop crying and I was so sick of feeling miserable when all I wanted was to be happy, that one day I fell to my knees and asked a God I didn’t believe in what it was exactly that was I doing wrong to feel so unhappy. Nothing happened, so I gotcrying up and began fixing my makeup. Then, I heard a voice –it wasn’t my voice and it wasn’t a thought- it was an unknown, somewhat masculine voice in the space I call my mind, and it said: Brianda, life doesn’t owe you anything. That was all, and it was enough. The realization that I had spent my whole life looking at what I didn’t have instead of being grateful for what I did have was immediate. My thought: ‘Life gave me life, all the rest is gravy’ sent me racing around my house like a madwoman thanking every object that I owned: stairs, roof, sofa, fridge, walls, rugs, tables, books… everything. When I finished, I was so happy I hardly fit in my own skin.

imagesSC3S7QKCSo, for me, the path to happiness is gratitude. Those five words (life doesn’t owe you anything) are the most important thing that has happened to me in my life, bar none.

This morning, as I walked to coffee with Salomé, I tripped over a cable lying across the path and went flying forward, falling with all my weight on my right arm and hip. A man rushed imagesIWIXEE3Aforward and, grabbing my arm, tried to pull me up. Why do some people think that pulling you right up is the best thing to do? Could it be that they are embarrassed for you lying there on the pavement? I was actually feeling very grateful for the solidity of the street that was allowing me to be very still for a moment and mentally check if there was anything broken. It felt so good to just not move and simply go from limb to limb mentally gathering myself together.

I noticed I had skinned my arm right below the wrist and it was bleeding. I showed the man (who was standing over me looking extremely worried) and said, “This is all that has happened, nothing broken … isn’t that good?” Actually, I didn’t mind at all being on the 20130718_173248ground (Salomé didn’t seem to mind that I was there either; she was just sitting on the side observing the whole scene) but the man seemed so upset about a woman fully dressed, with earrings and all, just lying there on the street that I thought I would try to ease his mind by making an effort to get up.

It was a very slow process, but every time he tried to help I discouraged him; something told me that it was important for my body to do this by itself, at its own pace. Slowly, I pulled myself together and up. The man looked less worried and actually smiled. Then he pointed to my arm that was bleeding a bit. I dug into my handbag (it had not even fallen off my shoulder) and, giving him a big smile, produced a kleenex with which to stem the bleeding (really not much at all). I thanked him for being so willing to help and walked the rest of the way to the Café for my morning coffee and a chat with my friends.pansement

Upon arriving, I showed Rose, the owner, my damaged arm and she produced a Band-Aid (in French, pansement, so I learned a new word too). All was well; I had my coffee and walked home again, this time without coffee-cups_00367940.jpgfalling. Ahh, so much to be grateful for!

Happy birthday to me, Feliz cumpleaños a mí… Joyeaux Anniversaire a moi, Feliz cumpleaños Happy birthday to ME!!!

What a birthday!!! Let’s do it again!!!  I am still savoring it. 13669571_1047155385369805_4993947718874278850_n

Not too long ago, birthdays were usually celebrated with family and maybe a few friends. Today there is INTERNET!!! Skype tells everyone on your Contact list that it is your birthday and invites them to help you celebrate by –what else? – giving a gift of Skype credit for phone calls. Facebook sends all the people you have ‘friended’ an email reminder that you are celebrating a birthday and then sends you a notice of those that congratulate you. Afterwards, Facebook tallies up the final score on your FB page so that everyone can see how popular you are or aren’t.

13879373_10207828128555189_7987522197833662195_nThanks to Whatsapp, saying Happy Birthday with many smiley faces and clapping hands is more than easy and can be done in less than a minute, so the phone just keeps whistling all day long to let me know another message has been received.

And to top it off, when I sat down at my computer and opened Google, lo-and-behold, my search page sported a series of birthday goodies. For a split second I thought it might just be a coincidence so I placed the cursor over the display and clicked: “Happy Birthday, Brianda my birthday (2)appeared on the screen. Now that is a first! I truly must exist if even Google thinks so! It makes me feel soooo connected! All day long, if I wanted to check to see if I was real, I could return to the Google page and get another birthday greeting.

Then, of course, there were the advertisements: websites that I have visited and registered at that sent me all sorts of invitations to give myself their products for my birthday. So kind of them to think I 13912591_1657263811267272_8661916408328722376_nmight need something on this special day.

All this attention helped me to understand the ease with which people become addicted to internet. If someone feels lonely, they can click on internet; if they are jilted by the love in turn, they can turn to internet; if there is a celebration they wish to share and nobody around seems interested they share it on internet… Then they get responses from people they can’t even remember or perhaps have never met, but who are there (apparently), loving them (apparently), thinking of them (for at least a few seconds) and the momentary feeling is of no longer being lonely or left out of the world. And, of course, they are there even if –like me- you don’t feel lonely or left out of anything.13921031_10210201599856043_5559419092677839889_n

It was absolutely fascinating and I spent most of my day saying thank you (in three languages) to so many people that sent me wishes and pictures, not only thanks to the Social Media on internet, but also because I had made no secret of the fact that it was going to be my birthday. Many years ago, I decided that waiting to see who might remember my birthday was an exercise in self-torture. Since then, I celebrate my own BIRTHDAY, after all it is MY day (and I could question that belief!!!), and I enjoy letting everybody know. I don’t expect them to remember: I remind them when I see them. It is kinder to them and to me.

petit foursMy group of morning coffee friends organizes birthdays for everyone. The plan is always the same: the birthday person brings the goodies (a cake, a pie, croissants or whatever) and pays for everyone’s coffee (everyone who is sitting at the birthday table, of course). In return, the celebrated one receives a lovely card filled with 10€ bills collected amongst all the celebrants and gets to spend it on a gift of her choice (only the girls get celebrated, but the boys get to put their money in too, heh-heh). This year, one of my friends had already taken my usual offering (lemon meringue pie) so I settled on petit-fours and they were a great success. And when I went to pay for the coffee, the owner –Rose- told me that no, she was paying as a birthday present for me. What a generous world!!!

And the fun kept on going. On the way home from coffee, a trio of my favorite people sung13892099_10207085290626583_4880492004903632853_n me Happy Birthday right in the center of Salies. When I got to my apartment, my kids and grandkids called or sent messages, and I received the most beautiful letters from a few friends thanking me for things that have given me so much pleasure to do that I certainly never expected any gratitude in return.

And the surprises continued! At lunchtime, I went to my regular restaurant and ordered exactly what I felt like eating: a hamburger. When I was finished, I checked my body to see if there was space for a birthday desert. There was a little so I considered a “Café Delice” which is coffee with all sorts of sweet tidbits. I could ask which ones were served cafe gourmandand only order it with one or two tiny sweets. I was considering this when the owner and chef, Melanie, came out carrying…. a Café Delice with four tiny replicas of my two favorite desserts on it: crumble with caramel ice cream and lemon meringue pie (her special recipe). She then proceeded to sing me Happy Birthday in French and everyone in the restaurant clapped. When I went to pay b daythe bill, there was no desert or coffee on it.

So, there it was: gifts left and right, more birthday wishes than I had ever gotten or that I would ever have imagined getting in my whole life and a very happy, happy birthday with Google to keep right on reminding me all day long!

Can’t wait to see what happens next year with the big

images037PTYU7

ALMOST THERE…

The unexamined life is not worth living.  Socrates.

Tomorrow, August 1, I will be 74 years old, at least according to my mother and my birth1942-2 Julian + Brianda are born21042014 (4) certificate. Personally, I can’t vouch for it. As far as I know, I was born this morning and my mind has this movie called “Brianda’s life” that it projects for me all the time. I just play along.

I was born in 1942 in New York City. My father came from Jerez de la Frontera, a wine producing town in Andalusia, Spain and my mother was a native New Yorker. I was their first child. My mother was 27 years old when I was born. Seeing that that number is a multiple of 9,  every eleven years, from the time I turned 3 and my mother turned 30, we would celebrate something that my father called, in Spanish, capicúa. I now know that capicúa (from the catalan, cap i cua meaning head and tail) means a number that is the same forwards or backwards, a palindromic number, and this is not so for the numerical phenomenon that we celebrated, but that is what we called it . So, when my mother was 41 I was 14, when she was 52 I was 25 and so forth. In other

words, when my mother turned 74 I was 47.HELEN IN CARRIAGE 1895 (2)

 

But the title of this post has nothing to do with my mother or my father, but rather with my grandmother, Helen Cook, nee Moeller. My grandmother was a very important person in my life; I spent a lot of time with her and I loved her deeply, almost like a second mother. When she was 71 my grandfather died and, although she had fought with him all their lives together (mostly about his drinking), she was lost without him and began HELEN 5 monthswandering back and forth between New York (where she lived) and Mexico (where we lived at that time). As it turned out, she came to Mexico for her 75th birthday.

I was 25, married and already had my two children and my mother had invited us to come and celebrate her birthday. When I arrived she was still in her bedroom (which had been my room) so I went up to congratulate her. As I hugged her and gave her a kiss, she sadly shook her head and said:

“I am seventy-five years old, and I have no idea what I have done with my life.”

Helen Moeller and Mary Smith (her grandmother) (2)She went on, certainly, but it was that phrase that struck me so hard it glued itself to my mind and has remianed all these years. I remember writing a poem that began something like: ‘To be 75 and not know where life has gone’. That was a long  time ago and has either been lost or thrown out (I have never been able to write poetry: no sense of rhythm), but to this day I can see her sitting on the edge of the bed shaking her head sadly and offering up this devastating summary of her time on Earth.

In that moment, I swore to myself that no matter what my life was like, I would do anything so as not to arrive at seventy-five not knowing where all those years had gone.

Soooo, I am Almost There! And my life… No: my two lives are very present in my mind. I know exactly what I have done with my lives, the one that ended at 50 and the other that began immediately after (which would make me actually only 24 years old tomorrow). I know the few books I have written, the mistakes (although I am conscious that mistakes don’t exist) I’ve made, the children I have borne, the grandchildren they have given me, 1919 Helen 26, Betty 317042014the marriages (2), the friends, the relations, the trips, the moves from house to house, and then from country to country… The whole movie is here, in my head as clear as it was while it happened day by day, minute by minute. I can see the path I have followed and the times I have not followed it (and that is not true: one is always following one’s path, it just doesn’t always go where we think it should). I can see the goals I sometimes set out, and those achieved or not. I can see the struggles and the conquests, the beds I’ve slept in, the boys I`ve kissed. I have kept diaries of my dreams, of my confusions, of the things I believed and then didn’t, of my spiritual paths.

1923  HELEN 30 YRS OLD17042014Perhaps, when I heard that phrase from my grandmother, I believed then that I had to make a life that was important to me and to others; I remember wanting be a famous writer, to have recognition and applause and leave a definite footprint on some field of endeavor. But life itself has shown me that that was not my path, that the applause I did receive for the few things I have done publically, did actually nothing to enhance my existence; quite the opposite. It inflated an ego that could do nothing but lead me down paths of self-destruction.1942-2 Julian + Brianda are born21042014 (10)

However, those very paths of self-destruction guided me to my real purpose: to know myself as best I could. Every single thing that might have seemed like a ‘mistake’ in my life, has been what has shown me where my true destiny lay: the search for self.

Scan0009I remember not long after my shock at my grandmother’s assessment of her life, I made a decision, a decision that I now can see has shaped everything I have done even though many times I have been unaware this. I decided I wanted to understand, to know what it was to be a human, to be a woman, to be alive and the only way I could know that was being my own laboratory rat, was observing my life, was becoming a conscious being living a conscious life in the deepest sense of the word.

This search has guided me through religion, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy in its many  varied forms and numerous self-help methods. It has led me through literature, through leadership, through marriage and maternity, through feminism and divorce. It has taken me from house to house, from country to 1969 Helencountry and from language to language. And every step of the way has been worth whatever I have known of pain and suffering, of joy and serenity, of turmoil and peace. I doubt I’ve done it My Way, but I certainly know today the way I have done it for all 74 years.

So now that I am almost there, almost arriving at my grandmother’s 75 years of age, … (I had to stop writing because I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude so all-powerful that I found myself sobbing; this poor body still gets very emotional when it feels gratitude …) and, as I listen to Edith Piaf sing Je ne regrette rien. (on internet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFtGfyruroU ), with tears streaming down my face, I thank my grandmother, with all my heart, for having alerted me to the WIN_20160731_155612 (2)dangers of living an unexamined life. She was, without a doubt, my second mother, because thanks to her example I have lived what would seem to be the opposite of her experience: a life I never could have imagined even in my wildest dreams.

IS WHAT I’M FEELING HUNGER?

Little by little my weight has been increasing so that I have gained back almost 6 kilos of the 14 I lost three years ago. The problem is not so much the weight, as the where. My face, for example, has not gained back anything, which is unfortunate as it fell in unattractive folds with the previous weight loss. On the other hand, the ‘tires’ I’ve developed around the middle have increased and keep increasing, it seems, by the minute. Every time I have gone on a trip, I naturally put on weight (around the middle) because I go with the thought that I am travelling so I get to eat special things and more than usual; every time I try to take that weight off after the trip, I lose most of it from my face (which results in the characteristic ‘turkey-neck’ my grandmother so bitterly complained about). It has been a losing uphill (up-weight) battle the whole way, so on Wednesday of this week I made a decision.

Considering that what is difficult for me is to eat little which would ensure a smaller stomach and, therefore, a loss of weight, I asked myself if it would be possible to eat nothing. I remembered reading in Byron Katie’s book that she had gone 28 days without food so I found it worth a try. Of course, this is fasting and I have done it before but never accompanied by The Work.

On Wednesday morning I had no breakfast (which I falsely believed wouldn’t be very hard because my breakfast usually consists of an apple –one that gets bigger every day-, about 10 or 12 almonds and a heaping teaspoonful of goji berries); I drank a cup of green tea and lots of water. It wasn’t long before I began to feel what I normally would have called ‘hunger’ in my abdomen. I concentrated on the sensation and asked: “This is hunger, is it true?” I waited not losing touch with the sensation. The answer was I could not know it was hunger if I did not call it “hunger”. In other words, it only seemed like hunger because in that instant I believed the thought that hunger is a real thing and that that sensation pertained to a state of hunger. My answer had to be “no”; I could not know that that specific sensation was “hunger”. So I went to question 3.

How do I react when I believe the thought that this feeling is hunger? Again, I closed my eyes. Immediately my mind began parading in front of me juicy red apples, round full almonds, a plate of granola topped with milk and bananas; the food, its shapes, its smells, its colors, even its flavors (sweet, salty, bitter) paraded across my mind. My salivary glands began to react (just like Pavlov’s dog when he heard the bell); I even believed that I could taste each dish thanks only to a movie in my head. I understood in that moment that, if I weren’t doing The Work, I would run to the kitchen for something to eat to satisfy what I by then called this “gnawing hunger” in my stomach. Then I moved to question 4.

Who would I be, right in this moment, without the thought that this feeling is hunger? Again I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sensation in my stomach. I saw it for what it was: a very slight sensation of… I could have called it anything: hunger, satiety, nervousness, pressure, a little tightness… any name would have done. The sensation wasn’t even unpleasant and if I turned my attention to something else (the gorgeous, sunny day outside my window, for example) it completely disappeared from my conscious registry. Did it even exist if I were not concentrating on it which means ‘believing’ it? The answer was “no” again. So to answer the question: I would be someone ready to get to work on my computer.

The turnarounds were easy: “This is not hunger.” More true; it doesn’t have a name it is a sensation in the body, not even a very strong one. If I didn’t know the word ‘hunger’ I wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what the sensation was, if I even felt it. “My thinking is hunger.” More true: it is my thoughts that are producing and needing food, not my body.

I continued working with my thoughts all during that first day and sipping water whenever I got the sensation in my gut that I had called hunger, noticing that sips of plain water seemed to be more than enough for my body. When the thought arose “I want to eat something”, I questioned it and was surprised by my reaction to the turnaround: “I don’t want to eat something”. Apart from the fact that I found it ever so more true, when I realized how true it was, a feeling of elation filled my body. I was so happy (and that would be just another name for a different physical sensation, but this one causes no side effects, like having to eat something, for example).

Then there is always the problem of what to do with all the time I usually dedicate to food: thinking about what I am going to eat, going to the store to buy something for a last minute whim, preparing and then actually consuming the meal requires an enormous amount of time that I had not been conscious of until I stopped doing it. I decided to keep myself busy so as not to be continually returning to the sensation in my stomach. I set about writing a couple of things –some only ideas, others completed- for my new blog in Spanish. Then I wrote some letters I owed, then I cleaned out my e-mail, then I played solitaire, then I took my dog for a long walk (Salomé kept nudging me with her nose, to tell me that it was time to go for lunch because she always gets tidbits; she still was believing the thought “I’m hungry” even though she had just finished her meal). When I came back I wrote some more; then I watched a film and discovered at the end that I had already watched it. It was a good movie so I didn’t mind the time spent, plus I seemed to have a surplus of it to use at my pleasure since I wasn’t spending so much of it putting things in my mouth.

In the evening, I prepared myself a very light supper: a small piece of chicken and some veggies and half an apple for desert. I ate it very slowly, enjoying each mouthful and was surprised to find, when I finished, that it had actually been enough. That night I slept beautifully, but that is nothing new: I usually sleep well.

The following day, Thursday, I did exactly the same and began noticing how much more I was getting done, how my concentration had improved (I wasn’t jumping up every few minutes for a snack) and even my energy level seemed to have risen. I didn’t feel at all weak or woozy or even hungry (as far as I could tell) and every time the sensation in my stomach came about, I would dedicate a few moments of concentration seeing if it was hunger. It never was. What did become obvious were the many times my mind would come up with, say, “almonds” or “apple” or “cheese and crackers” and expect me to interrupt my work and run to the kitchen. Each time I would simply notice the thought, ask if it was true that I wanted that in that moment and find that it was not. This allowed me to continue with my work and to feel very satisfied at the end of the day. Again, I ate a light supper.

Then last night I had a dream. It should have been a dream of loss and frustration, even anguish. My car slipped into the ocean and disappeared; my ex-husband told me I had never been the wife he had wanted and disappeared (just when I needed him to help recover my car) and the officer who I finally found to ask for aid, said it was not a good time for him to do anything. Surprisingly enough, the dream-me took everything in her stride without feeling loss or frustration or anguish. Strange as the dream was, what I found strangest was that I didn’t awake having to pull myself out of a series of tormented emotions. It would seem that even my dream-character had smoothed out with the practice of not eating.

Today I have eased up on the fasting and eaten a small apple and 7 almonds for breakfast and then not eaten again until 3:30 when I had a glass of ‘gazpacho’ -a cold Andalusian tomato soup- and again a light supper. I notice once more how full and absolutely satisfied I feel with supper, and how my mind keeps suggesting something more: a cracker, some cheese, an apple, some almonds… It never stops: image after image enters and leaves my mind and my salivary glands salivate, as I notice happily the feeling of fullness in my stomach… and yes, “fullness” it is just a thought too, but a thought that gives nothing but pleasure and doesn’t require me to do anything else but enjoy it.

And, by the way, my ‘tires’ are still here (of course) but this now has become something other than a way to lose weight; it has become an exercise in consciousness: much more fun!

GENERATION GAP

images berraThe other day I sent my son some quotes –some very funny ones- that I had just discovered were things said by Yogi Berra, the baseball player. My son wrote back: You mean Yogi Bear, don’t you? My son is in his 50s (and that sounds horrible because it puts me 20-some years ahead of him). I wrote back and explained that, no, I did not mean Yogi Bear. He had never heard of Yogi Berra.BEAR

Then today I was at my osteopath’s and I quoted Yogi Berra again. I got the same response: “Do you mean Yogi Bear”, and yes, my osteopath is in his 50s too. This of course dates me!

Now, I do not know if Yogi Bear said cute and memorable things (I’ll have to look him up on internet, and yes he is there because when I typed in “Yogi”, internet also suggested “Bear” as the follow-up. Guessing that the Internet was another youngster in its 50s, I looked it up: the Internet is 47 years old this year).

Yogi_Bear_Yogi_BearYogi Bear made his television debut in 1958; Yogi Berra had made his baseball debut in 1946, and by the time the cartoon character hit the screens, the baseball player was a household name. That would untitledexplain why people in my generation (born in the United States) would have heard of Yogi Berra. According to Wikipedia, Berra sued Bear (Hanna-Barbera Cartoons) for defamation, but Bear cried coincidence and Berra ended up dropping the suit. As Berra quipped afterwards: “Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true”, to which Bear would have answered: “I’m smarter than the av-er-age bear!” just so people would know who had won that argument.images9LZ8GY6X

bERRAAnother coincidence, as long as we are on that theme (that is where we are, isn’t it?): both Yogis, Berra and Bear, lived in Parks. Berra lived in baseball parks and Bear lived in ‘Jellystone Park’. So if one day in the 60s you happened to be in the USofA and you said offhand to someone: I’m going to the park to see Yogi, you’d have no idea what image ran through the other’s head!

yogibeardead-1100x600Just how far the Generation Gap can go was proven in September of last year when the Associated Press reported the death of Hanna-Barbera’s animated character, Yogi Bear who, they went on to comment, ‘was also a Hall-Of-Fame catcher with the Yankees’. The headline reads

NEW YORK YANKEE’S HALL OF FAME CATCHER

YOGI BEAR HAS DIED. HE WAS 90

It turns out that the report was a case of mistaken identity; everyone’s favorite pic-a-nic basket-stealing bear is alive and well. But Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, whose name allegedly inspired Yogi Bear (though Hanna-Barbera denied it), has indeed died.

yogiismsYogi Berra once said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else”, and I guess he knew what he was talking about because today everyone thinks he still lives in Jellystone Park and he didn’t even know he was playing there.

 

Berra won three American League Most Valuable Player awards and appeared in fourteen World Series as a player and another five as a manager or a coach. He won thirteen championship rings and holds several Series records. Berra met with numerous roadblocks on his journey to fame, but he overcame them with grit and dedication and went on to become one of the more beloved figures in American sports history. (Society for American Baseball Research)  http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/a4d43fa1

A FORK IN THE ROAD

Alice came to a fork in the road.

“Which road do I take?” she asked.

“Where do you want to go?”

responded the Cheshire Cat.

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the Cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

FORK 1

I have been standing at a ‘fork in the road’ for some time now: it is called “Writer’s Block” and, like Alice, my problem is that I do not know where I want to go. The Cheshire Cat would have said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter.” Maybe if he were around I would ask him if he knows which fork I should take to get to Inspiration.imagesSYJXP645

At my feet lies a thick blue folder; it contains the 1500+, A4 sized, single-lined typed pages of information on the male and female lines of my family that has taken me over three years to gather. On my blog there are three “chapters” published, maybe more (haven’t looked recently) under the working title of A Work of Fiction, from an anonymous quote which reads: “Every life writes its own work of fiction”. I have progressed from the early 1600’s to exactly 1624, which was the year Elizabeth Smyth, my 10th Great-grandmother, married Samuel Smith in Hadleigh, Suffolk, England. What followed that marriage and the birth of her first four children should have been terribly exciting and actually easy to write, but imagesIC6G1D80after a few false starts, I came to a dead stop and haven’t been able to write anything since. I seemed to have lost the way to Inspiration.

For a while, I dithered reviewing the material, picking up books I had ordered on Amazon that covered the Great Migration and the early days in New England and making lists of the passengers, their occupations, the villages they came from and so forth. Then I dallied getting involved in a TV series that covered all of 5 seasons with 6 discs and 4 chapters to each season. I sat in front of the computer and played Solitaire; I sat some more and played Bejewelled and sat some more and played Scrabble. I stopped dallying and cleaned a few closets, emptied and refilled drawers, I threw out everything I could find that seemed unused or un-useful and rearranged everything that had been blessed to remain. I washed the dishes any time they piled up in the sink, I made and ate popcorn several times, I watched a dozen movies.

I used Salomé (my little black and silver schnauzer) as an excuse to go for interminable walks. I scoured supermarket shelves and bought enough to fill up the spaces my cleaning-out had left. And still there was nothing but the damn fork in the road. I even FORK 2pretended for a while that a fork in the road is nothing but that: just a fork in the road. Still there was no going forward.

Everything came to a standstill. Even my blog has gone without a post for I know not how long. For a while I tried to convince myself that doing nothing was what I was supposed to do at my age: after all I had earned the right to do that, right? Right? Right?

if time can come to a standstillWell, I guess not, because in spite of the walks and in spite of doing exercise three times a week with my personal trainer, in spite of my morning coffee with friends and my progress in speaking French, in spite of reading through volumes 1 and 2 of the Century trilogy by Ken Follet (in hopes of finding inspiration)and beating the computer’s best player at Scrabble I was not happy.

I could feel the life energy wane and fade as the days passed in passing the time, and yet, the spirit of inspiration visited me not. I had enough material to fill a four Century decalogy and yet every time I sat at the computer, I would plug into a film or a game instead of opening a Word doc and beginning to type. It felt downright dead.

And then it happened: in one of my meanderings through the internet I came across a 220px-Yogi_Berra_1956quote from Yogi Berra. It said, in no uncertain terms: “IF YOU COME TO A FORK IN THE ROAD, TAKE IT,” and I was blown away. During the two days it has taken me to finish the series and decide to go cold-turkey on not starting another one; in the 48 hours it has taken me to limit my game-playing to early morning wake-up hours and just before bed finishing-the-day time, the phrase has repeated imagesLJRK1C4B10 zillion times in my brain: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it”. So that is exactly what I have done!

Hopefully, the quiet time I can now spend sitting in front of the computer, fork in hand, will turn into text some day soon.

BLACKOUT

imagesMD9V91XOTwenty-four years ago today I woke in the morning and my first thought was: ‘I’d rather be dead’. Then, I remembered what had happened the night before. This was the miracle. It was the very beginning of a new life; I didn’t know it then, but I had just been reborn.

imagesFMMAHHCRWhy do I say that the miracle was remembering the horror show of the previous evening? Because, given all my past experiences, I shouldn’t have: I had had a blackout.

I want to explain what this is for the benefit of all those lucky people who have never had one. A blackout happens –sometimes, not always- after a certain amount of alcohol has entered your system and, instead of getting drunk and passing out (which is the other possibility), the memory center in your mind shuts down completely -the movie being projected never reaches the screen- as if suddenly the lightsuntitled had gone out. But the lights do not go out, not for you or for anyone else; the movie continues being projected, but the memory screen in your mind does not receive the images. This may happen untitled3 (2)while you are sipping your umpteenth cocktail before dinner or just as the dessert is placed in front of you on the table. At that moment, whatever it is that, in your brain, receives the movie so it may project it back for you the following morning, shuts down, blacks out, so to say. But you continue functioning as if nothing had happened; you are not aware that the receiver of memory has shut down. You finish your dessert, you converse or fight with someone, you thank your hostess and leave as if you were fresh as a daisy and then you insist on driving home because it is clear that your husband has had too much to drink.

images      The following morning you remember that last instant, say, when they put the dessert in front of you and then nothing, absolutely nothing, until the moment you wake up; there is a black hole in your personal history which you will never fill, a stretch of time during which a chapter in the story of your life is omitted. You have no idea who you fought with, how you managed to drive home, if anyone noticed. There was not one morning after a blackout that I did not awake terrified of asking what I had done the previous evening. Sometimes it was terrible; sometimes –surprisingly enough- no one had even noticed that I was drunk. But even on those luckier occasions, the horror of having a black hole in one’s existence is no less. I had long since given up the hope of ever recovering even a second of that lost time.untitled5

By that morning of the 26th of March, twenty-four years ago, I had been having blackouts for a long time, and they were becoming more and more frequent. On the previous evening, my husband and I were at our own personal bar at home and I was mad at him, so I had decided to get blind drunk to show him (I am not even going to try to explain the alcoholic logic of that thought). The last thing I remember before the blackout was a slow, festering anger and this illogical decision. That should have been all until the following morning, but it wasn’t.

untitled6            Around 3a.m., for reasons I will never be able to explain, I suddenly snapped out of the blackout and saw myself. I was standing on one side of our king-size bed, glass in hand, vomiting insults expressed in the vilest language possible from my mouth. My husband stood on the other side of the bed and I will never forget the pained look of despair on his face as he reached for the gun he kept under the mattress. I ran from the room, locked myself in the bedroom that had been my son’s when he lived with us, and went to sleep.

That was the scene I remembered the following morning when my only thought was ‘I’d rather be dead’. That was the miracle I needed: to wake up and see myself, to see what I had become and the hopelessness of the life I was leading. I felt dead, hollow inside, beaten.

I dragged myself out of bed and called a friend who was a psychoanalyst. When she answered, I uttered the understatement of a lifetime: “I think I have a problem with my drinking”. She set up an appointment with a doctor specialized in addictions who, in turn, called the clinic where I ended up the following Monday the 30th of March. I thought I was dying; actually I was being born.imagesXX3Z5KNF

Today, 24 years later, I can look back on the simple miracle of a moment of memory that gave me new life.