And then there are the days after “the downs”. Things begin to look different. Not right away, but little by little. A first bird shows up at the feeder that has hung unattended out of the third story window. Eyes once more delight in the sudden rays of sun that shoot through clusters of grey clouds. Ears open to the sounds seldom heard in big cities: the crowing of a rooster, the church bells announcing the hour, the rush of the river carrying off the rains of the previous evening, the peck-peck-peck of a woodpecker lost in the tangle of trees.
The mind settles and once more becomes pliant and willing. More and more I notice that if I sit with what is instead of trying to change it, if I allow myself to go there even when “there” is “down”, something –a gift- will be waiting for me on the way out. It is time to harvest: “the downs” are fertile and what “crops up” must be gathered.
Three things come immediately to mind: 1) I was hoping other people would ‘make’ my life, 2) I forgot to give the mind a containment and 3) I allowed old prejudices to crop up around things that were new in my every day, three things that inevitably took me to the bottom.
The first was easy to sight. One thing was having a very kind friend here in Salies, and quite another to begin unconsciously to act as if that friend could fill every unoccupied moment of the day. As I sit contemplating how this unfortunate mindset moved into place, I realize that during the nine years of living alone in Madrid I had always managed to make myself a life without leaning on anyone else. Yet it is so easy to go back to past habits, especially when the ground under you is moving so fast and you have let go of so many things that lent apparent security. It is not hard to see how the mind grew narrow, blocked out the infinite possibilities and became dependent on only one. Now, as I sit meditating, the list comes up once more: French classes, writing, gym, swimming, writing, walking, calling the English ladies and inviting them over, writing… many things left undone so that when the one thing “to do” failed, the bottom fell out.
Then there was the fact that I had the memory of three summers, each spending a month here in Salies and not wanting to leave when the month was up. How was it possible that here I was not even at three weeks of having moved, with tons of things to do and I was thinking it all was a terrible mistake? The mind had lost its bearings. During the previous summers it had a definite date, a period of time within which it had been free to create and live because it was contained by a beginning and an end. The move to Salies, however, was open-ended so that any discomfort, any insecurity, any sadness or loneliness could be projected into an unending ‘forever’: the perfect setting for the mind to torture itself with the “nevers” and the “always”. This was easy to solve. I set a date, the 2nd of December of 2011, this was my year in Salies and on that date the decision would be taken as to what proceeded next. I actually heard a sigh of relief from the mind as its fearful projections hit the solid wall of 365 days and died a rapid brain death.
The third realization was more difficult to face simply because I actually had thought that I would never see it again. After all the work done with myself, after everything I had gone through to rid my life of any vestige of ‘machismo’, it had raised its ugly head once more. I was doing housework: what could be more depressing? There it was: the truth hard as nails: Washing dishes was not the same as giving workshops; sweeping couldn’t hold a match-flame to offering consultations to clients; and making a bed, folding clothes, hanging up the wash to dry was definitely not going to give me the power and prestige for which my overly masculine ego longed. The sardonic voice in my head gloated while pointing out how I had so idiotically gone from a prestigious money-earning practice that opened doorways to meeting interesting people, travelling and (not least) being admired, to being a simple household drudgery slave. My mannish ego was aching. It was a question of diminished prestige, lost approval and silenced applause. After having struggled all my life to stand out, I was now going to fade back into the patchwork quilt and end my days as an ordinary housewife to myself no less. Next thing I’d be watching soap operas and crocheting doilies for the table tops.
This last item was the most difficult. It had to do with acceptance and negotiation. On one hand, I had to face the fact that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing NOTHING else but keeping house so I looked honestly at my situation: with the reduction in space (one third the size of my Madrid apartment) and the help I had hired (5 hours a week), I wouldn’t have to do any more than the absolute minimum if that, and if even that was not acceptable, I could always hire more help. Also, as my other activities increased as I got more settled I would have less time to dawdle away on details that caught my unoccupied eye. With this information and a little stroking and soothing of the ego I won a stay of execution that will allow me enough time to finish getting settled into the new way of life.
But then again on the other hand, I had to admit that there are creative and soothing aspects to the chores of home-making that I enjoy. Every new piece of furniture, every creative decoration, every adequate acquisition lends a sense of pride, a feeling of job-well-done to my feminine side. As things fall into place, as the spaces begin to feel like home, as my hands busy cleaning, re-arranging, fixing, hanging, solving small problems there is a satisfying sense of nesting that gives me a base from which to reach out into the world. There is a feeling of joy.
I must admit that as I build this new nest detail by detail a sense of victory and achieving fills my soul. As I settle in, there is a joyful pride that begins to see this small apartment and the town in which it nestles as home.