I AM SAD

disastersSomeone might say “that’s normal” what with hurricanes, earthquakes, mass killings, threats of nuclear war, global warming, Donald Trump, Brexit and terrorist attacks going on all over. And, if the general goings on were not enough, there is personal stuff too that could make me sad.

For example, I have worked with a girl who suffers from something similar to schizophrenia for over 14 years now; I am very fond of her and have been gifted to have her trust. For a while it seemed as if she was getting better with The Work, but suddenly she began having crises and having to be interned. She had gone through all her family and acquaintances with violent paranoia, but somehow I had been spared. I felt her trust was a gift even though I no longer felt I was helping her. Then suddenly it was my turn. She had been obsessing over a man called David for some time and was desperate because he wouldn’t pay attention to her. Then one day, she accused me of having had sex with him. I told her I didn’t even know him, but she was absolutely convinced I was lying. From there, it progressed as mental illness does and the last time we spoke, she was screaming at me to get out from inside her and stop controlling her imagesWDEQQHBRlife. Her language and rage was such that I had to block her from calling me again. This certainly might have made me sad but, although I felt for her, I understood perfectly how her mind had finally taken over completely and attacked the last person she trusted. If there was a lesson for me in that, it was to contemplate the power of the mind, in case I had ever doubted it.

But that wasn’t what made me sad. The other thing happening in my life was with a friend here in France who had begun leaving negative comments on Facebook on everything I published, and sometimes on my friends’ comments on what I had published. After erasing her comments day after day, I finally got tired and decided to save her the bother of even reading me. The first time ever I de-friended someone on imagesUF6PPOI9Facebook. She obviously realized this the next time she tried to go into my page, and sent me an unpleasant message on my cell phone, so she got blocked there too. If I don’t like what someone writes, I stop reading them but I don’t send them sly remarks suggesting that they are mentally deficient or, at the very least, absolutely wrong. I have no hard feelings about this friend, I just wanted to save her the pain of reading what I write and also I prefer not to be perusing her comments.

So none of this was causing my sadness and sad is not normal for me. The only thing I could identify as niggling at my heart was the Cataluña-Spain situation, but that puzzled me too. Yes, I was reading both my Catalan-Spanish and my non-Catalan Spanish friends on Facebook publishing comments that every time got more angry and violent, but the Catalan situation is not something new to me. About 35 years ago, I met a girl in Mexico and when I asked where she was from she said “Barcelona”. “Oh, you’re Spanish!” I exclaimed, to which she replied dryly: “No, I am Catalan.” Later I would find out that, although my friend was very well read in French Literature, she had no idea whatsoever of Spanish Literature and was very surprised to discover how outstanding they were, especially those of the so-called “Siglos de Oro” (Golden Centuries). When I, myself, untitledmoved to Spain I realized how regionalist the country was, and how people tended to identify with their region more than with Spain as a whole. Cataluña was just the most. So, it could come as no surprise to me that what had been just under the surface for so long should suddenly and violently come to light. However, it seemed that this was the cause of my sadness.

Every time I thought of the conflict or read something on Facebook, I could feel the pressure in my chest and the desire to cry out: “Please, please stop it! Be sensible, negotiate, find a solution amenable to all.” I actually felt depressed, and the more I FIGHTthought about it, the more depressed I got. It wasn’t logical. The conflict has nothing to do with me and doesn’t actually affect me in any way. There was no logical reason why it should be affecting me at all. Why couldn’t I find it (on both sides) as absurd or amusing as the Donald’s goings on? But as incomprehensible as it was, I couldn’t let it go. Even if I stopped reading FB or watching the news, the thought of the conflict was constantly in my head, and the more it was, the sadder I got. Not only was I sad, but also the feeling of powerlessness was overwhelming: there was nothing I could do.

Last night I took Salomé (my little schnauzer) out for her evening walk. It was dark and the moon was full; the night was warm. Yet, I couldn’t get enthusiastic or let myself enjoy the walk. The truth was I felt like crying, so finally I let it come out. Tears came to my eyes and rolled down my cheeks and… suddenly the memory arose: I was about 7 years old or maybe more and my parents were fighting –something they did very often. They 1947-2 Minnie the cat and B's b'day02052014 (2)were yelling at each other, I have no idea what they were saying, but I felt every bit of fear, powerlessness and deep sorrow of that little girl. I knew in that instant what it was that Cataluña-vs-Spain was awakening in me, and the painful belief came to the surface: There is no solution and it will never end. I walked the rest of the way home hugging myself and letting that little girl cry her heart out. By the time I got home, the sadness had gone and I felt light and tired.

I didn’t have to question the belief: time had taken care of that for me. There was a solution, and it did end. I smile today as I remember sooo clearly the last two fights that threatened to frighten me. The next to last was one night when my parents were fighting in the kitchen. I was in the living room but I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard my father yell: “Then I want a divorce.” I snapped to attention. The terrible words I had always feared had been spoken. I waited for my mother to yell back but, suddenly, she answered in the calmest and most determined voice I had ever heard her use: “Don’t be ridiculous,” was all she said, and the fight was over. I think we had dinner together later.

The last fight I remember, I was 13 and was in my room in bed. The light was out and I was going to sleep. My parents were in their bedroom fighting as usual and I wasn’t really paying attention. By that time I had understood that their fights never came to anything worse than my father having to sleep on the couch. Then suddenly I heard a smack! and my mother yelled something and my father laughed; and then again: smack! mother yelling and father laughing. When it happened a third time I was convinced that my father was not only hitting my mother but laughing about it. I leapt out of bed, yanked open the door and ran out into the hall. There, I stopped dead in my tracks. My mother was taking every bit of my father’s clothing out of the closet and throwing it into the hallway (that was the smack!) and yelling that he should get out of her bedroom and my father, standing to one side of the bedroom door so as to be out of the line of fire, was cracking up with laughter. At that moment, I joined in his laughter until my mother calmed down and we both set about helping her put all the clothes back in the closet.

1951 -3 Brianda 9yrsI was never again awakened by a fight between my parents and I am sure they had many, but somehow the frightened seven-year-old has always been inside. The last time she awoke was during my daughter’s divorce when her soon to be ex would make angry threats against her. I remember lying curled on the bed sick with nausea the night before she was to move out, when suddenly the little seven year old girl shared another belief with me: My father is going to kill my mother and then kill himself, was what I heard in my head. In that moment, the nausea disappeared and I realized that there was nothing to fear in the present; it had all been a childhood fear that had lain in the pit of my stomach for all those years.

Now, somehow, the apparent impossibility of a peaceful solution in the Catalan-Spain struggle had awoken yet one more time that frightened, powerless little girl. But as I can now see her and be with her, she got so many hugs last night that this morning she was as happy as could be. All the sadness gone, and just astonished once more in the realization of the extremes produced when everyone is believing what they are thinking.

 

A PIECE’A CAKE

IMG-20150706-WA0001 (2)So, here is the situation. I have coffee every morning in the same café with a group of French friends and since the beginning (about 5 years ago) I let Salomé roam at her will around the café visiting all the tables and receiving caresses and small titbits. Most people seem to love her and ask me politely if they may give her a morsel of the cookie that comes with the coffee or a small piece of croissant. I say yes, always making the sign of a tiny bit with my fingers. Salomé seemed happy, I felt happy and I didn’t see any problem.

However… there is a member of the group I have coffee with –I’ll call him Joe- who began to give her the whole cookie or a really big share of croissant. I asked him not to do it, to just give her a little bit and he reacted as if this were some sort of a game of tease or torture me. What ensued was a struggle (on my part) to try and get this man to understand that so much sugar is not good for the dog and stop giving her what I consider to be too much. I have pleaded, begged, reasoned, lied (I told him she had been diagnosed with diabetes)… used about every trick in the book to get him to lay off, but for some reason –that obviously goes beyond my comprehension- he continues to think this is a fun game (him overfeeding my dog and me trying to get him not to do it). Finally, yesterday, after asking him twice not to give her too much, upon seeing him take a wad of the cake someone had brought to share with the coffee and give it to her, I blew up. I don’t remember having gotten that mad in a long time. I stood up, leashed Salomé and stormed out.

This morning, when I arrived at the café, he wasn’t there and I sat with my usual group. I mentioned having gotten mad and said that, as far as I was concerned, Joe was dead. I was hoping he wouldn’t come (he does not come every day and sometimes goes for a week or more without showing up), but as I took the last sip of my coffee he appeared at the door. I said ‘Uh, oh’ and stood up. One lady in the group (who is very fond of Joe) asked me not to go, said he wouldn’t feed Salomé, made all kind of conciliatory gestures on his part, but I was determined not to stay. Joe himself asked if I was leaving because he had arrived and I said ‘yes’; he then asked if I was at least going to say good morning and I said ‘no’. My tone of voice left no doubt as to my feelings towards him. I’d had it: I found the man despicable!

As I walked out, I had the thought: “If you do this you are going to lose”, but I couldn’t go back, so I began my morning walk around town with Salome. It wasn’t long before I began crying. I felt like a little girl and the memory was of exactly the same kind of teasing-torture from some boy or other in primary school. In spite of my tears, I was pleased with myself for having gotten furious. I realized it was ok, I mentally hugged myself and told myself that it was about time I had gotten mad and defended my right to be respected in that way; I understood how childish (and cruel) it was on his part to give a small dog so much sugar just to get a rise out of me. I was very kind to myself and it felt good. By the time I arrived back at my small apartment, I was calm and I knew what I had to do.20150319_103437

I took out a Judge-your-Neighbor worksheet (available on Byron Katie’s page http://www.thework.com) and began filling it out, allowing my mind to revisit the scene of the previous morning as I answered the questions.

The first question is “In this situation, who angers, confuses, saddens or disappoints you, and why?” I closed my eyes and replayed the scene at the table where he broke off a large morsel of the cake and gave it to Salomé right after I had politely begged him not to. That specific scene was the situation and I wrote: “I am furious at Joe because he doesn’t respect my wishes; because he uses Salomé to ‘tease’ me; because he is cruel to my dog; because he is harming my dog.”

By the time I had filled in the first question there was a disturbing realization niggling at the back of my mind, but I wasn’t ready for it yet, so I continued filling out the sheet putting what I wanted Joe to do in that situation; writing out longhand my advice to him in that situation and enumerating what I needed in that situation in order to be happy. Much of what appeared in number 1 reappeared only slightly changed in numbers 2, 3 and 4: I want him to stop feeding Salomé, he should be respectful, I need him to stop playing games with me, etc.

In number 5, where I am asked to make a list of what I thought of Joe in that situation, practically all I could think of was “he’s stupid, stupid, idiot, stupid” but I managed to complete the list with “infantile and disrespectful”.

Question number 6 on the worksheet asks me what it is about that situation that I never want to experiment again and I wrote: “I never again want to have to lose my temper in order to be respected.”

The niggling in the back of my mind was still there because my mind now plays the game of The Work and races ahead of me before I even start questioning. I Ignored the niggling, took a deep breath and decided to give myself some off time before questioning anything. Putting the worksheet aside, I read my e-mails and checked out a few things on Facebook before coming back to it. Then I was ready.

I re-read number 1 and chose the thought that I wanted to start working on: I am furious at Joe because he doesn’t respect my wishes. I removed “I am furious” because The Work does not question my emotions, and asked the first question: Joe doesn’t respect my wishes… Is that true? Closing my eyes and breathing deeply, I replayed the situation (scene) in my mind’s eye: Joe is breaking off a large morsel of cake and giving it to Salomé, laughing and casting a glance my way. My answer appeared. It was Yes, it was true. Once again, I closed my eyes and watched the scene: Joe doesn’t respect my wishes… Can I absolutely know that it’s true that he doesn’t respect my wishes? Again I waited for the answer to rise within me: it was Yes once more. There was no way that I could find Joe respecting my wishes in that scene. Yes was my honest answer.

20120711_103100I went to the 3rd question: How do I react, what happens, when I believe the thought that Joe doesn’t respect my wishes? I closed my eyes. I didn’t have to guess. It was all there right before me and my body –as if it were once again in that café watching that man give my dog a large piece of cake- reacted exactly the way it had reacted the morning before: stress, stomach tight, throat closed, shoulders pushed forward, jaw clenched. How did I react? I jumped up, I roughly leashed my dog, I called Joe stupide not quite loud enough for him to hear but feeling the pleasure of the insult in the pit of my stomach. I stormed out of the café. Did it end there? No. All the way home, I was replaying the scene, reliving the fury, submitting my body to the stress of extreme anger over and over again. Between yesterday and today I must have replayed the scene at least fifty times, probably more, each time reliving my anger. That is how I reacted when I believed the thought that Joe doesn’t respect my wishes. There could be no doubt in my mind as to how I reacted because every time I replayed the scene I re-reacted the same way: my body didn’t lie.

So then I went to question 4. I love question 4 but in this situation, found it difficult question to ask. Who would I be without the thought in that same situation? The only reason I asked myself question 4 today was because I wanted to know the truth; I have to live with myself 24 hours of every day and only the truth allows me to do that in peace and gratitude; only the truth allows me to be happy today. So I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and watched the scene play itself out exactly as it had, while removing all thoughts from my mind. Katie says ‘this is meditation’ and meditation is removing thoughts from the mind, so I looked; I allowed my eyes to see, to observe as Joe took the large piece of cake and gave it to Salomé while using my breath to remove the thought, to remove any story that might have appeared in my mind. Without any thought what I saw was a man giving a dog a piece of cake: it wasn’t personal. There was no ‘my dog’, no movie of ‘my dog dying from too much sugar’, no interpretation of ‘disrespect’, just a man giving a dog a piece of cake and my body had no reaction whatsoever. So who I was without the thought was a-woman-watching-a-man-give-a-dog-a-piece-of- cake. You might say it was ‘a piece’a cake!’Salomé en Portugal

It was in that moment that the niggling realization finally surfaced: what I understood was that Joe was giving my dog a piece of cake because she was asking for it. And she was asking for it because I had allowed her to roam freely around the café asking all and sundry for whatever it pleased them to give her. I didn’t like this truth, but I couldn’t deny it and once it had appeared I couldn’t ignore it either: I had seen my part in the ‘problem’, be it large or small, it was my part.

Does that make Joe right and me wrong? Absolutely not! Does it excuse or justify what is probably his stupid ploy to get attention? Of course not! But it does give me the solution, and a solution that had existed from the very beginning if I had not gone to war trying to control another human being’s actions, in other words: trying to control reality. I don’t like the solution, I would have preferred it to be his fault and to have succeeded in controlling him; I would have loved for him to bow to my wishes from the very beginning… but then I would not have had this opportunity to do The Work and learn about my stubbornness in wanting things to be the way I want them to be. I would not have had the opportunity to feel how absolutely rabid I can still get even after so many years of The Work. I would have missed the peace that comes with accepting reality as it is and not as I would have it.

There was still something to be done with this question before I moved on to the next: The Turnarounds. My thought, Joe doesn’t respect my wishes, turned around to:

  1. I don’t respect my wishes. Immediately I found examples. I am not seeing what others are giving Salomé and they could be feeding her just as much as Joe. It is my wish that Salomé not eat a lot of sugar, but she is probably getting too much already by going from table to table during the hour or more that I spend at the café. And I don’t respect my wish to continue with my coffee group by making war with one of its members. I am not respecting my wish to be a kind and respectful member of the community when I let my dog run free and beg from all the tables without asking if this might bother someone (ouch!) My wish is there be no war in the world, and I am making my own war in the café!
  2. I don’t respect Joe’s wishes. Right! He wants to give her the cake and I am not respecting that (this doesn’t mean I will, I just notice); he is trying to be funny and I am not respecting that by laughing (that doesn’t mean I will, I just notice); and yesterday and today I was downright rude (disrespectful) to the man… Oh boy and I notice how disrespectful I was in my mind insulting him up and down for the rest of the day! Oh, yes: it is obvious that Joe doesn’t want a woman telling him what to do in front of everyone else and I am not respecting that: I am not respecting him by making him choose between giving my dog cake and obeying my orders.
  3. Joe does respect my wishes. Hmmm, this was more difficult. Oh found one: Yes, perhaps he could believe he is respecting them because he can’t know what a small amount is in my eyes (this is a bit contrived, but I’ll let it serve). Ok: it is obvious that in letting Salomé roam free I want everyone to like and be kind to her and he is doing that in his way. One day I asked him if he would pay for my coffee and he did, respecting my wish. I always wish I could find more opportunities to do The Work (and free myself) and he respected that wish giving me the perfect opportunity.

The turnarounds are thoughts too so they are no more true or false than the original, but they can also be indications of how I can better lead a peaceful and happy life (which is all I want in the long run) so I will take them into consideration. This is a grand opportunity to take a good look at where I am not respecting myself and where I am not respecting others and to remedy that to the best of my ability. It is a chance to see where I am not respecting Salomé (her needs which are my responsibility) and remedy that. I do this for me, only for me; because it makes me feel good, it gives me peace, it makes me love myself and therefore others.

Thanks to doing only one thought on this worksheet, I have looked at the reasons that I let Salomé run loose in the café. They are the usual ones and don’t surprise me one bit: It gets me attention; I like being seen as the owner of such a cute little dog; love my dog, love me; I fool myself thinking that I am making her happy but if I had never let her loose she wouldn’t know the difference… In other words: I, I, me, me, I, me! Nothing whatever to do with Salomé’s happiness or wellbeing.

Someone might be asking themselves if all this apparent guilt and self-blaming is really good for me, but I have to say that I am not feeling in the least bit guilty because my actions were (and always will be) completely innocent. I just believed what I was thinking and as long as I believe what I think, I have to act in accordance with that. I am not to blame for believing what I believe in each moment. However, today I am responsible for doing The Work with thoughts that produce war or pain or suffering of any kind in me.

With The Work I see what it was that I was thinking that made me act in the way I did; so now I have the power to change what was causing the problem in the first place: my thought that another person should change to make me happy. There can be no self-blaming or guilt: quite the contrary, I am filled with love for myself for being so clear and so brave. I love my mind for participating in this game called The Work which I do only for my own freedom and happiness. And I love my body for being my faithful ally in this Work and showing me always when I go to war with reality by manifesting the feelings that wake me up.

And what do I do with the rest of the worksheet that I so carefully filled out? Well, I continue to go through each thought one by one. I can take my time. A worksheet can last me a day, a week, a month, a lifetime and reveal every single problem that I am causing in my life by believing my thoughts.

In the end, I can turn numbers 2, 3 and 4 around to myself and find the path to my own freedom and happiness. For instance, number 3 –the should’s– says: Joe should be respectful, he should understand that he is doing harm to Salomé, he should stop trying to play games with me, turns around to I should be respectful (of Joe, of Salomé, of the group I belong to, of the people in the café, etc); I should understand that I am doing harm to Salomé by letting her roam the café begging for goodies and overeating; I should stop playing games with me (believing I have no part in the problem), I should stop playing games with Joe (continuing the push-me-pull-you of tease/control) and I should stop playing games with myself (thinking I do something for Salomé’s pleasure that I am actually doing for myself, like letting her run free).

Eventually The Work is done: It’s a piece‘a cake!P1010581[1]

 

 

SHAMBALA WARRIORS

685402     “And you know that we are so interwoven in the web of life that even the smallest act,      with clear intention, has repercussions through the whole web beyond your capacity to see. But that’s a little cool; maybe even a little abstract. You need the heat of the compassion – the interplay between compassion and wisdom.” http://newstoryhub.com/2017/09/joanna-macy-on-the-relevance-of-the-shambhala-warrior-prophecy-for-our-time/

Someone shared the Shambala Warrior Prophecy on Facebook and this part of it seemed to me to hold the key to all the world’s problems. When I look at the size of the ‘problems’, they seem so large that they produce a feeling of helplessness. But I’ve taken to asking- “What can I do?”- and waiting for the answer. It always comes. It might be making a donation, or buying a product to help a foundation; sometimes it is changing a habit (not buying any more water in plastic bottles, for example), others responding to a community request like the day I went to help a local team pick up cigarette butts around town.

Occasionally, it might be picking up somebody else’s dog poo (I always carry extra poo imagesM841JRMDbags), or the empty bottles and plastic cups found on my walk to coffee and putting them in the bin. It is not much, but I think of ants: each one does its best, puts the effort it can into a small piece of the job and they build cities that marvel us (https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/ants-natures-secret-power/). Each bee brings but a small amount of honey back to the hive, but between them all they produce enough to feed the next generation of bees and a whole lot of human beings besides. And, if it is the imagesAA3REBX8bees you are worried about just type ‘how can I help save the bees’ into google and you’ll get a ton of ways (http://www.queenofthesun.com/get-involved/10-things-you-can-do-to-help-bees/).

So yes, I do believe that a small act has repercussions, that the beating of a butterfly’s wings on this side of the globe might cause a hurricane on the other side. I may never see these repercussions or even know of them, but today it fills my heart with hope to notice people doing small things to change what is ailing the planet or humanity and this shows me the way. I can’t imagesVGRXVOCIclean up the ocean; I can’t even clean up Salies. But I can pick up one plastic bottle and put it in the recycling bin; I can pick up a piece of carton and put it in the paper bin.

And as far as cleaning the ocean, it seems that a 16 year old boy –Boyan Slat- came up with an idea that is actually being tested and is going to go into operation sometime next year (https://www.theoceancleanup.com/updates/). And then there is 4Ocean (https://4ocean.com/) which to date has removed 92,892 pounds of garbage from the ocean; if you donate, they send you a bracelet made from the plastic that has been ocean projectremoved. So the next time you are on the beach, why not pick up some trash and put it in a bin? Every piece you pick up is one more piece that won’t be washed away by the next high tide. And that is just the oceans.

Maybe it is air quality you worry about. Well type that into Google and up come a dozen or more things every single one of us can do to help. Will it actually make a difference if I walk or bike when everyone else is going in cars? I don’t know, but it is the contribution I can make and it feels good to make it. Good for my health too (https://sk.lung.ca/protect-your-lungs/air-quality/10-easy-steps-cleaner-air).

If you type “Save the rainforest” into Google, tons of associations working on just that are available for you to donate. Maybe it isn’t the rainforest, but just planting a tree in your garden is a contribution to the air we breathe. There is I Give Trees (Rainforest ECO,rainforest Enterprises https://rainforesteco.wordpress.com/about-us/) started by Alana Lea who –through crowdfunding campaigns- manages to buy organic trees from small rural associations in Brazil and give them back to the people who live in the degraded rainforest. It just takes one person with an idea.

LORENAInterested in helping children, type it into Google and lavish in all the possibilities (https://www.children.org/make-a-difference). I have been sponsoring two children (Lorena and Milton) through ImageKhanimambo in Mozambique and get regular reports on their progress in school (https://fundacionkhanimambo.org/la-fundacion/) plus photos and information on the activities of the organization.

A drop in the bucket, but drop by drop, the bucket fills up. Every time I am confronted with information about the enormity of a problem we are facing, it is another opportunity to ask: “What can I do?” And there is always something. Yes, I would prefer to go off and work with Doctors without Borders, but I understand that, at my age, I would be more of a hindrance than a help, so I send money when I can, I pick up dog poo and plastic around Salies, I do The Work over Skype for free when someone can’t pay (it lessens suffering on this planet) and I serve in an association that provides food for families with low incomes in the Salies area. And, yes, I do it for me: it makes me feel good, it makes me feel useful; it feels like giving back something of all that life has given me. My friend, Carlos Nagel from Tucson, says it better: “Helping others is the rent I pay for my stay on Earth” appears at the bottom of every e-mail he sends.

But above all, I do my part by not adding more stress and worry to the world, torturing myself with problems I cannot solve. If the answer to my question (What can I do?) is “Nothing”. I figure it is not my problem and immediately stop worrying about it. If worrying solved anything the world would be paradise today.

arthSo if you are worried about the state of our planet, our oceans, our rainforests or just the world in general, do something. You might think that your contribution is so small it won’t make a difference, but remember the ants and carry your fragment of leaf for the rest of the human colony (https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/ants-natures-secret-power/).

 

COMING HOME

20160517_210338When I was an adolescent I discovered what is still called “reason” and, in my innocence, I made the mind all powerful; I enthroned Reason as my God and commanded it to lead me to understanding and wisdom and a good life. I came to worship the mind and the mind drove me crazy. I had believed the lie that I was the intellect, that I was that voice in my head that told me, incessantly, the story of my life. I had identified with the “I” the mind created and, henceforth, the I-mind -as cruel and selfish and frightened as a five year old child- had become my torture chamber.

I had moved into the mind as one moves into an enchanted palace with dreams of happiness and love, success and recognition only to find that behind the gold trimmings and beautiful hallways lay unimaginable torture chambers, dark and sadistic beyond my worst nightmares.

By the time I was 25 –married and a mother of two- I began longing for a way to shut the I-mind up, to medicate it, meditate it, drug it or drink it into silence. Nothing seemed to work. I strapped it into religión, drank it into oblivion, lay it on Freudian couches and picked it apart to see if finally it could find the way to happiness; I put it through Gestalt and Fischer-Hoffman and Family Constellations and uncountable therapies so as to change its hell-bent intention to torture me to death. But the I-mind couldn’t do that: it couldn’t be silent, it couldn’t be happy, for it truly believed that then its worst fears would surely come to pass. The I-mind had been born in fear and arrogance, wrapped in powerlessness and the desperate need for control, nourished in anguish and want and the sense of never-enough, contorted with nightmarish scenes: it was a horror movie. When it didn’t get what it wanted it attacked everything and everybody including itself; when it got what it wanted, it was terrified of losing it or found it lacking still. Enough was never enough.

It took me years and years and more years to realize that in the process of identifying with the mind, I had forgotten the body; I had pushed it aside, denied its feelings, scared it to death with my thoughts, tortured it with my supposed needs, satiated it beyond belief with my insatiable wants. I had judged it, stuffed it, dieted it, exercised it, operated on it, dressed it, undressed it, but I had never really seen it, sat with it, listened to it or  held its hand. I had never inhabited it.

Yet as the I-mind raced painfully towards the past lamenting what had happened or missing what had gone before, and projected itself fearfully towards a terrifying or hopeful future, the body sat in the present and waited for me to come home. When I finally did, I found that the body is truthful: it cannot lie. It is constant: it cannot leave me. It is obedient: it has no opinion, it doesn’t care. It will live or die, whatever, without complaint; it doesn’t worry about anything. The body just is, as it waits for us to come home, always present, never judging, patient beyond all measure as it inhabits the IS.

Today I know that both are gifts and that I am neither. But I had misused the gift of the mind and abused the gift of the body forgetting that I was but their joyous receiver.

Today I am home where I want to be, living the privilege of this incredible body that has waited so long for me to descend from the frightening nether regions, from the flights and fights of the empowered I-mind and live in it. It is a brave body –this one I have been given- and a sturdy one that stood up under so many onslaughts of thought-produced horror. Its heart fills me with love as mind settles in the present and observes, becoming a loving instrument too, that serves me when -for instance- I want to write about my beloved body.

This morning as I walked home after coffee I felt my body wholly and, realizing that nothing hurt, took an extra turn around the block rejoicing in the pleasure of an effortless stroll. Neither a twinge in the ankle that is badly formed nor an ache in the hip that sometimes acts up interrupted my stream of pleasure. My body felt so light it seemed to glide over the earth and I walked in gratitude for its patience, its fortitude, its faithfulness; for the joy it gives me to finally sink down and feel it living and vibrant and innocent.20160625_135831

THE DELICATE FIBER OF LIFE

HURICANE IRMABetween last night and this morning I was shown how delicate, fragile and precious the web of life actually is. Irma (the hurricane) is hurdling towards Florida where two of my grandsons live, one with his girlfriend and the other in college (they are in Tampa now in the house of a friend which is supposed to be very safe). Mexico City, where my daughter and two more grandchildren live, was shaken out of its sleep by an 8.4 earthquake (oscillatory) in the middle of the night (the 1985 earthquake was 8.1 and claimed over 10,000 lives). My son and his wife (in Los Angeles where wildfires raged a few days ago) had to rush their dog to the hospital yesterday to have melon-sized tumor removed and waited most of the night to see if 1) she survived the imagenes NIKON (July 2011-Sept 2011) 014operation and, 2) if there were metastasis in which case the dog would not be woken up from the anesthetic (fortunately the big black labradoodle survived the operation and showed no metastasis). And last night I lost Salomé in the dark. I’ll start with that.

It was 8:30 and it had just gotten dark… I mean dark. The full moon would not come up for a couple of hours and the blackness was left to a couple of feeble stars that managed to shine in spite of the clouds. We left the house and –as usual- I allowed Salomé to pick our evening route. She decided on the ‘around the corner and out towards the vineyards’ way, so I took her leash off. There are very few cars on that route at night and only one street to cross so she goes on her own.

We’d had a very nice walk –lots of smells for Salomé; a gentle breeze and peaceful quiet for me-, had turned around to come back home and were just arriving at the far end of the vineyards when Salomé decided to go into the 2-3 meter wide grassy patch between the grape vines and the corn field. As she often does this and then catches up with me, I continued walking slowly. When I had almost gotten to where the vineyard ends (about 20-30 meters on) I turned to look for Salomé and saw that she was just coming round the last row of grape vines and heading in my direction along the grassy strip between the vines and the road. I continued walking slowly waiting for her to catch up. About a minute or two later I turned again to see how she was progressing and she wasn’t there. My gaze swept the whole grassy strip up to where I was standing and the street down to where we had separated and the sidewalk on the other side of the road. Nothing. The area was well lit, so it was obvious she wasn’t there. I began to walk back calling her name, something that generally gets zero response from her but that I hoped might work this one time. Nothing. I got all the way back to where our ways had separated. Nothing. I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwalked into the grassy space a bit turning on my phone flashlight in order to see between the rows of vines. Nothing. I knew she wouldn’t go into the corn field because the stalks are too close together, so I walked back up the whole length of the vineyard. Nothing. Thinking that perhaps she had crossed over and gone around the other way which sometimes we take to go home, I walked back and around. Nothing. I repeated these now desperate steps another three times, calling all the while with a voice every moment more pleading and desperate. Nothing.

The moon was coming up, but it wasn’t the lack of light that was causing the problem; the problem was that Salomé was nowhere to be found. ‘Maybe I missed her when I was going around the other way and she is waiting for me in front of the house’ I thought, trying to give myself hope. I walked all the way back to our building. Nothing. I did the whole tour twice more and then scoured one of the streets leading into town that we take sometimes at night when I need to put the extra steps on my phone’s Health App. Nothing. I was beginning to feel panicky: my little dog doesn’t just disappear into thin air! But she had.oznor

I was becoming quite tired from walking as quickly as possible back and forth, and there was a hollow feeling in my chest and stomach. How could she have just vanished? By this time I had been searching for over an hour. I went back to the house and took out the car. Now I drove, slowly, going down the wrong way on the one way street we had been on, searching both sides and the middle. Nothing. She was gone. My mind kept saying over and over: ‘How could she have just disappeared like that?’

I kept telling myself that everyone in town and nearby areas knew her and would definitely bring her back if they found her, but the thought of little Salomé spending the night alone wandering around and me spending the night alone looking for her with all the terrible images my mind could produce weighed like lead in my chest. It was getting near 11 o’clock. I decided to do another round with the car.

dic 31 2011 027Just as I was entering the one way stretch of road the wrong way again, I saw her. She was trotting rather rapidly (she probably noticed I was nowhere to be seen) in the direction of home so it seemed that she knew where she was even if I didn’t and it was a relief to see that she would have gone to the front gate of the building where we live if I hadn’t found her.

I stopped the car, opened the door and said her name as if we had just spent months apart. She came towards me as I unbuckled the seat belt and I just scooped her up into my arms. I don’t know if she was trembling or it was just my own trembling but in order to not add insult to injury, I imagined that she had been just as frightened as I had been and held her tightly for the next ten minutes.P1010581[1]

When we got home, she went straight to the cupboard asking for a treat. I couldn’t help myself rewarding her despite my hour and a half of emotional torture, so she got her treat. On the positive side, however, thanks to her I racked up over 14,000 steps on my health App (around 9 kms) for the day instead of my usual 9-10,000. Salomé went to bed immediately and fell fast asleep; I took a while to finally put the dread of loss to rest and find my own path to dream world.

And all the rest… well, that was this morning. I awoke to find 42 messages on the family WhatsApp group. My daughter-in-law wrote about Zuka’s tumor and operation; pictures and lamentations went back and forth until Zuka came successfully out of surgery. Everyone relieved. Then my eldest grandson announced that he and his brother (both actually living on the Atlantic coast of Florida) were in Tampa to wait out the storm; again messages back and forth urging them to stay safe and sending lots of love. Then my grandson in Mexico informing everyone that they had just had an earthquake and everyone was fine, although he had been very scared. Apparently it was oscillatory (side to side) and not trepidatory (up and down) which was why damage in Mexico City was at a minimum. I found my daughter still awake and we messaged back and forth a couple of times more (it was past 2am in Mexico City and she gets up at 5) and then I sent her a goodnight kiss.

oznorSooo, now it is past midday and I am wondering at life which can produce so many near disasters in one night without anything really serious happening. For the moment, my world seems to have survived lost dogs, dogs with tumors, hurricanes and earthquakes and –as the song goes- the sun is shining/ oh happy day/ no skies are cloudy/ and no skies are grey/ oh happy day/ oh, oh, oh, oh lucky me.

STUFF

Salies has been invaded by stuff. It is the annual ‘vide grenier’ which literally means ‘empty the attic’ and would be the French equivalent of a garage sale except here it has become professional. Although some of the participants are individuals or families wanting to get rid of all that stuff that has accumulated over the years, most are merchants who have bought up stuff (from people who have moved, downsized, died, or simply chucked everything out) and now go from town to town offering it during the one or various vide greniers of the year.cof

Some of the professionals are eclectic, laying out everything from doll clothes to old jewelry to electric toasters, from used boots to vintage postcards; others have specialized and fill a table with DVDs or toys or army supplies or porcelain and cristal or old cameras.oznor

Amidst the old stuff there are sometimes antiques; other things have never been used and come from a factory that closed down or a store that went bankrupt, but most wear the mark of time. As I wander between the stalls, the faint odor of clothes kept too long in an attic or a closet or a garage comes to me and the multicolored infinite variety of things fills my vision. I have no need for anything but I do enjoy drifting along between the myriad tables glancing absently here and there while in my mind the word stuff repeats itself endlessly. oznorcof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I needed something, here would be the place to buy it instead of the supermarket or the mall, and then I could feel good recycling all that enormous amount of stuff we humans have produced and getting something at a dirt cheap price too. But I don’t need anything.

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A flowered teacup attracts my attention and I pick it up for a moment. The lady behind the table looks at me and waits. I put it back down having glimpsed –in my mind’s eye- the line of cups hanging from the beam in my kitchen. More stuff. Maybe I’ll take a few of my cups to the déchetterie (waste disposal site) where they will be quickly snapped up by dealers of stuff and perhaps appear at the next vide grenier.cof

Getting rid of all my stuff was what moving to Salies allowed me to do. I sold or gave away everything except a couple of unimportant pieces of furniture (a miniature chest of drawers that served as a medicine cabinet, a small arm chair), a selection of books from my library, one set of dishes and most of my clothes.oznor

The feeling of exhilaration I experienced and the joy of moving into an uncluttered new home has long disappeared under the onslaught of new stuff acquired over the years. Now papers spill over onto cluttered surfaces like mushrooms in a crowded forest; books creep out from bookshelves onto tables and chairs; useless decorations gather on table tops and shelves collecting dust; the closets are full to bursting with clothes, overcoats, tools, towels and every imaginable object that has drifted into my existence without me even realizing.cof cof

Do I really need eleven flower vases? What in the world am I going to do with over thirty ball-point pens garnered from different hotels or events? And the bouquet of different colored magic markers is seldom touched. The seven frying pans hanging from the beam in the kitchen might give the false impression that I cook a lot which couldn’t be farther from the truth. And plants invade every nook and cranny because I can’t resist replanting every voluntary sprout.cof

What do I have seven pairs of scissors for if not just to avoid going from one room to another (and my apartment is tiny) when I need one, or having to look for the pair I just used yesterday and didn’t put back in its place. I have a whole set of new knives I bought because I loved their red handles. They were carefully put away in the closet when I discovered that the knives in my old set (a present from my husband during a trip to New York 30 years ago) cut better and were lighter.cof

There is an apron hanging in the kitchen that I bought because I liked the design and I have never used (great! I will give it to my neighbor on her birthday next week because she cooks every day). I have two pair of binoculars gathering dust, one belonged to my father and another I bought for a trip to the Galapagos and haven’t even looked at since. I have two magnifying glasses and two magnifying mirrors to compensate for failing eyesight which in itself has left a collection of 7 pairs of eyeglasses in a drawer (besides the one for emergencies in every room).cof

Everything has a ‘what if’ or a ‘for when’ or an ‘in case’ attached to its continued existence in my house. Even if I never bought another item in my life, I wouldn’t use all I have. Stuff, it collects like cancer cells occupying space.cof

As I finish my rounds of the vide grenier without –thank goodness- buying anything, I am possessed with an overpowering desire to throw out or give away everything and start all over again. Unfortunately, I know that by the time I get home I will have found other, more pressing matters to dedicate my time to, such as writing this blog post. cof

So stuff collects and I try to ignore it, and the vide grenier will give way to the Marché d’antand where more merchants will sell more stuff, this time made in the old fashioned way our grandparents or perhaps great grandparents knew, back in the days before stuff took over our lives.

AFTER THE RAIN

NUBES Y DIENTES DE LEÓN (AMARGÓN) 004 (2)Yesterday and last night Nature put on quite a show. There were high alert storm warnings for this area and around 8:30, when I took Salomé out for a walk, we had a thunderstorm, and I mean a thunderstorm, such as I had never experienced before: no rain, no wind, no lightening; just one peal of thunder after another as if all the thunder in the world had gathered for an evening melee. It was a crazy drum festival, a heavenly jazz session with only percussion instruments. Each peal of thunder was different from the previous one; some seemed to compete in intensity, others in length. I thought Salomé would be frightened but she wasn’t and we had a fascinating walk to the rumble-rumble of the clouded sky. Sometimes one clash of thunder would seem to fade into the following one as if they played together; other times there would be a brief space in between drumrolls

Then lightening had its turn around 3 a.m. when the skies lit up like a faulty Christmas connection with one bolt after another crackling loudly across the darkness. It was an awesome spectacle and this time Salomé did get frightened and readily climbed into bed with me, hiding her head under the sheet. With the lightening (the thunder, which images2HA81KGGseemed to have spent itself earlier, was absent) came the rain, torrents of water and high winds lashing out against the window which I had only just closed. It was a formidable exhibit of the forces of Nature and I watched, fascinated, as the flashes lit up the night sky again and again for over 15 minutes. Then it was over and Salomé and I curled up for a good night’s sleep.

This morning when I awoke there was sunshine pouring through my living-room window that opens to the East. For a moment, I thought that yesterday’s fracas had spent Mother Nature’s fury and we would have sun all day, but I was wrong. To the West menacing black clouds gathered and crept forward towards Salies. I picked up my umbrella and stuffed Salomé’s little red raincoat into my bag before setting off for the morning coffee.oznor

Sure enough, no sooner had we settled down at our table under the awning of Rose’s Café, than the clouds opened up. It was a good rain, not torrential and without wind, thunder or lightening, but steady small drops that promised to replenish the water table gently. It lasted the better part of an hour and then the blue opened up again over Salies and it wasn’t long before the sun came through.

I was delighted. This meant I could do my morning walk with Salomé and enjoy the cofbeauty of my surroundings after the rain. The air was cool but the sun on my back was warm as we set off. And I was right: everything sparkled and the atmosphere had been washed clean; every minuscule drop of water on every leaf and stem gleamed with solar energy suspended in the briefness of its existence. Pools of water on the pavement oznorreflected what lay above turning the ground into a spaceless sky, an infinite chasm reflecting the world downwards. I could have sworn the flowers were singing with their whispered voices as we strolled by.

Everyone seemed happy and we all wished each other a very good day as we passed. I hung my umbrella on a fence in order to photograph another occupant of the sidewalk, one that often –or perhaps always- comes out after the rain, and then forgot my absolutely useless umbrella until almost arriving home; I had to turn back and recover it which made my walk a bit longer, and definitely put the tired Salomé out of sorts. oznor

I was almost home, smiling and singing softly to myself, when a couple of fighter jets streaked across the sky above, out-racing their thunderous roar and leaving it to trail menacingly behind. I froze in my tracks and watched as the black metal birds disappeared into a distant cloud. It made me wonder…imagesRB2ZTKICEpilogue: Today I realized that I had forgotten to add the picture of the little creature that comes out after the rain, so here it is (above).

MIDLIFE CRISES

Jeff Foster, in one of his posts said “You can’t make others happy, but you can inspire others by living your own happiness more fully. (…) Sometimes you have to be more selfish to be truly selfless; so selfish that you devote your life to burning as brightly as possible, inspiring others rather than trying to fix them.”

I copy his words here because they are mine and he has said it so well. When I took off –just as my children were having their children- to live my own life I was consciously being selfish; I consciously took the decision to reach out for my own happiness rather than staying around and being a grandmother to their children. I did it out of love, love for me and love for them. Somewhere along the line I had learned that if I sacrificed myself for them, I would hand them the bill later on.  My guiding thought was: ‘If I want my children to be happy, I have to show them the way; this is the greatest gift I can give them and the most precious inheritance.’ I truly believed that then and have continued to believe it till now. Life has yet to show me I was wrong.

Today my two children are together, in Mexico (my son has flown down from Los Angeles), battling for the inheritance their father left them, which would have given them a nice amount of money if things had gone differently. Things didn’t, and what ensued is much too complicated to explain. Suffice to say it has caused them a great amount of anger, frustration and –in my son’s case- a large amount of money in lawyer’s fees. I do not know what the outcome of their struggle will be; they don’t either. But I sat here this morning contemplating the possibility of sending a wish to the Universe for things to go well, and then I realized I couldn’t possibly know what would be the best for them, for my children, so I simply turned it over knowing the Universe will give them what is best for them… but only always. Reality is kinder than my thoughts about reality –as Byron Katie says- but only 100% of the time.oznor

I don’t know why my two children are going through this at the midpoint in their lives (both are in their 50’s) but I do know that only good can come of it. I was 50 -well, 49 about to turn 50- when my life did a complete flip-flop that set me on the path I call “my second life”, so different from my first that the memories of that time seem to belong to a completely different person. In that first life, I searched for love everywhere wanting so desperately to be happy. Then that life died and, although I survived physically, everything I had believed I knew in those first 50 years was washed clean and I had to start learning all over again from scratch.

A few of the first things I learned were put very simply in Twelve Step meetings which became my new birthing family: “You can’t give anybody that which you cannot give yourself”; “God’s will is that you be you; if He had wanted you to be Mother Theresa of Calcutta, he would have made you Mother Theresa of Calcutta;” “you cannot control anything out there and when you try to your life becomes ungovernable.”

Recently, someone sent me a Ted Talk by Anita Moorjani where she explains her near-death experience (NDE). After listening to her, I bought her book on Kindle. Her story states over and over again in every way possible, that it was only one realization that made her come back to life and that cured her cancer: that she was here to love herself above all else. This sounds selfish and self-centered unless you put it the way Byron Katie does: “I am 100% responsible for myself”. That means I am responsible for taking care of myself, but also that I am responsible for loving myself: there is no one else that can do that; it is my job.

It took me a long time; I had no idea what it meant to love myself. Having spent my whole life thinking that I knew what love was and that I had felt it for others, I came to realize that what I had thought was love (physical attraction, passion, neediness, actually selfishness like in ‘be mine only’ ‘give me’ ‘love me’ ‘don’t leave me’, etc), all those confusing and sometimes painful emotions, had nothing to do with love. Eventually, I would understand that love is actually Being Present, Paying Attention and Responding: in other words, being Responsible.

oznorMy first lesson was learning to listen to me, something I (as a Leo) had always wanted everyone else to do. This was not an easy chore because –although I had demanded many things of others- I had never actually tried to listen to myself, so it took time and patience. I had to sit quietly, I had to ask myself and then wait. “Brianda, what do you want?” My first discovery was that I had no idea what I really wanted. It was like being with a small child who hasn’t a clue of what choices she has and therefore cannot answer the question. I had to be patient with myself and I had to try things out to see if they fit.

I would ask myself: Do I want to go for a walk now or would I feel happier reading a book? Then I would wait. I would check inside, first imagining walking and then imagining reading a book and waiting for my body to tell me which activity it actually would enjoy more in that moment. This was new. I had never really connected to my body before, much less known I could trust it to inform me of my needs, likes and dislikes. I had lived from the neck up, inhabiting a mind which became every day more obsessed, addicted and crazy. But my body –I would discover- knew exactly what it liked and didn’t like, what food it craved, what movies it wanted to see or not see, what people it wanted to be with.

For instance, one day the memory of how, as a young girl, I had loved coloring with crayons came to me and I felt my body respond with what seemed like excitement. My mind immediately said ‘but Brianda, you are a writer, an intellectual: what are you going to do with a coloring book and crayons at your age?’ But my body didn’t seem to give a damn about my mind’s opinion; it was already visualizing an enormous box of crayons, one with 48 different colors (there had only been boxes with 6 and later 12 colors when I was a girl), so I got myself up, went to the store and bought myself a big box of crayons and several coloring books.

And so it went. If someone invited me to their house or a party, was I really interested in going? I had to learn how to say ‘no’.  Did I want to see that movie, go to that restaurant or eat that food? Was I more interested in sitting around the table with my family on Sundays or going to an AA meeting (one Sunday, when I excused myself to go to the meeting, my son said “Mom, you’re getting awfully selfish,” to which I responded: “Yes, isn’t that wonderful!”)?

cofAnd listening to myself was only the beginning. Liking myself came second, and learning that it was all right if not everyone liked me as long as I liked myself. I came to see that my need to be liked by others was actually the long road to trying to like myself (the hidden belief being that if everyone liked me I would finally be able to feel I was ok). I decided to take the short cut and start with me. I dragged age-old photos of myself from the drawer where they were hidden (I hadn’t included them in the family albums because I didn’t like the way I looked) and pasted them all around my dressing room. Under each photo I stuck a piece of paper where I had written a quality that I could admire in myself (honesty, loyalty, generosity, etc.) and every morning while I was dressing I would look at the pictures and allow my body to feel acceptance and even love. It wasn’t long before I realized how beautiful I had actually been when I was younger, and started to feel sorry that I hadn’t known and appreciated it at the time. From there it was easy to see that when I reached 80 I would look back on my 50-year-old self as gorgeous and feel sorry for having missed it. I decided then and there not to miss another moment of my own beauty, notwithstanding extra pounds, wrinkles or bad-hair days. I was helped in this task by a very special teacher: my little dog. Supposing I loved, took care of and caressed my own body just the way I do hers? I asked myself: Am I going to stop loving her if she gets old, or goes blind, grows fat or loses her hair? If not, then why would I not treat my own body with the same love and care for as long as it lasts? Today, I mentally get on my knees to this precious body that survived my almost killing it with cigarettes, alcohol and misery, and has now carried me well into my 70’s as healthy and sturdy as ever.

With what are known as “negative” emotions, it was the same. Whenever I felt embarrassed or inadequate, sad or frustrated, lonely or bored instead of looking to others or the circumstances to find a culprit, I would stop and go inside. What I discovered was that the feeling had nothing to do with others or the situation and everything to do with my own judgment of myself and my circumstances. So I would ask myself what I was doing or believing that was causing the discomfort. I often discovered that what was making me uncomfortable was that I wanted something from somebody else (or from life itself) and that was making me unhappy with what I had (or was) at the moment. If I was being critical or judgmental of someone else or of my own life, that oznorcriticism or judgment made me dislike myself or my circumstances.

Little by little I began to realize that nothing I did or felt had anything to do with anyone or anything else: it was all me. Of course, some years later when I discovered The Work of Byron Katie and began to use the questions to undo my painful beliefs, it all became clear and much easier, and I at long last experienced real freedom and real joy as a way of being in the world.

So back to the beginning: Today my children are facing their own midlife battles, one of them being the fight to claim their father’s inheritance. I have no idea of what the outcome will be or what effect it will have on their futures. I only know I trust the Universe and am convinced that there are no mistakes… ever. And I know that if there were any way I could give them that trust, I gladly would, but it is something that each of us has to learn for ourselves by walking the walk. And for me, this learning is what life is about.WIN_20160731_155612 (3)

ONE DAY TO 75

davI know I am repeating myself but for me this is a milestone for the reasons I have already mentioned more than once (https://writingalife.com/?s=Almost+there) and will not delve into again here. Already I see that tomorrow is going to be a busy day and also a day where I will probably eat more than normal as our custom is to take a cake to share at coffee and later I have been invited to go out to lunch with my dear friends Annie and Richard. So after coffee this morning I decided to go for a longer walk than usual. I set off on the daily path but then veered to the left and up towards what is known as the “Allée Vert” which means ‘green path’. It is a lovely walkway formed using the old railroad tracks through a wooded part of town and it promises greenery, good smooth walking surface and shade. cofSalomé seemed delighted when we didn’t turn towards home after strolling through the public gardens in front of the Thermes.

I knew how long the Allee Vert was and wondered if my left ankle was going to hold out. Once started it would be just as long to backtrack as to go forward. I decided to take the chance and give myself the gift of taking a really long stroll. I was certainly not sorry and the ankle did hold out perfectly although the walk turned out being a little over 4 kms, more than double what I usually walk in a morning. The day had morning clouds which kept the temperature cool and the shade of the trees filtered what little sun managed to seep through. I found myself going along at a brisk pace and feeling extraordinarily good about it. I usually cut my walk short past the bridge where there is a staircase that goes up to the road above which allows me to go home, but today I was determined to walk to the end, something I had only done once before about 8 years ago. Therefore, after the bridge, the sdrscenery was as good as new and I slowed my pace to take in everything and couldn’t resist capturing the new sights with my phone.

Saying this reminds me of how I reacted when cell phones first began to include cameras. “What in the world would you want a camera in your phone for!” was my sarcastic comment. But I have lived and learned and now adore the fact that I can capture everything my eyes delight in to include in my blogs or just to decorate my computer screen. Today it was the fantastic Béarnaise houses that caught my fancy. Thank goodness for phone cameras!oznor

One of the first things that made me fall in love with this town was the rooves, the out-of-the-ordinary Béarnaise rooves, ending not in the straight slope of usual tiled rooves, but in a slight upward curve similar to a young lass’s skirt. There is something so coquettish about a Béarnaise roof that I never tire of seeing them or photographing them. The town is full of –what I call- rooves ‘nesting’ together, but here on my walk, it was the houses that attracted me and not only their rooves.

sdrIt was then that the idea of writing this blog piece came to me, not so much as a form of remembering that tomorrow is my birthday, but rather as a way to publish the pictures that so captured my fancy while walking.

Now that I know the delights of walking and taking pictures, I am sure that my daily exercise will increase (and Salomé’s too). So I will save you having to read more words and just share my pictures from this morning.oznor

 

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Oh yes, there was a black pig too.

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DEATH

                                                                           “Death doesn’t break the connection to someone you love; the believer’s mind does.”

– Katie

 

My downstairs neighbor’s son died a while ago. I immediately went just to hug her and see if I could do anything. Then I took her a couple of sweets from the bakery, Viennese pastry, and a container of vegetable soup I had made. Sorrow wants for sugar and something warm and comforting like soup.

I did not know her son, had never met him. At that time I had lived here for 6 years and  I had seen her daughter every year, but never her son. My neighbor doesn’t go away very much either, so I don’t think she visited often. I don’t know if they spoke by phone. Another neighbor who is also her friend told me that she didn’t speak to her other son at all, or perhaps that he doesn’t speak to her: they had a falling out.

After taking her soup for two days, I gave it a rest. Then, a few days later, on coming back from my walk with Salomé, I decided to stop by and see how she was doing. She looked worse than a week before, when the news was fresh. I could see the suffering was weighing her down. Gently I suggested it might be good to start doing something, begin getting back to her routine. “After all,” I said, “it isn’t as if you saw him every day.”

She shook her head: “It is not even his death,” she said, “but the fact that it could have been avoided if they had done what they should have done; it was negligence; that is what keeps running over and over through my head.”

I couldn’t say what jumped to the tip of my tongue (“Is that true? They could have done it differently, is that true?”), but instead I mumbled some platitude like ‘Maybe he would have suffered more if he hadn’t died,’ that she fortunately ignored. But I could see how her mind had reached out, instinctively, for anger as a defense against the pain of loss, and how it was precisely that anger that, ironically, kept her going back over and over again to what she considered his ‘unnecessary’ death. Her mind killed him over and over again, as it contemplated the possibility that he might not have died if he had received the adequate treatment. It was a catch 22.

That same evening, when I came home I read the above quote from Byron Katie. How true: our loved ones only die once, and then we kill them over and over again in our minds. If we believe that death separates them from us, we will push them away when their memory comes, remembering the only thing we keep of them: their death. We won’t let them ever live again, shutting ourselves down to their visits and to the love we could still keep feeling for them until the day we join them. As we believe that their death is painful, when the thought of them comes, instead of feeling the love we always felt when we thought of them, we feel the pain of their supposed separation, and we push them away.

So far the deaths I have lived through have been the normal ones we all face: grandparents, parents; never a child or grandchild. When my husband of 30 years died, we had already been separated for 20. When I received the message from my daughter with the news I was at a retreat in California. I read the words, simple words: My father died today, it said, and a strange thing began to happen. A weird and horrifying howl emerged from deep inside, from somewhere below my stomach, down in the abdomen and came out of my mouth. My eyes weren’t crying, there was no pain in my heart, no conscious sorrow, but it was as if an animal were trying to escape from within emitting the most horrid sounds. My two roommates come over immediately, but I gestured to them that I was all right, not to worry, and continued to produce the inhuman wails that had nothing to do with me and that were like nothing I had ever experienced before.

After about ten minutes, the animal inside me quieted down and I began to breathe normally again. I thanked my roommates for their patience and understanding, and simply said that what had come out didn’t seem to have much to do with me. The following day I was very quiet, filled with love as if the presence of the father of my children were there with me. I didn’t feel sad; I felt no need to cry. I was grateful for what we had shared and grateful that he had been released from the cancer that was claiming his body. He was closer to me in that moment than in any previous moment since our divorce. What the animal inside was and why it had to bring out all those strange sounds, even today I have no idea.

I don’t often get visits from my ex-husband or my grandmother or even my father, but my mother, who died in 2007, is with me constantly and I love her so much and am so grateful for her company.

At the time when my neighbor lost her son, I remember wishing there were something more I could do, and finding nothing else I simply continued to take her sweets and soup until she began to heal in her own way.