Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Earth Mother's Day

Every year around this time, my mind seems to get overheated and shuts down like a car engine. It ceases to function properly and I end up taking some time off to rest and regroup. That's what I've been doing or trying to do since Tuesday.

Last Tuesday, a dear friend from church committed suicide. I've been shaking ever since, overcome with a new kind of anxiety, the kind that says "There but for the grace of God, go I…."

My friend had been battling depression for months and he promised to call me if he ever felt like he couldn't handle it anymore. He didn't call. One night last week, he climbed into his car, sped down a straight country road and veered off into a stone wall. He wasn't wearing a seat belt. There were no skid marks.

Suicide. It's still too close to write about. He was in so much psychic pain, this must have seemed like the only way out. And this morning I'll be going to church, back up the dreaded steps, to share my grief with the other parishioners.

How does one recover the mind after a shock like this? I couldn't even concentrate to do my breathing. Contemplation seemed like a nightmare because I could only see his face. I had overdosed on God the Father at the monastery so prayer was out, too.

But yesterday, my husband and I planted some new hydrangeas - two Limelight bushes and one PeeGee tree. That may sound trivial but it focused my mind and helped (literally) to ground me.

We started with a hole then we added 6 inches of peat moss. My job was to add water and turn it into a rich roiling reddish-brown soup. I reached my bare arms into the dirt and peat and kneaded the soil, squeezing water through each dry part until it was all soaked.

The smell of the earth and its satisfying texture reminded me of playing with clay as a child. I molded and splashed until I emerged a filthy mess. I would have gladly jumped in to cover myself with the mixture but my husband constrained me.

So today when I awoke, after a night of dreams about my lost friend, I attempted my morning exercises - meditating and journaling - both of which had been virtually lost to me this past week. I closed my eyes and followed my breath, focusing only on the up and down of my stomach. That worked for a few moments before my mind skipped off.

Someone told me an upset mind can be like an agitated two-year-old child. So how to deal with it? Don't scream, don't slap, don't judge. Just gently guide it back into the task at hand. And so I imagined my mind as a two year old and there was a Mother, a perfect non-judgmental Mother who gently led me to a quiet within myself. Earth Mother!

Father Sky stepped aside and let the Great Mother appear. And so I am once again grounded. At least for the moment. It's almost time for church and I feel the anxiety rising. But I'm not going to avoid it. That would only make it worse. Face the sadness. Face the pain. And with the help of the Earth, on which I can't help but be grounded, I will make it. I only wish….

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What WAS she thinking? (or a Plug for Reality)

When I was a single parent, working with AIDS patients at an inner city hospital, I used to have lunch with another single parent friend. She recognized my tendency to become overly involved with my patients and lose sight of my own life. "Earth activities, Kris. That's what you need," she would say. "Ground yourself on this planet. Clean the fish tank, water the plants, wash the floor."

Last week at work, I overly-identified with one of my patients and his family and got swallowed up in their lives. I lost my grip on my own life. I thought a weekend at a Benedictine monastery would help me get back in touch with myself. Paradoxically, it did just the opposite. It reinforced that old mindset of magical thinking which was so familiar in the cult. Finding a community that seemed "open and free," (that phrase should have tipped me off) was a "tangled root" that led me farther and farther away from my real life.

My tendency to launch off into space in search of some spiritual truth can lead me to the brink of madness. I long for a connection with the universe and forget to recognize that I already have one. Like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," I go running off to find something that I've had all along. I AM connected, like it or not.

The trip to the monastery was a trip to the extreme reaches of religion. You don't get much more religious than to sit under a large ebony cross of Jesus and listen to a dozen robed men chant the psalms. I felt sort of like Snow White among the seven Dwarfs. Only there were twelve of them and they were the ones dressed in white.

After my voyage to the brink, I've decided I'm going to cut back on my spirituality and invest more in the here and now of planet Earth. Many other people seem to be able to handle the spiritual quest but I don't seem to be one of them. I spin out of orbit too easily and become ungrounded.

My life seems dull in comparison to the resurrection and ascension of Christ but at least it's MY life. I have many connections: my family, my work, my art, my friends, my home, nature, the universe, and yes, God, whoever that is. I realize what's often missing is often a connection with my own heart and soul. My life. The breath may not be quite as exciting but at least I have my sanity. And what's more important than that?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Get Thee to the Monastery

So I went on a private retreat this weekend to a Benedictine Monastery. (It's only fitting now that I've decided to not join the church.) How refreshing to be in a spiritual community that was open and free, at least on the surface of things. Twelve round monks dressed in white hooded robes chanted and sang five times a day and I got to sit in and listen. A wonderful time to think and pray, read and write...

Here's a poem I wrote while I was there.

An Encounter While Reading Thomas Merton

He says that love depends on
believing we are loved and
contemplation is not for loners.

I turn the pages, underlined with pencil.
It's in the mid-80's, this bright May morning.
She plods up the hill, carrying something,
stops at my faded Adirondack chair
and shows me a large triangle of driftwood.
"It looks like a mobia strip," I say.
"Or the pelvis of a buffalo," she adds
and we laugh. It just floated up to her
from the river as she was standing on the bank.

She sits down on the ground next to me,
says she has needed this alone time.
She confesses that she has decided
to restart her medication and I say everyone
I know is on medication for something, including me.
And she says the wheels in her head just won't
stop churning and she judges herself so harshly
sometimes to the point of hatred. She lives in Brooklyn
and is four years married to a fireman, "a good man,"
who fought at the World Trade Center. She goes to
Al-Anon and has a two-year-old son named Adam.
I listen, weigh each word like Merton, then I tell
her my secrets which are no secrets at all,
but they hang in the air like pollen.
"Unseasonable weather," she says at last.

When she leaves, she thanks me for my kindness
and we hug. Then the gulf within me opens
and my mind turns round and round
like the tangled root she brought
up from the shore.