I find myself using this image I created from so long ago more than any other.
Well- it gives me a visceral experience of courage, the great unknown, the Big Mystery, hope and the sense of: “What the hell else is there to do, Cath, but move forward?”
I am uninterested in drama and the forthcoming laundry list of recent life ‘opportunities’ is an attempt to fill in THE VERY BIG BLANK I left you all with on this blog:
* move out of long-time beloved home and into rental until new apartment opens up (thinking 2 weeks).
* rental place is very inaccessible, dirty, depressing and dark.
* after over 1 month I must find new place to live as tenants returning to rental.
* move again to hotel w/ cooking facilities
* stay there another month
* FINALLY apartment is ready!!!!
* move in and love it.
* washer and bath flood apartment 3x. Construction company puts me up at Holiday Inn while my floors are jackhammered.
* stay 6 days
* FINALLY I am given the go-ahead to move back home.
And here I sit at my own computer writing to you from my lovely though not as yet fully unpacked, HOME.
Now- for an able-bodied person these challenges would be just that- challenges. For someone in my position with challenged abilities they border on deadly as stress wreaks havoc and fatigue curtails the necessary tasks of living (like eating and exercising and grooming). Yes- I was a dirty girl at times..
I lost weight. I lost functionality. I couldn’t access creativity.
I read. Watched cable TV. Made trips to the library to use a computer. Took Livvy for rolls around parking lots surrounding hotels. Went deep inside myself and spoke to very few friends. I isolated because I had nothing to say and no energy or inclination to be acceptable company.
I got depressed.
Then I got ok again.
And so forth and so on…
I waited in stasis mode for a respite and tried not to beat myself up for all the things I wasn’t/couldn’t/didn’t want to do.
What was the lesson in all of it?
What was I to learn?
This life of mine could be titled: “THE GREAT UNDOING”
Who I was, ISN’T here anymore.
Who I am is a work in progress; messy, raw, real, separate, connected, grateful, angry, tired, curious, lively, fun and not.
Honestly… I’m getting more honest… I am disappointed in myself and others less often. I can usually find the gold given enough time.
What interests me most right now is setting up my life to return into life WITH that very gold; by writing, speaking, connecting.
Most people I know have been entertaining the flu this season.
Or they have been stripped to the bone by the herculean energy and effort it takes to navigate a once-friendly-but-now-fierce world with even a modicum of grace.
My personal trials have come in the guise of the question: “Where the hell am I going to live after March 1 and can I even afford an affordable housing development and how do I do what all this asks of me when I do not feel well?”
Where/what/who is ‘home’ anyway?
My spirit animal is the turtle and I keep learning from her that in the end we all will realize that we must carry our home with us and not do ourselves the disservice of leaning too far into the comfort or beauty or safety of a coveted abode
Because sure as shit- it can be gone in a nanosecond.
Soon I will move out of this gorgeous place I’ve lived in and into a temporary place for a couple weeks, stuff goes into storage then move again to a newly built apartment complex and a space outfitted for the disabled in me.
I have never set eyes on it.
Yet this is where I will be.
There are little deaths every day.
Once I felt free.
And now am beholden and often feel too transparent to my supportive family.
Privacy has gone by the wayside.
We are all negotiating this new territory that is ragged and whipped up with instantaneous dirt-devils appearing out of nowhere.
We are all full of grit and grime
Because it is happening so fast
And our parkas and bullet-proof vests are in some closet
Because we have been mercifully complacent
We lost that privilege.
I crave a strong drink with an umbrella
And possibly a cigarette to pose radically with.
Anything to make the rock tumbler get to the reveal of the gemstones
When before they weren’t worth a second look.
I like the rock tumbler metaphor:
It takes grit and friction and steady time to transform an algae-crusted nothingness pebble
Into an agate anybody might even want to EAT, it’s sheen and beauty attract us so..
I think it is this way in the ‘breakdown’ times:
GRITTY and TUMBLING and SEEMINGLY ENDLESS and GREY and ORDINARY
Somehow opens into clarity.
It happens every time.
But seldom in OUR time….
I began this blog almost three years ago with the title: “HEALING THROUGH MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS.”
For a long time it felt right as I continued be introduced to the changes taking place in my body and look at what they had to teach me.
Everybody needs a new suit of clothes once in awhile and so, as you see- I have changed a few things here, most notably the name.
What does “LIVING UNDONE” mean?
Well… I think of it sort of like a blank canvas; all this stuff you thought you were is blasted away by something-or-other and you have the chance to re-make yourself..
I have never been that interested in talking much about the various symptoms associated with MS.
When I do it tends to make them worse as I direct my consciousness there.
I keep myself out of any physical or emotional or spiritual downward spiral by staying curious; curious about reasons why they might be occurring beyond western medical explanations, who I am becoming as a result of the challenges on my plate, who I want to be within them, how others are affected, the unexpected gifts woven into facing head on situations I’d rather not and thought I couldn’t and what things are important to me now and what isn’t.
The way my consciousness works within my current experience is not really that different than the 30 years I spent as a fine artist.
I make a mark (decision) and stand back to check it out.. does it enhance the whole?… does it feel good in my body?… is it necessary?..
am I proud of it?.. is it elegant? simple? graceful? nourishing? nurturing? elevating? could I and everyone else live without it? am I better for it?
I could go on here but you get the drift..
Sort of making my life my art.
Granted, this doesn’t work all the time and the ‘art’ gets pretty ugly…
I NEED to have an interesting life.
That is solely up to me.
I just try to take the hand I’ve got and play it the best I can.
It sucks that I can’t have a deep and leggy glass of wine as I sit at the table and play out the game…
But I can always wear a great dress and throw on some lipstick.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain – and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
- Robert Frost
“If one opens up chaos, magic also arises. One can teach the way that leads to chaos, but one cannot teach magic. One can only remain silent about this, which seems to be the best apprenticeship.”
— The Red Book, C. G. Jung
“If you want to end your own suffering, this is how you do it. Not by hating the suffering; not by doing battle with it; not by trying to fix it; not by trying to figure it out; not by trying to get around it; not by trying to shrink it; not by trying to minimize it; not by trying to explain it away.
The way to reduce your suffering is to open up to it, to make it bigger, to make it wider. To see that your suffering – if you really know what it is – is the suffering of everyone. The way for anyone to end his or her suffering is to love others and be concerned for their suffering.
When you really love others, and you are willing to have your heart broken by their suffering, that is liberation. Your eyes and your heart are open, and even if you yourself are suffering, it is perfectly okay, and you don’t mind at all.”
–Norman Fischer, Weekly Newsletter, Upaya Zen Center, October 30, 2012
Now, “LOVE” in the way he is using it here has zero to do with how we have turned the word into the oily and indistinct one used on TV like ‘THE BACHELOR.”
I am going to speak from authority here as I am quite certain of what lies beneath major disappointment and heartbreak (as too many of us do).
The thing I am pointing to which is UNDERNEATH the gussied up and inauthentic thing we name ‘love’
Is something akin to what I would call: INTERDEPENDENCE.
For it seems I need YOU and the cracks and wrinkles etched so gorgeously into your humanity with courage (and not)
To feel my own heart open and soften and surrender.
And I do.
And I am so very OK.
But I write things like this and re-read them and think I am full of shit..
Ah, well- onward I go into the wild blue yonder.. complete with a sense of humor partially intact.
I am a boat.
Not a Chinese junque. – (my blood is too foreign though I do wish it wasn’t).
Well.. perhaps a gleaming and slippery, “Have a martini”, 40′ ode to speed? – (I’d lose the key..).
Maybe that great outboard motorboat we used up at the lake to go bass fishing as the dawn steam rose and we, wee ones still with sleep in our eyes? – (Oh, I did love the control!)
What about a catamaran? Sliding and cutting so deftly through..intent on getting ‘there’ FAST!.. The constant thrill of capsizing the thing?- (Nope).
I could be a giant cargo ship with all the ballast I’d ever need in rough seas.. (No beauty in all that safety and way too much metal. I’m not that fond of metal, anyway).
A folded paper boat adrift on an even pond? – (Not enough substance or staying power).
I will be a canoe.
My own ship carved of a tree so I will remember dry land should I turn toward forgetting.
It will hold one.
Two or three if I so choose.
My family and friends will have helped me carve the thing.
We will have sung songs and toasted it’s doneness before they hand me two paddles and I pause to bow (to them and it) before I step in alone.
I will push off the beach and settle my frame into the curve of the tended wood.
I will not look back.
I am not sad. I will cut the glassy sheen of the lake
And lean into my direction.
I pull the water to me
And let it empty behind.
The rhythm lifts me.
And the work is not.
I am free.
Destination is uninteresting.
I just stay with the impossible beauty.
In raw weather
I huddle in the rain and wind
Sometimes, just yielding to the whim of the lake
Because it is bigger than me.
In the morning with wet and straggly hair
I peek outside my parka.
The way seems clear
Though I do not know where I am.
A loon sets me straight
And my paddle meets the waters.
-C. Aten 2011
Boredom has often been a harbinger of big change for me.
I have paid attention to it for long enough now to realize that the state of boredom is my nemesis; I will do what it takes to make it go away.
I am bored by having 90% of my life energy directed toward taking pills, effortful ambulation, saying no instead of yes, feeling the built-in separation between me and Life as I negotiate a physical/emotional/spiritual challenge like MS.
The whole thing bores me…
Having all this energy directed toward my self feels unnatural and unfulfilling.
It has been 12 years now that have found me dealing with this diagnosis and it’s accompanying landscapes, most of which are colored by decline of some sort.
But not all..
I have been the ‘constant farmer’ and faithfully turned the ground in my fields each season. Few corners of my soul have escaped scrutiny. I’ve taken my bent and rusty shovel and used this illness to grow myself a new Self.
And now I am tired and bored.
What comes next? I wonder…
I am bored and free.
Recently, my teacher DANIEL VILLASENOR, who embodies refinement in ways I never even dreamed of spoke of an innocent mouth.
I remember first seeing him on his website and noticing the utter softness of his mouth even in the midst of a very challenging arm balance.
Doesn’t efforting demand grunting, contorting the face, squishing the eyes closed and generally hardening all facial features?
I’m quite sure reaching for and grabbing the hatchback on my car as I effort to pull it closed in the heat benefits a good deal from swearing and tightening and grinding my teeth together.
Levity aside, this is serious business- the allowance for our Selves to feel the ‘work’ of life; of living with illness without the tendency to grip,protect,armor against what feels like the enemy.
When I see this same softness in my own face, the surprise of her infrequent appearance helps me remember that girl-woman who lives between the lines of a life lived.
Without what has become a constant ‘grip’
I lose 10 years and my beingness feels silky; ready for unaffected and genuine engagement with life as she unfolds.
No performance. No pretense.
Here is an antidote to age:
Close your eyes and give your lower jaw to gravity. Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Give yourself as much space between your jaws as it wants.
When I lay down the armor purposefully like this I almost feel if I looked in a mirror I’d look stupid..unintelligent.
Thoughts like these tell me how far from a naturally innocent mouth I have moved.
And how easy to reintroduce myself.
The last post I wrote left me with a residual feeling of something left undone.
I am an observer of life; myself, others, other…
That said- I pay attention to the magnetics which maneuver my mind in particular directions. When those forces affect my soul as well as my mind I take note.
This blog, in it’s very public way, helps me know what is up for me in my journey in partnership with MS.
Often, the landscape isn’t that cool or attractive or PC.
You help keep me honest. Taking a thought/feeling/idea and putting it into form by choosing words to represent it is very different than ruminating privately.
I am well aware that writing about the HIERARCHY OF DISABILITY left some people with a sourness in their pores.
My interest was the fact I turned away on that day from a man.
It was I who lost. I who missed an opportunity. I who felt superior in my relatively unscathed physique.
In thinking about this act of turning away I wondered where else I turn?
My personal avoidances are things like people who drive Hummer cars, scream at their kids or each other, alcoholics, homeless people who look scary, the folks who stand on the nearby street protesting an abortion clinic and the people standing in the median with a sign asking for money with a cute dog lying close by.
Now, as I think about this act of turning I see many shades of grey. I can and do turn judiciously from experiences, people, energetic atmospheres which do not benefit me or my wellbeing.
This kind of turning is distinct from that of which I speak as the action comes without a CHARGE (read: judgement) attached to it.
I have a judgement about the ‘Hummer-man.’ He shouldn’t be taking up that much space, polluting, etc.
INSTA-DISTANCE created. (my own carbon footprint is bigger than I’d like.)
I turned from the disabled man because I felt my own vulnerability too deeply. More INSTA-DISTANCE
Same with the homeless man. Wasn’t too long ago I was in an all-too-precarious home search myself.
And the beggar. I have been there. My clothes were cleaner and I have a better haircut. Yeah- I got a washer in my house and a few dollars in my account but really…. am I so very different than this guy? More distancing.
The abortion clinic protesters are not bad. Different politically than me but not wrong. The distancing feels good, though… reinforces my delusional superiority.
These are only examples I immediately pulled out of my hat as I write this.
God only knows what other turnings happen on subtler levels that keep me separate and supporting this culturally-generated alienation we live and breathe and call it the American Dream.
Freedom, to me, seems like the capacity to see clearly and choose from that place.
Sometimes it is a very messy road to get there, though.