Retaining resilience in the face of loss, grief, illness.
So much of life comes at us reallyreallyfast, especially in the age of the Internet.
And then we think, I can get whatever I need or want reallyreallyfast as well.
But it just doesn’t work out that way unless you are very lucky.
And so, when things move much more slowly than we want, or need, what’s our choice?
Staying the course.
Someone two decades younger than I has sustained too many losses of late — the death of a parent, the other lost in the mists of dementia, job loss, the end of a long romantic relationship/home and an injury that’s impeded her from her beloved sport.
I want to envelop her in layers of bubble wrap for a while so nothing else can bruise her lovely spirit for a long time to come. It’s hard to keep going, in any direction, when you feel the wind has been knocked out of you.
But I know her, and I know she has stamina. She will, somehow, power through this.
We all must.
Only with hindsight — and surviving some of life’s insanity and unfairness and sadness — can you more deeply appreciate the power of stamina, of staying in the game, (even if you need to withdraw from it for a while.)
To those of you struggling these days, (and who isn’t on some level, daily?), wishing you comfort, strength and the devotion of family and friends to help you through.
I have my new passport in hand now — and it’s good for ten years.
I hope I am!
Acquiring a new passport really is an exercise in optimism, as international travel, (all travel, really) always requires three key elements:
Jose and I are now at an age we read the obituaries and keep finding people our age, and younger, who have lost their lives prematurely, most often to cancer and heart attacks. We pray for continued good health, without which travel — let alone anything else — is out of the question.
This is such a privilege!
So many people work in jobs, sometimes multiple jobs, that allow them little to no paid time off, or are too scared to actually take their paid vacation or — worst — insist in answering work-related demands even while they are supposed to be resting and recharging.
Jose and I both work full-time freelance and are only paid when we work; i.e. no paid vacation days, ever. Every day we take off without pay means we have to make it up somehow, since our overhead costs are fixed.
Another mark of privilege.
Many people just can’t afford to go anywhere a passport is needed, i.e. to leave the United States (or their home country) — poorly paid or unemployed or beggared by debt service.
We don’t have children or dependent relatives, so we have more options in this regard.
Of course, travel and adventure can also be found and enjoyed close(r) to hand, exploring your own neighborhood, town/city/state/province. Both my native Canada and adopted U.S. are enormous, tremendously varied and filled with alluring places to visit.
The places in Canada I still want to see include Newfoundland, P.E.I. and some more of the Far North.
In the U.S., I hope to visit Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and several more national parks. I really want to do a driving trip the length of California. I’d like to visit Portland, Oregon, where we have several good friends.
It’s a very long list of places I’ve yet to see, including Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, South Africa, Namibia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, islands of the South Pacific, Antarctica, Lebanon, Greece, Croatia, Finland, Iceland and Morocco.
Jeff is the man wearing the blue checked shirt and vest.
It happened on a suburban September Saturday afternoon.
Our co-ed softball team, who’ve been playing together for 16 years, was in the middle of a game when Jeff, a 61-year-old teacher, ran to first base — and collapsed.
“Don’t be so dramatic!” scoffed Paul, the first-base coach.
He was having a heart attack, in the middle of a ball field.
Luckily, one of our team-mates, a physician, was there and immediately knew — and knew how — to start chest compressions.
Police came, and EMTs and a paramedic and took Jeff to a local hospital, where he was placed in a medically induced coma.
He’s fine now.
He’s back to teaching.
He’s back to playing softball.
I wasn’t there that day, but it terrified everyone who witnessed it, helplessly, fearful that our friend would die in front of them.
He could have.
So, wanting to be sure we’re prepared should it ever happen again, 28 of us paid $35 apiece to take a two-hour Saturday morning class last weekend to learn how we, too, might be able to save a life if needed.
It was deeply sobering — you have barely four to six minutes to get someone’s heart pumping again before their brain is damaged.
There’s no time to waste!
You can’t panic.
You can’t want someone else to fix it.
You have to do it, and do it quickly and do it with strength and speed — 120 compressions per minute. You’re mimicking a heartbeat for someone who doesn’t have one.
We each practiced on plastic dummies, both child and adult-sized.
We also learned how to do the Heimlich maneuver, on adults, children, infants and (worst case) even ourselves if we’re ever alone and choking. (Lean hard against a chair back and push down on your diaphragm.)
We also learned how to use and apply the two pads of a defibrillator and how to do so safely.
It was a lot to absorb, physically, intellectually and emotionally.
“No matter what happens, you tried your best,” the instructor cautioned.
Not everyone will survive even the best rescue attempt — unlike a recent local save who needed 25 minutes of CPR to return, literally, from the dead.
After the class, there was a lovely, moving ceremony in the town’s volunteer ambulance garage, with the town mayor and the nine people: EMTs, two police officers and a paramedic whose quick action and excellent skills saved our friend’s life.
Jeff gave a quick, graceful speech and served us a lemon cake at lunch to celebrate his second life.
If you’ve never learned CPR, I’d urge you to consider doing so.
It’s not as complicated as you’d think and there’s nothing worse than feeling helpless in a life-threatening situation.
True growth and success is always sustainable. It’s not a short sprint with an inevitable physical, mental, and emotional crash. All goals are means, not ends. Each succeeding stage of your progression should clearly build one-upon-another, leaving you stronger and more able, not weaker and permanently damaged.
In order to do this, you must properly “recover” from the following things on a daily basis:
This is so damn smart!
This is so utterly counter-cultural.
I make it a point to recover from all six of these, as a matter of course and of self-care and self-preservation.
For numbers 1 through 3, I’m fortunate enough to be self-employed, so setting boundaries, and keeping them, doesn’t mean potentially threatening my livelihood.
For Number four, I eat 750 calories two days a week.
For fitness, I work out/exercise 3-4 days a week, sometimes (sigh) only twice.
Working from home, I nap as needed, sometimes as little as 15 to 20 minutes, sometimes 90 minutes; without dependents, not difficult.
Living in the United States these days, and I live/work near New York City in a thrashing/disrupted industry (journalism), means waking up every single morning in something of a panic.
Not helped by the daily chaos of Trump.
Whose civil rights will disappear tomorrow?
Which new executive order will require more calls and emails to elected representatives or another street protest?
Should we move back to Canada? When? Where?
If I stay — or if we go — would we be able to find work?
Call it self-care, sure, or call it life, but a soul is a thing that requires tending. The soul is not quite interchangeable with “heart” or “mind,” or any other word we mean to denote only the “spiritual” part of a person. In the words of the philosopher Dallas Willard, the soul is the entire inner person, not detached from bodily life but inclusive of it, as well as heart and mind, thought and motivation, feeling and judgment. An untended soul drifts toward inertia.
But what does my soul benefit from being “productive”? Am I any number of inches closer to God because I wrote an essay that was praised by someone I desperately wanted to impress? What is the moral imperative to produce?
These questions are all tricks to say that I have no idea what the answer is. I know that when I am anxious, I often think I can produce my way out of it. I have an uneasy relationship with productivity, thinking my anxiety will be placated if I just do enough big things.
Every day, I see talented, experienced friends losing well-paid jobs in our field, with no certainty of being able to replace them. One pal needed almost an entire year to find his new job, yet another insecure contract position.
We also live in a time and age relentlessly demanding increased productivity.
We’re exhorted constantly to domorebetterfaster!
Not to think.
Not to reflect.
Not to sit still, alone, in silence.
Not to take good, slow, thoughtful care of our most valuable resource, our health.
And yet, and yet, we’re each of us simply human, de facto limited in some way, whether by lack of time, impaired physical stamina, weakened emotional energy or by restricted access to social capital or financing.
We’re not robots.
We’re not machines, no matter what laissez-faire capitalism (and stagnant wages) relentlessly demand.
We’re all running too hard, too fast.
As a result, many of us vibrate with anxiety, shoving sweets and fats and pills and liquor down our throats in an attempt to satiate much deeper, more painful sadness and anxiety, whether personal, political or professional.
Sometimes (sigh) all three.
It’s a very wise choice to pay attention, to read the signals, to try our best to stay safe and to protect the rights and needs of others.
But not 24/7.
Here’s a 14-minute story (from one of the best shows I listen to on NPR, the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC), about how stressed many Americans are feeling since the election of Trump.
Forget (!) the U.S. election and how weary some now are of constant comment, opinion, raging, crying, etc.
Some families are withdrawing from one another over the holidays to avoid (further) estrangement.
The next six weeks also mean a lot of rushing around, to parties, (for work, for fun, with family), to buy gifts, to attend professional events.
Maybe, on top of all that, you’re looking for work or a new job, or coping with illness or injury.
This time of year can also mean new, fresh heartache; we have friends who recently lost both parents (to a drunk driver); a friend whose husband died this summer; a friend whose husband of many decades died a month ago…each of them facing their first Christmas and New Years as an orphan, a widower and a widow.
Taking consistent care of ourselves is crucial to our ability to help nourish and sustain others, whether children, parents, friends, spouses, neighbors.
A few ways to nurture yourself:
Keep fresh flowers or plants in your home
As I’ve written here many times, especially as the trees lose their leaves and color here, every week I buy fresh flowers and keep our houseplants thriving. Even $15 worth of grocery store mums can fill multiple vases and jugs around our apartment.
Flowers are everywhere in our home: bedside, bathroom, dining table, side tables. I recently splurged $27 for three plants at a local nursery, including a pale purple cyclamen and a deep purple African violet.
We live, most of us, in such a noisy world! Traffic, airplanes overhead, other people’s music and conversations, our children, our pets.
Silence is deeply restorative. Find a place, at home or out in nature, to be alone, silent and still every day.
Talking to, hanging out with, patting your cat/dog/guinea pig.
Since the election, I’m sleeping 9 to 9.5 hours every night, an escape from fear and stress. Self-employment from home allows me to nap as needed. Few escapes are as consistently accessible, free and comforting as a nap or a refreshing night’s sleep.
Meditation or prayer
Making time to intentionally focus on your spiritual health is sustaining. A friend living in another state recently started an on-line group of us to meet for meditation together. It sounds odd, but we were all grateful she thought of it.
Face to face or on the phone or using FaceTime or Skype only. We really need to see our dearest friends’ faces and hear their laughter (or sighs). None of this online silliness! Get a hug. Give a hug. (In times of stress, ditch/avoid faux friends and competitive types, emotional vampires and frenemies. You need backup!)
Especially with those you’ve known for decades, reminisce about all the great times you’ve had together — and plot some adventures for 2017 to look forward to.
I keep a scented candle on my bedside table and it’s a soothing, calming final sight before I blow it out at night. It creates a ritual. We also light candles every evening when we eat dinner together ,(no TV blaring, no phones) and that, too, is a ritual that gently slows us down and moves into the evening.
I step onto a cozy bedside sheepskin rug every morning and treasure our woolen throws and blankets to nap under. Whether you wear a silk scarf or a cashmere muffler, or snuggly socks or slippers, keep your body as coddled and comfortable as you can.
We have a large collection of art, design and decorative arts books (all of which can be borrowed from your local library.) Few things are as pleasant as leafing through inspiring bits of beauty. Thanks to the Internet, virtually every museum in the world is now available for browsing.
Even better, get out to a museum or art gallery, sit on a bench and really, really savor a few pieces — sculpture, paintings, pastels, a mask or chariot — slowly and carefully.
Get out there! No matter the weather, fresh air and light are a great way to detach from grim thoughts, social media and yet another bloody screen.
Avoid all social media
This is one of my favorites, whether listening to the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto or Erik Satie or the Stones or…Crank up the stereo and sing along as loudly as you dare.
If you’re a musician, what a great way to lose yourself! I so envy — and have been fortunate enough to know several talented amateur musicians — those who can just pick up a flute or violin or harmonica or guitar and delight themselves. (I need to get my guitar out of the basement and start building up my calluses again.)
Attending a concert is a great way to destress. Jose and I recently attended an evening choral performance, all in Finnish, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in upper Manhattan. It was sublime! The echoes!
Play a game
Anything! Gin rummy, Scrabble, Bananagrams, cribbage, bridge, mah jongg. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Borrow your kids’ or grandkids’ Legos and have at it.
Yay, endorphins. This has been my preferred method of stress management for decades, whether dance class, spin class, a long walk or playing softball. Especially this time of year, as we all start eating and drinking too much, burning off some of those calories will help.
Some people hate being touched by strangers. But for some of us, a massage and/or manicure and/or pedicure and/or facial (yes, costly!) can be a great stress-buster. We’re lucky enough to live next door to a very good hotel spa, so I have incentive to work and and save hard for another visit.
Only if you enjoy it! Creating something delicious is both focusing and distracting — a stack of muffins, a savory soup or stew, a pile of roast vegetables fills your home with great smells and gives you instant, possibly healthy, gratification.
It’s a wonder, really, that so many of us are able to survive, even thrive!
As an undergraduate student at University of Toronto I studied Spanish and, for a while, volunteered to do interpreting work with Chilean refugees who came to Toronto fleeing the repression, abduction and torture of the regime of former dictator Augusto Pinochet.
As some of you know, it’s exhausting to confide your worst moments ever to a total stranger, to relive them over and over to prove how much you’ve suffered. For a man of Latino heritage, having to do so to a young Canadian girl, me, must have been so difficult.
I won’t share here what they told me, but it was terrifying and I will never forget it, no matter how much I’d like to.
I vividly recall my first protest. Various organizations and individuals came together in outrage over a subpar sentencing recommendation for a convicted rapist. Armed with a sign demanding our justice system take rape seriously, I marched in front of the court alongside veteran activists, and every time I tried to join in the chants (“If you do the crime, you must do the time!”), I choked up.
That lump in my throat wasn’t borne out of sadness, but from an overwhelming feeling of togetherness and pride. I was incredibly proud to be part of a movement that dedicated itself to protecting and promoting women’s rights, one that fearlessly advocated for sexual assault victims.
Feeling of awe aside, I remained unconvinced of what end result, if any, our action would have that day. As it turns out, our protest and an online petition made a difference; the judge handed down the maximum sentence.
That triumph—my first real taste of feminist activism—taught me a powerful lesson I’ll never forget: that speaking up can make a tangible difference. And not just in one’s own healing journey, but in the lives of others. I loved playing a part, no matter how small, in that process.
It’s a perpetual dilemma when, if and how much to reveal to someone new to you, to peel back the onion and trust them with something deeply difficult.
I had two friends who were abused as young women, one by a relative, who took many years to finally share that with me. One always wore layers and layers of clothing and scarves, and I wondered why.
Then I knew and understood.
Only when I took the chance, here, and blogged about dealing with my mother’s mental illness did another person who reads Broadside open up about her own experiences with it, sparking a deeper intimacy and growing friendship as a result of taking that risk.
I’m now reading a small, slim book by a man who knows a great deal about survival — Sebastian Junger. The book is Tribe, and he examines the social dislocation so many of us now feel in an era of constant “connection” but often very shallow links to others.
What he focuses on is how we all float around, working, marrying, (or not), having children (or not), but how some of us long, very deeply, for a profound sense of belonging.
He writes of a young woman who lived through the war in Bosnia and who misses the powerful camaraderie it produced then.
Junger’s book talks about how a true tribe requires some sort of initiation, and a very deep sense of shared values.
For decades, journalism, has been the tribe I’ve been proud to join and belong to.
No matter how much some people viciously deride “the media” and call us “presstitutes” I’m still happy this has been my choice.
There’s a woman in my spin class — our spin class — who rarely smiles. Her face is usually set in a mien of unsettling intensity, her eyes always agog at..something.
She is as lean as a whippet, her muscles shorn of all excess fat, all softening curves. She carries a large bottle water with ice cubes in it.
She’s in her 50s, maybe retired or self-employed or doesn’t have to work. She appears to live at the gym, working out for hours.
Culturally, as someone who needs to shed at least 30 pounds, if not more, I should envy her, despising my own excess adipose tissue — a tummy whose additional flesh I can still grab (OMG!), despite three months now of two-day-a-week calorie restriction (750 per day), no alcohol until Friday evening and two to three spin classes a week plus lifting weights.
(I do see a difference in my shape and size now, as do my husband and friends. It’s just sloooooow. This morning in the mirror I saw…shadows in my cheeks. Definition?!)
I’m working it.
She’s working it.
The day after my left hip replacement….Feb. 2012
Another friend of the blog, a fellow journalist named Caitlin, writes Fit and Feminist — and is now doing (gulp) triathlons.
We’re all headed to the same place eventually, some much faster and more heart-breakingly so, than others.
I live in an apartment building where we own our homes, so I’ve stayed for decades and have gotten to know our neighbors.
It’s also a building with many — most — residents in their 70s, 80s and 90s.
Death stalks our hallways.
But in the past decade, we’ve also lost two lovely men, both mid-life, to brain tumors. One man on our floor died of cancer, at least three women in our building, (those that I know personally), are dealing with it.
It’s deeply sobering — (a fact I spend a lot of time denying!) — to stop and realize how fragile our bodies are, prey to genetic shit-shows we didn’t choose and must face nonetheless; my mother has survived at least four forms of cancer so I’m hyper-vigilant with mammograms, skin checks, Pap smears. I smoked once, for about four months, when I was 14 and am very careful about much alcohol I consume.
The weight I’m working so hard to shed is less for cosmetic reasons than for health.
And yet, life also offers tremendous sensual, shared pleasure in the form of delicious foods and drinks, which (yes, I admit) also include alcohol and sweets.
Some people dismiss this idea — sucking back juice or Soylent — treating food as mere fuel.
Not I. Not ever.
I was in great shape in fall 2014…then spent three weeks in Paris. Ooooohlala.
I look at young women, and men, in shorts and tank tops on the summer streets, carelessly luxuriating in their unlined, unscathed beauty, and wonder if they’ll look back in a few decades with rue or remorse, or happy memories of having savored it all while it was theirs to savor.
It’s a fine balance, this, between the mortification of the flesh, the discipline and self-denial to keep (or regain) a lean physique — and the slothful joys of long naps, a slice of chocolate cake or pie, hours on the sofa watching terrible television or playing video games instead of lifting weights or running or yoga.
Having worked non-stop to meet a magazine deadline, (the story for Chatelaine, a major Canadian magazine, which I’m really proud of, a medical one of course, is here), I ended up in the hospital, in March 2007, with pneumonia, and spent three days there on an IV, coughing so hard I could barely sleep. Drenched with fever sweat, I staggered into the ward shower, and — out loud, alone — apologized to my poor, aching, weary, worn-out body.
It was not, I finally and belatedly realized, a machine to be run until it smoked for lack of grease in the wheels.
Our bodies are the greatest of gifts, to be cherished and held and adored.
The backstory, for those of you who don’t use or need one, is the staggering price increase for the EpiPen, an injectable device that pumps epinephrine into your system to address anaphylactic shock, an allergic reaction to nuts, shellfish, fish or any number of substances.
If someone goes into that shock, they need the injection within 30 minutes or they can die.
In the U.S. — whose entire healthcare “system” is run to wring the maximum profit from our inevitable physical needs — there’s only one company making them right now, Mylan, whose female CEO, Heather Bresch, the daughter of a Senator, no less, might be the most loathed individual in the country right now.
Knowing she has the market cornered, (as other competitors left the field), she spiked the price of EpiPens to $600 — a huge jump, and one that makes a lifesaving device unaffordable to many people.
(The company, now under tremendous public fire, is offering a $300 coupon.)
Imagine needing, (as some people do), three sets for each child: school, home and your vehicle, a cool $1,800 to start.
I’ve been following this story, not because anyone I know uses an EpiPen but because I’m so sickened by corporate greed.
I also grew up, to the age of 30, in a nation with strict government oversight and regulation of drugs, medications and device prices — so no one gets gouged.
I decided to pursue this story on Friday morning, and started at 10:00 a.m.
I put out calls and urgent emails to sources in the U.S. and Canada, racing the clock to get the story reported and written quickly; as a “trending topic”, I needed to get it posted as soon as I could, yet make sure I was producing a smart, well-written and well-sourced piece.
Social media saved my bacon — a request to a writers’ group I belong to on Facebook prompted a fast reply from someone who knew a physicians (!) who personally relies on EpiPens and who emailed me back quickly and in detail.
Working behind the scenes with my editor who, as usual and of course, I haven’t met, we discussed how to best present the story, an angle I hadn’t read anywhere else — yet.
We posted the finished story, about 1,200 words, by 5pm. (Good thing I’ve worked as a daily newspaper reporter. That kind of speed is normal for me.)
If you have time to read it, please share it widely; Forbes is a pay per view model, and this story offers an important way for people who need affordable access to get it.
Setting a pretty table to share with friends? That’s a soothing activity for me…
There’s a phrase I see and hear a lot, and one I never heard decades ago — self-care.
It’s often aimed at women, especially mothers of small/multiple children, typically run off their feet caring for everyone but themselves.
The simplest of pleasures, reading a book or magazine uninterrupted, owning lovely clothing not covered with various bodily excretions, disappear in a whirlwind of attending to everyone else’s needs all the time.
It also happens when you’re overwhelmed by anything: a crazily demanding job and/or boss; trying to juggle work/school/family; wearyingly long commutes that consume hours; a medical crisis; care-giving someone ill and/or elderly.
Your own needs come second or third or fourth.
Or, it seems, never.
It becomes a matter of survival, of self-preservation.
Music, art, culture…feed your soul!
Of preserving, even a little, your identity, your hunger for silence and solitude, for time spent with friends or your pet or in nature.
It’s often reduced, for women, to consumptive choices like getting a manicure or massage, (and I do enjoy both, while some women loathe being touched by a stranger.)
But our needs are deeper, subtler and more complicated.
Caring for yourself isn’t always something you just buy, a product or service that keeps the economy humming — and can make you feel passive, resentful, a chump.
There’s no price tag on staring at a sunset or admiring the night sky or listening to your cat purr nearby.
There’s no “value” to sitting still, phone off, computer off, to say a silent prayer.
It’s one reason women who choose not to have children — as I did and millions do — are so often labeled “selfish”, as if caring for a spouse or friends or the world or, (gasp) your own needs, is lesser than, shameful, worthy of disapproval.
When it’s no one’s business.
We all need to preserve:
— Our souls, whether through prayer or meditation or labyrinth walking or a long hike or canoe paddle.
— Our bodies, which shrink and soften, literally, as we age, so we need to keep them strong and fit and flexible, not just thin and pretty.
— Our finances. Women, especially, can face a terrifyingly impoverished old age, thanks to earning less for fewer years, and/or putting others’ needs first, (those of children, aging parents, spouse, siblings), and hence a reduced payout from Social Security. It’s a really ugly payback for years of being emotionally generous.
— Our solitude. Yes, we each need daily time alone in silence, uninterrupted by the phone or texts or just the incessant demands of anyone else. We all need time to think, ponder, muse, reflect. Silence is deeply healing.
— Our mental health. That can mean severing toxic relationships with family, neighbors, bosses, clients or friends who drain us dry with their neediness, rage or anxiety. It might mean committing the time and money needed to do therapy, often not fun at all. It might mean using anti-depression or anti-anxiety medication.
— Our friendships. These are the people we often neglect in our rush to make money or attain some higher form of social status. It can take time, energy and commitment to keep a friendship thriving.
— Our planet. Crucial. Without clean air and water, without a way to flee flood, famine, war and fire — or prevent them — we’re all at risk.
–– Our sexuality. At any age, in whatever physical condition we find ourselves in.
— Our rightful gender. I recently met someone now transitioning from being born into a female body into the male one he now prefers. What an extraordinary decision and journey he’s now on. For some, it’s a matter of the most primal preservation.
— Our identities. Whatever yours is focused on, it’s possibly, if you live in North America, primarily centered on your work and the status and income it provides. Which is fine, until you’re fired or laid off. Then what?
Or on that of being a parent, (the empty nest can feel very disorienting.)
I think it’s essential to claim, and nurture, and savor lifelong multiple strong identities, whether athletic, artistic, a spirit of generosity or philanthropy, creative pleasures. You can be a cellist and a great cook and a loving son/daughter and love mystery novels and love playing hockey and love singing hymns.
We’re all diamonds, with multiple gleaming facets.
Five years ago this week, my husband — then fiance — decided to take me to a silent Buddhist retreat.
It was a birthday gift, one he thought might prove calming and healing.
I went in like a sulky five-year-old, arms crossed, dubious.
I emerged with a lot of new insights — if you’re interested, search my archives for July 2011 and you’ll find them, as I posted every day, a bit stunned by how powerful my feelings were and how much they changed over that week.
I’m not a Buddhist, but have spent time at various sanghas with Jose, who is, so was already familiar with the language, precepts and rituals like mantras, chants and prayers. I also knew and was friends with his lama, Surya Das, so wasn’t intimidated by him or his presence. Had every single bit of it been unfamiliar, it might have been even more challenging.
It’s never a bad thing to withdraw and retreat from the insanity of “normal” life and this was an opportunity to do so, and one — I admit — I would never have undertaken on my own.
In a week of silence, your heart speaks very loudly indeed.
Every morning, as we nestled once more into our cushions or chairs for the morning teaching, more and more were empty as people fled, unable or unwilling to stay.
Even those who stayed rebelled, some driving off-campus in their cars to a local bar or standing deep in the woods, yammering on the cellphones — both a violation of the rules we agreed to when we arrived; 75 of us had come from across the globe to do this thing, knowing it would be difficult, and craving that discipline.
I emerged from it dazed, sharpened, newly and exquisitely aware of the daily noise we barely even notice, and had never been conscious of before: cars, sirens, animals, neighbors, airplanes overhead, people talking on their cellphones or listening to music too loudly through headphones.
Jose and I drove to a local bar — where two enormous television screens blared…something. Instead of it feeling, as it usually would, like background noise it was suddenly alien and very much in the foreground. We felt assaulted and exhausted by it.
I missed the precious, glorious, cocooning silence we’d bathed in all week.
I missed the inter-generational community we had created in our silence, sometimes with just a raised eyebrow or shy smile.
I missed sitting in the retreat’s luxurious garden, alone for an hour, my only companion a very bad bunny eating everything he could reach.
I missed the soothing simplicity of our days, from the waking early-morning hand bell rung down the long corridors to our meals eaten together at long wooden refectory tables, the only sounds the clinking of cutlery on china.
The retreat offers three teachings a day, the only time we’ll be allowed to speak. The food will be vegetarian. There will be no cocktail hour, or wine at dinner, both something we usually enjoy daily at home.
Steak? TV? Three daily newspapers? No, no, no. Ah, the things I cling to.
We’re taking my softball glove and ball, and my bike. I’m taking my camera and watercolors, and plan to write a speech due August 10 in Minneapolis.
I’ll sit in the teachings and meditations and chanting as much as feels comfortable. He and I will share a room, and plan to write notes back and forth. It will be very odd — and difficult — not to talk to him. We typically talk several hours a day and I really enjoy it.
So it’s already a powerful meditation on the loss of that comfort. We may whisper to one another in our room. We’ll see.
I’ve been the butt of jokes for weeks now. “Buddhist,vegetarian, silent — I can’t think of three words less likely to describe you,” said one friend.