I was sitting on the back porch meditating and a splash of far away pink caught my eye. The seeds must have washed in from somewhere. Our yard is wild and uncultivated.
An iridescent tickle
On my fingernail
Green fly, red eyed.
Passing an old lady,
and her dog (a bit mangy),
I hear geese faintly.
Against orange sky,
Dancing leafs in silhouette.
Waiting for the sun.
“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to.” –Lao Tzu
I’ve studied Taoism for years as part of my attempt to deal with my depression. So I’ve long ago accepted that things change. Yes, I absolutely accept that change happens, but sometimes I have a terrible time accepting the change that is showing it’s big, stupid, ugly face right in front of me!
This morning as I got out of bed I woke up to a foot hitting the floor that quickly turned into an arrow of pain shooting upside down, and all around my bad ankle. I nearly fell as the ankle would not hold my weight.
I won’t lie, I was a blubbering baby and only partly from the pain. The thought panicking me was that I wasn’t going to be able to go on my lunch time mindfulness meditation walk. Since I started doing this last week it has quickly become a favorite activity. My work afternoon has become the best and most productive part of my day. I’m calm and energized when I return from the walk.
Now not only was I going to miss my favorite part of the day but I was going to have to figure out how to work on a foot that wouldn’t hold my weight; thank God it wasn’t my driving foot.
Then I would undoubtedly have to spend some time at my favorite clinic where I feel like everyone thinks I’m that crazy woman who is always about to have a nervous breakdown.
My whole day was ruined before it even started.
Because I couldn’t just start my day with acceptance that things had changed, just like they do. Life is unpredictable. Taoism teaches us to be soft and bend with the changes, to be like bamboo and water. I was being hard and rigid as a dead bone and the change in my plans was going to crack me apart. It was cracking me apart right then and there as my husband tried to calm me down and talk to me but I was so panicky I couldn’t focus on listening to him. And this is why I still have Lorazepam in my medicine cabinet.
I took my meds. I turned on some of my binaural beats music for anxiety (yes, pseudoscience, who knows, but if it works as a placebo it still works).
I slowly accepted that my day had changed and began to plan for it. I called one in-law and found out where she got her crutches last year, checked to see when they were going to open, texted my manager and told him what was going on and that I would be late. Texted another in-law who is my doctor’s receptionist (she is SO lucky to work at the clinic where she has the privilege of being related to the crazy woman who is always on the verge of a breakdown. She’s down to earth enough that it might honestly not bother her). She got me an appointment that afternoon.
I hobbled into the pharmacy, where they were kind enough to let me come in and “try on” some crutches even though the lobby was closed because of the pandemic. I then went to work and got involved in the most important project of the day, the project that was probably the only reason I didn’t call in sick.
Then it was time for lunch. Time for my mindfulness meditation walk. Deep breath. “If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to.” So forget the walk. Instead I drove to the state park that sits right on the edge of our local lake. I hobbled over to a grassy knoll and plopped clumsily into a cross legged position and started running through my senses.
What do I hear? The water hitting the rocks, fish crows, a couple kayakers talking to each other, a Cardinal.
What do I feel? The breeze off the water, muggy but pleasant, a fly landing on my finger, the grass beneath me.
What do I see? Ripples of water on the lake, cumulus clouds piling up, Mt. Nebo, the muddy red bluff to the side where the kingfishers like to nest, the wind fluttering leafs.
What do I smell? The slightly fishy smell that hangs around water, the humidity in the air.
What do I taste? The cold tannin of my iced tea.
Not quite the same as my walk, but peaceful and mindful which led to a calm and energized afternoon of appointments and CT scans and a new walking boot. And this journal entry as I spent time in waiting rooms.
Christmas Eve at Subiaco
when the bells were ringing and the snow was pouring down.
Driving to Russellville at night in the car with Richard and Patty
on our way to be married and listening to Fleet Foxes for the first time.
During the wedding service
when Richard began to cry.
Staying up late at Grandma’s
talking about family history.
“Working” with Grandpa in his workshop.
Running in circles through Grandma and Grandpa’s house
with my cousins.
Listening to birds in the winter
while waiting for the school bus.
Decorating sugar cookies with Mom and Jessica
when I was a kid, and now with Aniya.
Getting the first candy cane off the tree when I was a kid
and sucking it down to a sharp point.
Reenacting “Fight Club” with Cliff.
Pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving morning
watching the parade.
Coffee cake on Christmas morning.
Richard’s Dad saying Grace at holidays.
Bird watching with Richard at Holla Bend
in the depth of winter.
Geese flying over us at Bona Dea in the winter, hearing the wind through their wings,
always at dusk.
Camping with Richard and Eric at Petit Jean,
Eric risking his idiot neck on top of Bear Caves.
Walking with Richard out on the pier at Lake Dardanelle
in the deep fog and snow and watching the gulls softly emerge and then melt away.
Watching the otters at Bona Dea with Richard.
Seeing the alligator with Mom at Bona Dea.
Watching the terns at the Gulf
in the rain and cold on my ornithology trip.
Sabine national refuge
walking out in the marsh.
Sitting by myself on the ground in the long grass at the campground at the back of the Tetons breathing in the mountains.
Coming “home” for the first time to Richard and the townhouse in Fort Smith
after I worked my last two days in Russellville.
Watching the geese float by in the pond outside the patio of the townhouse in Fort Smith,
the light reflected off of the pond onto the ceiling of the living room.
Exploring with Lori when we were maybe 10 years old
in the countryside in the middle of nowhere.
Sitting at the base of waterfalls, any waterfall.
Watching white water
in Colorado hiking on with Dad.
Hiking in the snow at Rocky Mountain national park and watching all the mountain goats,
and then the tiny perfect blue lake at the end of the hike.
Crossing the log bridge on the backpacking trail at the back of the Tetons
over the white water.
Sitting in the middle of a pasture of fire weed
in Montana with my flower press.
Walking through a grove of Aspens
somewhere with Dad.
Getting up early before Mom and Jess and going out with Dad
taking pictures at Yellowstone.
Collecting stuff in the front yard and field with Mom
to make a Thanksgiving arrangement for the dining room table.
Hiking with Mom at Cedar Falls in the autumn
Going with Dad through the museums in DC.
Traveling to Nebraska with Dad and meeting Grandpa,
and trekking out to the cemetery in Wallace in the snow.
Walking in the badlands in South Dakota in the moonlight.
Playing Frisbee in the middle of the road at Grandma and Grandpas
with my uncles, aunts, and cousins.
Camping at Petit Jean with Mom, Dad, Jess, Shane, Utah, and Ciera.
Fishing at Petit Jean with Lori,
the last time that we spent together.
Laying on the sand on the Dardanelle side of the Arkansas river with Lori and her family
fishing while playing hooky from work.
Going down into the earth into a reconstructed kiva
somewhere on a trip with Mom and Dad and Jess.
Going to the Princeton museum of art with Mom and Jess and the kids.
Christmas Eve at Mom and Dad’s with Ric,
pigging out on shrimp and spinach dip.
Helping Mom lift the coffee cake into the pan.
Pigging out on pecan and cream cheese pie at Jo and Sandy’s on Thanksgiving.
Putting up a tent with Richard in way too hot of weather and drinking beer.
Playing with Patty.
Walking with Richard in moonlight at the campground up at Petit Jean.
Sun Studio with Richard.
British Sea Power concert.
Being Dad’s assistant and carrying his camera bags and notes
at Chaco Canyon.
Summer Solstice sunset at Toltec Mounds State Park
hundred of dragonflies glowing.
There is a concept in Japanese philosophy that finds imperfection, death, decay, things falling apart, to be a form of beauty.
Wabi, rustic simplicity
Sabi, taking pleasure in the imperfect
I’ve embraced the concept for years in my photography. Maybe it is time to embrace it in my life.
Wabi Sabi is the cracked tea cup, whose fissure has been filled with gold to highlight the beauty of the imperfection.
Maybe I need to see the years of major depression as the crack in my tea cup. Accept it as a part of my whole. Consider my imperfection to be a part of my beauty.
Summer Solstice. My pre-Industrial Revolution Northern and Central European ancestors would be feasting, dancing, and most likely burning large fires.
Here in the states it is just another day. In my neck of the woods a hot and humid one with a cicada and lawn mower soundtrack.
Thinking of my pre-Industrial Revolution ancestors makes me question what exactly were they celebrating? What were they do grateful for?
Doing the work of recovery from depression. One of the things I see pop up a lot is to practice gratitude. In our consumerist culture sometimes it seems difficult to be grateful. There are so many things we feel entitled to that we may not have. A newer car, the latest fashions, a nice house, vacations, the newest phone, nights out, how about a boat? A motorcycle or motorhome? A new sofa, a whole new set of furniture? Maybe some patio furniture so nice it could almost be inside furniture?
Our ancient ancestors didn’t have any of that shit. What were they so happy about or praying for while dancing around those bonfires anyway?
I came across an Anglo-Saxon prayer or blessing some time back that might give an indication. I can’t testify to its antiquity–it could be modern pagan for all I know. But it gives an idea of what people might have been grateful for when you maybe weren’t worried about the newest gadget because, you know, are we gonna have enough food to survive the winter?
Flags. As in flagstone. Thank you for the roof over my head and the floor beneath my feet. Thank you for shelter from the elements. Thank you for that central heat and air that my ancestors sure didn’t have. Thanks for the hot and cold running water that saves me from running to a well or a river, a convenience that many around the world still don’t have today. Thanks for the stove. Yay, I don’t have to go and collect wood to cook my food. I don’t have a house filled with smoke from the cook fire. Thank you for electric lights. I can read or sew at whatever time of day I so desire, even in the darkest part of winter.
Flax. Linen for clothing. Thank you for the clothes on my back. Thanks to whoever planted and tended to the cotton that most of my clothes are made from. I’m glad they harvested it and I didn’t have to. Thanks to whoever drove it to the factory. Thanks to those who spun it into fabric and sewed it into clothes. Thanks to those who then packaged it and then those who drove it to a distribution center and then to a store. Thanks to the retail workers who received it in the stock room and the ones who stocked it on the floor. Thanks to the nice lady who rang it up for me. I should remember to be nice to her. She’s the only face I’ll see in a long line of people who have ensured that I can go about clothed.
Fodder. Food. Thank you for the food in my belly. Thank you to the farm workers who planted the corn that was in the tortillas that I made enchiladas out of last night. The ones who planted the tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, onions, and lime that I made the pico de gallo out of. Thank you whoever raised the chickens and cows that made up the chicken and cheese filling of my enchiladas. Thank you for nourishing the plants and animals. Thank you for harvesting and killing them so I didn’t have to. Again thank you to the people who drove my meat and produce to the factory. Thanks to those who distributed it to the store. Thanks to those who unloaded it and stocked the shelves. Thanks to the kids who filled my curbside order (I’m not going inside Wal-Mart during a pandemic) and loaded it up in my car. I definitely need to remember to be super pleasant to those kids since they are the only ones I’ll see in a long line of people who ensured that I have food to eat.
Frig. The goddess of hearth and home and family and love. Thank you for my family, my support network. Thank you for the community that I get to serve in my slightly less than living wage but very satisfying job. Thanks for the kids I work with and their parents, quite a few of whom have become dear friends. Thanks to my mother-in-law who is currently providing that roof over my head and floor beneath my feet. Thank to my Mom who walks with me and keeps me company as I’m trying to add exercise to my work towards recovery. Thanks to both my parents who supplemented my income when things were so bad I had to work part-time for a few months. Thanks for my husband who keeps me sane and puts up with all my moods no matter how bad they get.
Maybe our ancestors had a better understanding of what was important.
A blessed summer solstice to anyone who might read this. I wish you plenty of flags, flax, fodder, and frig.
One of the things I’ve been trying to work on is mindfulness. Living in the moment, observing my thoughts and letting them go, trying to focus on what is going on outside of my brain, instead of listening to that incessant, and usually negative, voice.
Today I decided to combine that with getting in a walk on my lunch break. We have a hopeless breakroom, tiny and basically part of a hallway that people walk up and down all day. So usually I go for a drive on my lunch. Pump up the music and try to get out of my head. I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness while driving but the voice always pops back in and it gets harder and harder to observe it and let it go—and then I’m just ruminating.
Today while I was gassing the car the breeze seemed drier than it has been. I live in the South so humidity is our norm right now. It occurred to me that maybe today I’d try to combine mindfulness with exercise and spend my lunch at the local walking trail.
Of course, since this was spur of the moment, I was in my work clothes, though at least I wore jeans today. Light, but long sleeve shirt, flimsy ballet flats. Yes, let’s do this!
I’ve been reading that one of the best ways to practice mindfulness is to rotate through the five senses. So as I started to walk I observed sounds: a cicada ramping up and then giving up before a full on thorax rattle, a blue jay screaming, the wind through the leaves of the trees, a Northern Cardinal making its Missile Command sound (you have to be my age and have played Atari to get that one), a couple Eastern Pewee’s calling, traffic on the highway, a train in the distance.
Smell. Not so much. A touch of humidity. A slight waft of orange pine needles cooking in the sun. Next.
Touch. A slight breeze on my skin, my long earrings hitting my neck with each stride, my thin ballet flats picking up the texture of the path, my wide leg trouser style work jeans flapping around my ankles, a small green insect with big green eyes landing on my arm.
Visual. Ah we are visual animals aren’t we? So much to work with here. A dragonfly, a damselfly, three black butterflies dancing around me and down the trail. So many greens! Sunny greens and shadowy greens, grassy greens and leafy greens. Two girls bicycle by me on old fashioned Schwinn type bikes, purple and yellow, with baskets. The voice pops in “hipster.” I observe it, let it go, and think how damn cute the kids are and squash the judgment. Two cardinals streak across the trail. The trail dappled with sun and shadow.
Taste. Really? What am I supposed to do with this? There is a slight after taste of my lunch. Next!
Back to sound. A plane somewhere above, a squirrel skittering in the dry leaves, a frog croaking. Occasional voices of other pedestrians. My toe kicking a pebble.
Smell again. Now I’m walking through a swampy bit of the path and I can smell the muck. Humidity and decomposition. Mud. Still brown water. Nothing else smells quite like a swamp. And then a whiff of honeysuckle. Nice.
Touch. The sun on my skin. A slight trickle of sweat down my back. Walking into the breeze. Slight creaking pain in the ankle that I twisted at the bottom of a canyon several years ago and then had to hike out on.
Visual. Honey suckle, followed by trumpet vine, followed by tick weed. Yellows and oranges mix with the green. A mossy tree with truly amazing bumps.
And so on around the trail. This was the most success I’ve had with mindfulness since I started trying to practice it. And I checked off several of the “what to do when you’re depressed activities”. Get outside in the sun, exercise, practice mindfulness, and now journaling.