Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it. David Foster Wallace
Some days my life is measured in numbers. At work I negotiate in library card numbers, the Dewey decimal system, due dates, how much is it for 23 photocopies? The currency of the material world is numbers.
My mind is a whirring calculator “dit, dit, dit…” Not an efficient one, it has to be said, maths was never my strongpoint, I am more a word girl. Word Woman? Sounds like my kind of superhero.
At lunchtime I shop for groceries and keep a mental tally, budgeting as I go, trying to remember PIN numbers and log ins. The self checkout machines echo the inner workings of my brain, “Dit, dit, dit…”
At home I constantly conjure like a magician, trying to bend the numbers this way and that, to etch out an existence for my son and I, juggling bills and payments and expenses.
Not surprisingly at the end of most days my mind is a frazzled, whirring machine, and my body is a long forgotten appendage, dragging around after it.
It wears me down, this mental maelstrom. The attempt to control and manage all the minutiae of life. Life measured in dates, times, dollars, scores.
I have written many times about trying to make peace with myself, my sensitivity, my over-amped mind, my anxiety and depression. It’s not an easy thing to do when it is so obvious that life would run so much smoother without those aspects.
The last few months have had me on a pendulum swinging wildly between heart-clenching anxiety and depressive lethargy. It really feels like each day is a marathon, yet when I get to the end of the day, I haven’t really achieved much except lurching from one thing to the next.
So I try to find the points in these extremes where they are assets and not liabilities. Anxiety at its mildest gets me up and moving, propels me into action. The lethargy is a much needed reprieve from all the mental chatter. It forces me to rest.
I try to smile from the inside, a Balinese practice. To imagine all my organs smiling. Something about this very simple practice seems to centre me. And to be perfectly honest, simple is about all I can manage right now.
Yet it’s only a temporary reprieve, and rather like my experience when diving without enough weight, I feel groundless and tossed about by the elements around me. I can’t keep my equilibrium.
Let go or be dragged. Zen proverb
At the moment I don’t feel in integrity. I feel ungrounded, unhinged, as if I am being blown around in life’s storms.
I have, surprisingly for me, not written much about my fears surrounding my son’s imminent school trip to America. He leaves tomorrow, and although I am attempting to stay calm, circumstances seem to be conspiring against me.
There are of course, the usual fears a parent has letting their child go off in the world without them. I have had some preparation for this, as my son has travelled overseas with his dad several times since our divorce.
But letting your child go off with a loving parent who cares as much about their wellbeing as you do, and sending them off with a bunch of, albeit responsible, hopefully caring, near strangers is quite another.
Then hurricane season hit. As anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock would know, the US and surrounds have been hit by some horrific hurricanes. Are being hit, I mean it’s happening as I write.
And the two worst hit areas, Houston and Florida, just happen to be my son’s destinations. So yep.
Did I mention I was already anxious? Did I mention I can whip up a worry fest over nothing? And now this, mass destruction, natural disaster, thousand-year monster storms. Hells bells.
So I just need to send my kid, my life, the person I love more than life, into that? Is this some kind of test? King Solomon you can quit hiding now…
As if my own fear wasn’t enough, my ex, my son’s father, has become a tabloid news junkie, sending me – and I’m not exaggerating here – hour-by-hour updates on the worst horrors of these cataclysmic events.
So that’s easy right, you just pull the pin on the trip?
But no. After ringing the school, the travel company and then the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – who only have an emergency line with a very sweet young man who took pity on my stuttering “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m supposed to call this number but can you help me find out some information because I’m totally freaking out here…”
That was before Irma hit… And Maria…
So at this stage, the trip is going ahead. The travel team are very experienced, constantly monitoring the situation and ready to amend the travel plans as necessary. I know you don’t need to know this, it’s myself I’m reassuring.
Oh, and did I mention how excited my son is? He helped pay for the trip with his part time job and has saved a thousand dollars spending money.
And the whole reason I talked his dad into agreeing to this trip – and that took a lot of talking, it is very expensive – was that 18 months ago my son was depressed and struggling. Really badly struggling. I mean, that was scary.
And when this trip came up, to NASA and the Kennedy Space Center and Disneyland. I thought “Hello Carrot!” I mean if Disneyland can’t coax a teenager out of their doldrums, I don’t know what can.
You are given life and it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight. Elizabeth Gilbert
And it has been. A carrot, I mean. This trip gave him a goal and a purpose, he got his first job and I have watched him butterfly right out of that adolescent gloom into a bright and confident young man.
I think I have alluded before to the feeling that I have been parenting solo for many years. My son’s father has his own issues, which have no place here, but I feel I have had to hold the lion’s share of providing emotional support and guidance for my son.
I find it exhausting to hold a safe and loving space for my son, whilst holding space for my own fears and struggles, and detaching from all the missives from his father. It’s managing this on my own that makes me feel most lonely and despite wonderful friends, mostly unsupported.
Last week the school contacted me to say we had been nominated for a scholarship. It’s a hardship scholarship aimed at keeping kids in school to complete their VCE.
While on the one hand I felt grateful that the school has obviously seen how hard it is to do this solo parenting, there was a fair amount of shame at being singled out as needing help. I’m proud like that. I struggle, but I don’t want it to show.
I often wonder how my son will look back on this time. Will he see me as failing to provide a family and financial affluence for him? Or will he remember the love and that I was always here for him. That I tried to provide the best life experiences I could for him. I hope the latter.
Having a child has been an exercise in letting go from the start. From the moment the doctor told me I was pregnant, once the room stopped spinning, that is – I thought I had the stomach flu!
I worried about protecting my child. I gave up smoking, I fussed over food, I poured over baby development books, hoping and praying that all the myriad of organs and parts were forming correctly. I worried about labour, with good reason, labour was hard, hence the name I guess.
When he was finally born I worried he would stop breathing at any moment – the baby of a family friend had died in her sleep and it had affected me greatly.
Then comes the time when you actually LEAVE YOUR CHILD WITH SOMEONE ELSE. I imagine this is what is feels like to have a limb amputated. I read once that having a child was like giving birth to your own heart and then forever having it walk around without you. I used to peer through the fence at daycare (and then school – it’s a wonder I was never ever arrested.)
Then comes the hard bits, when a doctor tells you there is something wrong with your child and you think “I knew it, I knew I would stuff this up. How could I have dreamed I could be a proper parent? Me? World’s greatest screw-up?”
There’s the sleepless nights where you worry, will they be okay? Will they go to a normal school, get a job, have friends, find love, have their own family? Tossing and turning even though he is only three and just wants to play Thomas the Tank Engine.
During the years you monitor their moods, is it normal, is it depression? WHAT AM I MEANT TO DO?
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. Kahlil Gibran
I often wished life came with a user’s manual. And the closest I have ever come is reading other people’s spiritual biographies. My favourites are The Wishing Year (by Noelle Oxenhandler, which inspired this blog.) And, don’t judge, don’t judge, DON’T JUDGE… Eat, Pray, Love. I know you are judging me!
I must have read Eat, Pray, Love at least ten times. I often think what I love about it is not the same as what a lot of people love about it. Yes, it’s romantic and she gets the guy in the end, with a Balinese backdrop and all, and yes, I am a hopeless romantic. But that was never it for me.
The first time I read that book I was trapped in a miserable and destructive marriage. I understood the three am anxiety wake up calls, the crying to God for help, the begging for the courage to leave, and for leaving to not be a total nuclear disaster.
After I left my marriage I read it again, and related to that all consuming depression, where it felt that all the passion for life had been sucked right out of me. The feeling that I had self-imploded my life and hurt people and things would never be okay again.
I read it again after meeting my soul mate, and every few years after our relationship soared and then imploded like a painfully recurring reenactment of the Challenger space launch.
The gods envy us. They envy us because we are mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again. Homer (The Iliad)
There’s a line from the book where she’s at the ashram in India, crying to Richard from Texas about how she can’t get over her ex. “But I miss him.” She says. “So miss him.” Replies Richard. “But I love him.” She says. “So love him.” He says.
There’s something so profound in this. That sometimes that’s all we can do is feel it. It can’t be changed or fixed. We cant go back in time for a do-over. But something may shift in us by just feeling what we feel.
As a side note when I spent a few days at an ashram in India I met a guy who I dubbed ‘Richard from Texas.’
I never found out his true name because we were in silence the whole time, but through a combination of charades-style signalling and gestures he helped me through the unspoken, but very strict, etiquette of meal times. Sit there, not there, take this, wash that. He was very kind to me and I giggled to myself that he was my Richard from Texas. Even though we didn’t get a chance for more profound communications, he stays in my mind as a friend.
Anyway, I digress. What the book always gave me was an understanding that my suffering was a rite of passage, a portal to some part of me I had been to afraid to embody. A part of me that could only emerge after all the other stuck-on parts I thought were me had been stripped away.
And that meant pain. Lots and lots of pain, and fear and anxiety, and guilt and shame. And then repeat…
Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain. It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately trying to fill up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness. Pema Chodron
This sense that pain was a portal to my deeper self, and not just a pointless suffering, was the same reason I was so attracted to my shamanic teacher, Sandra Ingerman. She talks openly about her battle with depression and how finding shamanic journeying helped her through that.
In the same way, my spiritual practices have given me a spaciousness around my depression. It’s not that I don’t feel it, I think it’s an integral part of my personality, but I don’t suffer so much with it. Well, mostly. Except when I can’t motivate myself to even do my spiritual practices.
Today I awoke with that heavy feeling. Of course my first thought was “Oh fuck, not this.” Nobody welcomes depression. I mean, if you’re feeling welcoming at all, it’s probably not depression.
But then I just went okay. I’m feeling depressed. What now? I need exercise, sunshine, good food and to throw away my to-do list for the day. But first some social media, because seeing other people’s fabulous lives is so helpful when you feel like a loser…
In my email account up popped a blog post with a link to this video. It’s about a woman and her journey with depression and how it led her to believe that depression is a portal to spiritual awakening.
Lisa Miller is a psychologist so she studied the brains of people who had overcome depression. She found that precisely the same areas that atrophied and withered in people with chronic depression were the same regions that thickened, the cortex strengthened like the trunk of a tree, in people who had sought a spiritual solution to their depression.
Lisa found when she looked at the brain scans of women who, through suffering, had come to a spiritual path, they had this thickened brain cortex, and they also had another quality. The back of their head gave off a certain wavelength of energy, that we call alpha, and it’s also found on the back of the head of a meditating monk. Alpha, has another name, it’s Schumann’s constant, it’s the wavelength of the Earths crust.
Her research caused her to conclude that depression can be core to our development. It is a rite of passage at pivotal stages in our lives.
Depression often occurs at times of transition, both natural like puberty, after childbirth, menopause and old age. As well as other transitions divorce, retrenchment, loss. She believes depression is a reaction to a call to become something. The problem is our culture has dismantled all the rituals of passage that might help us navigate these transitions with more support and less suffering.
I knew this journey was more than a disease. This depression was opening a path, a path of becoming. A spiritual path. Lisa Miller
Whenever I have been truly lost, truly without faith or hope, in retrospect I see it is right there that I have been standing at an unseen threshold into some deeper understanding.
This happened before I found God in AA, before I found Chakradance, before I found shamanism and druidry. Before I went to India.
All I can hope and pray is that this same process of emptying out everything I think I know is happening now, to make way for something greater or deeper or more substantial.
I don’t know, that’s the thing, I don’t know what’s coming – breakdown or breakthough? It feels awful, like a psycho-spiritual curette. I am being scraped clean of everything that I hold onto. David Foster Wallace wrote that everything he eventually let go of had claw marks in it. I mean I am a Taurus, for crying out loud, our motto is “I hang on.”
That’s me always hanging on, because I’m scared yes, but also because I don’t actually know what letting go looks like.
Is it the grand gesture? Quit my job, leave my kid, move to an ashram in India? If so which lineage because after four years of investigating I’m still no clearer on that. Every time I find a guru whose teachings I like I discover they are under a cloud of sex charges.
Is it what I am doing? Staying here in this discomfort, with this crisis of faith and trusting that I will be guided to the next step when the time is right?
And I know this is the time when I should be embracing all my practices meditation, yoga, Chakradance, journeying but everything feels so empty and I feel so unmotivated. The best I can do is get my arse to yoga every day and run my classes. And I do get that temporary relief, that sense of calm. But then it just pours out of me like a sieve full of water.
I guess this is exactly where integrity comes in. Like the integrity of a building, can I hold myself without constantly being at the mercy of life’s storms? Can I provide a strong centre that is my anchor during shifting tides?
In savassana today – where all my truly sane thoughts arise, I realise I am in another rite of passage, as is my son. He’s becoming a man. He doesn’t need to be mummied so much any more.
And I wonder if, moreso than the hurricanes and my concerns over his recent problematic behaviours continuing while he’s away, if this is the deep root of my anxiety. I’ve defined myself in a large way as a mother for many years, and without that, who am I now?
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable. Kahlil Gibran
I need to let go and he needs me to let him go out into the world without me fussing over him.
Parenting is a fine balance of holding and letting go. And I think mothers err to the former. So if you happen to hear of a hysterical woman who had to be carried out of Melbourne Airport tomorrow, just know that was me doing my best to let go.
I jest. I was the epitome of grace and dignity – well on the outside at least and right up until I waved him goodbye through the security gates, starting to cry as I ran into the arms of my friend who happened to be standing there, en route to Bali.
In the words of my beloved Beatles, I just have to let it be.
To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own. Jack Kornfield
I like that, what Jack says, letting be rather than letting go. Sounds less like losing something. While I can to some degree manage the numbers of life, people are another thing entirely. And who am I to deprive anyone of their journey, their portals, and rites of passage?
Not to mention the adventures on what my dear friend used to call this ‘exquisite journey’ of life.
If I can let go of trying to control all that, all these people, places and things – and just let it all be – maybe I’ll see what is trying to emerge in me.
I think that what I have been truly searching for as a person… A sense of liberty, the liberty that comes not only from self-awareness but also from letting go of many things. Many things that weigh us down. Jhumpa Lahiri
Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.