A Change Would Do You Good

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ikjmz_SlGh
Cheryl Crow’s song of the same name
black &white wallI flew back to Toronto on Monday and met my sister Georgia for dinner on Wednesday. I ordered Guinness. She had never known me to order beer. I felt like saying, “It’s not beer. It’s Guinness.” She had not expected that change, but she liked my new hair cut.

Blake, my ex-husband, took me out for dinner Friday. He made no comment when I ordered Honker’s Ale from Goose Island, but he did tell me I looked younger. True, I was tanned from 150 days of sun at 5,500 ft in California, where darkness and silence led me to sleep 10 or 11 hours a night. And I had spent hours sitting beside our patient reading while someone else made dinner. The last seven weeks as recovery proceeded were particularly relaxing.

On Friday, I decided that I hated my minimalist decor and began hanging all the pictures in storage, including a wall devoted to the family and another of Georgia’s colorful paintings of houses. This means that I am giving up on feng shui. I’m not supposed to have red, a  fire element, in my living room during the year of the horse. Georgia’s paintings are full of red. Besides feng shui wasn’t doing  any good. My year has had a deal of bad luck. Our patient had also used feng shui which did not protect her from recession, loss or extremely grave illness. Be that as it may, I prefer now to be creative and bask in the warmth of family fire.

Roberta's wallAt my desk, I rounded up all the receipts I have assiduously saved my entire life and trashed them. I have lived altogether too carefully. During the five months I was away, I didn’t get my mail, of course. I didn’t even listen to the messages on my land line until a month before I left and I couldn’t receive calls because my cell phone got no reception. There was absolutely nothing in the mail or in the messages that was important. Well, there was a thank you note for funeral flowers, pretty much a dead issue.

During my mountain sojourn, I talked about the cold as fall drew on and I adapted to cabins heated in the old way by wood or more modern pellet stoves, both of which meant cold mornings. I have hated being cold all my life. For years, I have included the weather at the top of my daily journal entries. Now I have stopped. At first, I glanced at the thermometer outside my kitchen window. But I’ve stopped doing that as well. I assume that for the foreseeable future it will be below freezing. Snow, ice and wind will be apparent when I open the curtains. What difference does it make? I am going to wear thermal underwear, a heavy sweater, a sheepskin hat and a long down coat whenever I go out. I don’t need to hear a forecaster scaring me silly.

Georgia and her friend, the people upstairs, Blake, my brother on the line from Belgium and others who have called have eased me back into life in Toronto. Not everyone has answered my “I’m-home call”. I am sad, but by their deeds, ye shall etc.

So out of a traumatic and potentially tragic situation, has come new life. As Aunt Mae would say, “Ain’t that grand?”

 

 

 

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Considering Loss at Thanksgiving

Recently, I lost my usual social group. It’s because of the flood, the basement flood at the tai chi club I attended two or three times a week. It wasn’t even a very deep flood, not what others in my town experienced that July 8th when the heavens opened, but deep enough to cause a flowering of mould or noxious fungi. Initially, it smelled like charred wood. When no one else seemed to smell it, I knew I was in trouble. A blinding headache confirmed my suspicion. I withdrew. I raised an alarm. This was a health hazard, I said. The contractor who dealt with the building agreed. The rug had to be pulled up and the floor treated with anti-fungal cleaner.

It is now three months later. The rug is still there and so is the over-growth of fungus.

I tried visiting a month ago. As soon as I walked in the door, I got light-headed. Surely, I would adapt. Half an hour later, I kept saying I had to go because my head was aching, but I seemed incapable of taking myself out the door. Walking toward my car, I knew it was the beginning of the end. On Friday, I turned in my key. The instructor who took it asked me how long it takes me to get to the club I now attend.

It is true that I am now going to another location of the same outfit, half an hour closer than the mouldy one, a spacious, airy building that brings to mind Hemingway’s “clean, well lighted place”. But it lacks the 50 or so familiar faces I used to gab to and the four good friends I had made there.

There is a good deal of self-pity involved. I had been going to that club for eleven years and was instrumental in its membership expansion, in upgrading the building and in fund-raising. Every so often, I am given public credit for this. Don’t want it. Want a de-fungused basement.

Give that up, Joyce. You did it. Now it’s done. Have the grace not to snivel.

So I took Magic Erasers into the new club and scrubbed the baseboards before class. I talk to absolutely everyone who will give me the time of day. I take food in for potluck lunches. There’s got to be a pony under this pile of — fungus.

In other news: the cottage I love is being sold. We will not be able to rent it next year. A beloved house in Southern California is being lost to bankruptcy, a loss which reminds me of an earlier loss that I spoke of in my post about The Great Gatsby. https://115journals.com/2013/05/17/the-great-gatsby-a-personal-response/

Worst of all and no joking matter, a young relative is dying. I do not claim that this will actually be my loss, because I am peripheral. It is, nevertheless, a source of grief, all the more because it reminds me that I very nearly lost someone much closer. https://115journals.com/2013/01/06/shed-come-undone/

Roots are being torn up. I pulled two fat carrots out of a garden a few days ago. They are destined to join parsnips and turnip in a mash-up tomorrow. Heat, butter, nutmeg and sea salt will transform them into a mouth-watering Thanksgiving delight. (A Canuckian Thanksgiving) And I know that these changes are also transformative, but, like the carrots, I don’t yet see what we are becoming. I catch glimpses – a new home for one of us among mountain pines, my renewed friendship with my ex-husband after 30 years estrangement and various spiritual books assure me that the young man is about to be changed into “something rich and rare”.

Blake has observed that if we had stayed together in that house under the hill, skimming the leaves out of the pool and feeding the birds outside the patio door, we would be stodgy and rigid. He doesn’t add “whereas we are flexible, large-minded and open-hearted”. But of course we silently believe we have made a transformation of that order.

So for that change, at least, I am grateful.

Sage Baby: Bad Titles follow-up

A couple of posts ago, I ruminated about titles that get outdated by time, including George Orwell’s 1984 and my blog 115journals. I imagined that the three journals I have written since are seriously put out and I rashly promised journal 118 that I would mollify it by posting its highlights. Today I reached page 215, the last page. Journal 118 started on July 8th is now retired from active duty.

Let’s see what’s there.

Oh. My. Goodness. Anais Nin would have relegated its first part to her diary of pain. When she was mortally ill in Big Sur, as I remember, she divided her journal in two and kept the unpleasant stuff separate. I haste to add that my “pain” was more mundane and much alleviated by simple means such as a new regimen of supplements to replace the minerals I was short of.

Then I come to a dream I had in which I was a young doctor just beginning my residency when I learned that I was pregnant. The dream was suffused with love, warm, nourishing love for and from my husband, and a quickening sexual desire. I went out for a walk by myself on a rainy Sunday evening to relish this feeling. Oddly, I came upon my actual/ non-dream-life son in the course of this walk. He was working as a blacksmith -not of course in real life -outside his forge and raised his head only briefly to ask if I had written another book.

I seemed to be living an alternative past and seeing an alternative future.

When I looked at what the dream meant, I saw that I was dreaming of healing myself. The Sunday night walk could be seen as a sign I was now complete enough in myself to do so. Someone I told the dream to said I was dreaming about my “sage baby”, that gestation is a symbol of spiritual cultivation.

So I looked on the internet for “sage baby’ and found it was the name of a company that produces baby blankets, a name given to both boy and girl babies and the name of a musician. Not helpful. I imagined people sitting in a shamanic circle fashioning tiny doll babies out of sage leaves. Then I finally realized she meant “wise” baby.

Ah, a familiar idea. One of western civilizations most important festivals centres on the wise or sage baby, born in a manger. But it has seemed to me for some time that this is better understood as the birth of the Christ in the cave of the heart, in other words, our own soul discovering itself and knowing it is one with the divine creative spirit.

A book is another kind of sage baby and my real son was/is fashioning his own sage baby, in iron with fire.

So there you go, Journal 118. That is surely your highlight, an actual insight.

Isn’t it curious that in our dreams, we can be any age, possibly because we are not actually age-specific.

How’s your sage baby coming on?

The Look of Love: paying attention

I am sitting beside him in La Veranda Osteria, when he seizes my left hand in both of his  calling me, “Sweetheart” and gazing intently into my eyes. No wonder he has had women on several continents and the odd island falling for him. My brother has had this ability to charm ever since he ran away to Europe with a backpack at 17. At the moment, he is trying to convince me of something, some better way to live, perhaps, but I am too overcome by his undiluted attention to take it in.

Great to find this in a dinner date, even if he is your brother, but much more important in a doctor or medical practitioner. I remember sitting in a sound-proof third-floor office near LAX and being the focus of the undivided attention of my acupuncturist. She asked questions of such insight, listened with such concentration and considered me so deeply, that I felt entirely and absolutely loved. The interview itself was healing: there was no real need for needling. In fact, I have had a profound feeling of change for the better, just from talking to her on the phone. That was her goal – to be so present and available to her patients that they felt connected, not just to her  but to the power that animates us. Having felt that connection and felt it repeatedly, it became easier for us to make it on our own.

Actors and self-proclaimed gurus, who project charisma, attract us because they make use of this kind of focus although not perhaps with such benevolence. I once met an actor unexpectedly on my way down to his wife’s yoga studio and almost suffered third-degree burns from the radiance of his projection. I was gobsmacked, but I did not feel better for it.

I do feel better when I can master the trick myself. The 108 moves in tai chi give me that opportunity especially when I find myself acting as Corner. (A Corner, as you might expect, is at the end of a line and so in a leadership role.) There is a lot of repetition in such a set, but repetition with variations. For example, there are 3 sets of  “Wave Hands Like Clouds”, one of 5 of this sideways step with soft arm sweeps, one of 7 and one of 3. All of them begin from the position of “Single Whip” or “Whip to One Side”, but between the set of 5 and the set of 7, just when the sleepy Corner has zoned out, the move suddenly switches to “Fair Lady Works Shuttles” or “Four Corners”, an altogether more complicated move. I have often been embarrassed when I have missed that change, dissociated or planning dinner or gazing out the window. I was not in the now, not really present.

When I do hit that groove, I experience a mental rest, like a moving meditation from the one-pointedness. It is easier than meditation for me. The kind of meditation I practise when I am able is mindfulness, just being aware of what is going on, especially internally, observing  without attachment, as my acupuncturist would say – letting each thing go -each thought, feeling or sensation.

It’s a useful technique when I am beset by anxiety or depression or pain. If I sit down, just sit, not cross-legged or full-lotus nor even necessarily straight-backed, but easily, and observe what is going on in me, I gain some distance. I am watching what my mind is doing and so I am now in the role of observer, not sufferer. I am no longer my discomfort. I can stop spinning. I have heard that the goal of meditation is to still the mind. I don’t aim that high. But if I pay attention to it, it stops screaming in agony, like a crying child when her mother holds her and gives her her attention. It may well be that there is no solution. The grief cannot be assuaged. A fearful situation cannot be resolved. A physical pain is intractable. No matter. All these things are more bearable when looked upon steadily.

It doesn’t even have to be a look of love. Did my acupuncturist actually loved each of the parade of people who sat before her? (Of course, she did me.) She became absorbed in them so that there was no longer a separation between her and other. No other in fact. In the same way, I can reclaim my anger and self-loathing, my fear of ageing and death, whatever negativity is plaguing me. Once reclaimed, these parts of me seem to shrug and get on with life.

It is these negative feelings that prevent us from focusing, both on others and on our own mental health.

Eckhart Tolle has written several books, including The Power of Now to extoll the virtues of focusing. Jon Kabat-Zinn has told us how to heal ourselves through mindfulness in Coming to Our Senses. I have read these and others and found them inspiring, but it is simple practice that gives results. Like tai chi. We don’t really need to read more. We just need to do it.

“Attention must be paid,” Arthur Miller said in Death of a Salesman. “Pay attention,” our parents and teachers admonished. Yet we seldom do. We need something like the little bell that Buddhists sound during meditation calling out, “Be here. Be now. Wake up”.

Love is just that: being conscious.

I Dream of Etherica: life changing dream #2

People who say that life is short are generally not old. Although I have not yet achieved old old age, that apparently starts at  85, I sometimes feel like Virginia Woolfe’s Orlando who started out as one of Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers and ended up as a Victorian mother. I seem to have had that many lives since I was born, although they have all been uni-sex.

One of my lives was esoteric. I meditated twice a day and joined in group meditation at the full and new moon. Every day, I visualized three lighted triangles in partnership with two others (per triangle) in far reaching places -Texas, England, France, South Africa, Australia- to bring light and peace into the world. I read the works of Alice Bailey, submitted essays to the Arcane School and attended conferences in New York City at the full moon in Taurus . We were concerned about world events and considered them in the light of the truth that Alice Bailey had channeled from the being we called the Tibetan.

Now it is true as time went on that I wondered why I never got published in the school’s monthly magazine, whereas my friend, who could afford to donate much more than I, often did. Clearly, I was a poor judge of my own worth. And as I observed the thin, harried, quarrelsome people running the conferences, I wondered if that was what enlightenment looked like.

This was the me that arrived in Los Angeles one August morning about 20 years ago. In the rose-patterened journal, # 23, in my backpack, I had just been making notes: “Tension of heart energy expressed in terms of giving to others- expenditure of spiritual energy can overcome fatigue…”

But not in this case.

My brother, Rob, was supposed to be there to meet me. I hadn’t seen him for seven years. He was flying in from his home in Paris. My daughter met me instead and told me he had been delayed. I was disappointed, I was hot and I was exhausted.

“Take a nap,” Julia said and her husband seconded the motion.

I had my 5 year-old grandson’s room while he was with his father. I lay down on his little futon. I listened. Good. The Buddhist woman next door, who assaulted our ears with her loud, angry chanting, was silent. I breathed deeply and fell asleep.

I dreamed I was on a plane on the way back to Toronto, but something was wrong. We made an emergency landing in a high desert airfield. I was looking out the window at something like snow that was blowing up into dirty little drifts.

I turned to the man next to me and said, to my surprise, “Do you think we are dead?’

“Yes,” he said.

We were herded into the airport waiting room, the walls of which were alternately plum, fuchsia and orange, each one edged with the colour of the wall next to it. We were at loose ends, milling about in vague expectancy. I was frankly appalled at the sheer tastelessness of what was, by all accounts, heaven.

Above us, an LED sign fired up, telling us that our first class would be at 10 p.m. Great! Just what I longed for! Heaven is an evening class!

It was 10:10 already. All I wanted was a shower and some rest. Resentfully, I followed the crowd up a curving, adobe staircase. (Don’t ask me. The journal says “adobe”.) Resentfully. The others were chattering merrily as if they were on a cruise. I was thinking how summer-camp, how awful. I didn’t fit in here either.

At the top, I heard joyful greetings. Each person was greeting an assigned teacher, whom they instantly recognized because they looked alike. A swarthy Mediterranean man had met his Spanish-looking teacher. A bull of a man with a short neck had met a broad-shouldered teacher who could be his twin. Each pair withdrew to a plum-colored banquette to begin orientation. They were all talking animatedly.

Except me. I was standing all alone. Bereft again.

What karmic debt was this? What failure of positivity? I had clearly not tried hard enough. I wanted to cry. And I was very angry. I wanted to clean myself up. I wanted to lie down. Lay my burden down. Oh damn.

Then someone clattered down the stairs that curved up to the third floor. She was running. She was smiling ear to ear – thin, pale, intense woman dressed in flowing, flapping, filmy prints of plum and fuchsia and orange.

“Hello, hello,” she cried, “So sorry I’m late. I’m Etherica. I’ll be your instructor. You can call me Dea, that is “of God”.

Her draped arms were held out, ready for an embrace. She was beaming, smiling broadly but more than that. Her eyes were wide and bright and intensely focused on my face, as if she were beaming light and love as she bore down on me. LIke one of those TV preachers or self-help gurus.  But she was also tripping on her gown and, unforgivably for me as a teacher, she was late.

My stomach revolted. I thought I would vomit. This was my  angel! This was how I seemed to others! Flighty, incompetent, ungrounded, and showering a blaze of brightness that made them want to wipe it off. She was not genuine. She was not …what…. She was not real. She could not, please God, be what I was meant to be.

GAAA!

I struggled awake, tangled in the wet sheet. I gasped for air in the stifling room. I stood straight up. Oh bad idea. Low blood pressure. I sat back down. Put my head between my knees. I could hear Julia treating a patient in the next room. I was in Los Angeles.  I was still alive. Etherica might be waiting for me, but she’d have to wait a while yet.

When I was able to get to the kitchen and had blurted out the whole sorry story to my son-in-law, he found it vastly amusing. “Sambo’s”, he chortled. “You died and went to a Sambo’s.”

He had to do a footnote for this uninformed Canadian. Sambo’s, he said, was a franchised restaurant that specializes in pancakes. Ah, as in the story of Little Bl….., how non pc.

“You’re really spooked. Don’t want to die?”

“It’s not the dying. That’s bad enough, but is that what I am – desiccated, flakey, ineffective, nervous…”

An unwise question to ask a son-in-law but at that moment the phone rang. He picked it up. I could hear the person at the other end, saying, “This is North West Airlines. Mr Hood’s bags have arrived and will be delivered before five.”

“And Mr Hood?” my son-in-law asked.

“Yes?”

“Mr Hood has arrived as well?”

“Good” said the man and hung up.

Where, I wondered is Rob. How could his bags be here and he not? I cursed Air Canada for showing that movie about Judgement City on my flight down.

My son-in-law took his shaken mother-in-law out, down to the beach apartment to make up a bed for Rob. My urgent need to prevent myself from ending up in Sambo heaven with Etherica had to be put on hold.

When we arrived back home on Washington Way, a van labelled  AirServ stood in front of the house and a delivery man with his phone to his ear was pounding on the door, yelling, “Pick it up. Pick it up. I know you’re in there. Well finally… I’ve got your bags here. Where am I? Right at your door. Your single storey brown house..” He turned to look at us as we came up the walk and Julia threw open the door.

“I think you have our bags there,” my son-in-law said pleasantly.

In the evening, the front room changed from a consulting room back into a living room and we were there watching television when I suddenly got to my feet and opened the door. Rob was getting out of a car across the street.

“Hi there, Sis,” he yelled. “I lost somebody. I’ll be right back”.

Back in the car. he made a U-turn and vanished up Abbot Kinney. We stood shivering in the cool desert air until he came roaring back followed by another car. He stood in the middle of the street speaking rapid French at the people in it. We must meet his friends, hear the story of the lost bags, of being questioned in Amsterdam as suspected terrorists because they were bagless and much, much more.

He had blown back into my life, this force of nature, he who had been stabbed on a train platform in Bombay, spent a week in jail in Turkey and as a camera man had had compartments that no one could ever find.

While Julia and her husband were working we walked on the beach and Rob talked, “And so I said to him, ‘Monsieur Godard, films are not made with trucks. Films are made with people – directors and actors.’ quel triumph…”

We drove north up the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur, where there was no room at the inn but he conned the hostess into letting us have a table. I had been a vegetarian for ten years but I ordered chicken.

“I remember you, Sis,” he said. You used to laugh. You could laugh at anything. You had a root canal that went wrong. You were in agony for weeks and you had people splitting their sides. You’re the one who taught me how to laugh.” He put down his fork. “What happened to you?”

Probably only Rob could have said that to me. Even so, a list of what had happened unfurled  in my mind and I started to cry.

“It’s okay to cry,” he said, taking my hand, “but, when you get around to it, it’s better to laugh.”

And so it was that what Etherica started, Rob finished, and I gave it all up. I gave up esoteric study and triangles of light and group meditation and terrible earnestness. I gave up flowing prints. I gave up a whole bunch of friends who didn’t laugh either. I ate meat.

That night after he had registered us at the Carmel Motor Lodge, he came out and said, “I told her you were my sister. I think she believed me,” and he fell over the steering wheel in gales of laughter.