Monday, April 9, 2018

Big Magic

Sorrow is beautiful. I never realized it until the Great Loss hit me, full blunt force in the face, in the heart. It struck down the very core of me until nothing really remained. I even have trouble remembering things sometimes. Thank goodness for close friends - the kind that knows your soul, your spirit, that remember who you are. The kind that remember you when you can’t anymore, whether because it is just too painful or whether because it is just...gone. I am not sure which it is with me, but so much has lifted and released me. I mourn those things of me that I lost and I feel still, 11 years later, the raw spots that remain from their sudden unleashing. What I did not count on was how it unfettered me. How heavy I had become in the burden of who I was. Not very many people get the chance to start all over again, but that is what I feel I have done. Rebuilt a version of self, up from the scorched earth, with the chance to now be who I want to be. Not a victim, not a parable, not an example. Just me. It was……...essential to life, to be this version of myself. I am glad I do not have to wait until my next time around to see this unseen world.

Now, after all this time, I have done so much. Seen so much. Helped so many. Helped my own soul heal. I go to work and I come home. I love my husband and I love my kids. I see the world continue to revolve and when I am truly true to myself, I see how the achings and yearnings and battles and warrings - how they just don’t matter. I feel pity for the poverty of spirit that has put us all where we are today. I am so wealthy and I wasn’t always so wealthy. I see now those who think themselves truly rich and I feel….pity.

I have a secret. It is a wonderful secret. It sits in my heart right now, only there two days but burrowed in and making me smile with the flutter of its wings against my insides. Joe gave me this secret yesterday. Do you want to know what it is? I am going to tell you, and you might be disappointed because it isn’t anything tangible to anyone but myself. But it is something I have always wanted to do. I am going on retreat. A writing retreat. It isn’t an organized function. The main presenter is going to be me. The inspirational topics will be birds and bees and wind in the treetops and across the grassy plains of Oklahoma. There is a little cottage, an artist’s retreat that another writer sort of individual keeps and rents to souls like me who need to unplug and focus on this urge to record the world and the stories and the emotions of life. There is no cell reception there. There are no people. But there is a labyrinth made of poetry that the owner carved into the grassland and propped up on stakes, and there is a little poetry museum in a little hut right next to the little cottage that I can wander into.

It is Spring and there is new growth on the trees, that sudden change that always seems to be on the brink of happening and then...having happened almost without noticing. Every year I try to find it -the magical moment when the earth heals itself from its cold exile and stretches into sunlight. And every year it seems to slip by me like a gossamer fabric in the wind, blowing past like an ethereal light, not sure I really felt it, leaving me awash in a sea winking shades of green, unaware I had been calculating yet again to catch it in the act of getting dressed. I can’t think of a better time to go away from the world than right now.

I am going to confess, I am a little bit afraid. What if in my solitude and meditative silence I find I have nothing really to say? What if I get bored with myself or see things I do not want to know? What if the opposite happens, and I love it so much that I never want to come back to this suburban imitation of a life well lived? Will my Joe pull into the countryside with me and fade into the glorious sunset that something in my romantic soul years to walk tall and proud and dignified into? What if there is nothing in my head for me to write? I love this, the blog of my naked soul but darn it, I want to go beyond this. I want to create something new and different. Something that is fiction that isn’t fully fiction and characters that aren’t really pretend.

I have read the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, who has become a sort of mentor in the way only brilliant and glittering strangers can. That book is, for the moment, a bible of permission to let loose this creative energy that I have gotten so good at sheltering, hiding and tamping down. I am losing my fear of blooming. How exciting is that? I am going to write. I open myself to ideas and invite them to approach me. I breathe in...I breathe out...and I wait. I hope one finds me before I go on retreat. I hope one finds me while I am there. I am just full up with anticipation of this phase in my life. Who knows where this all will go. I can’t imagine writing a novel, so I say just one short story...I will write just one short story and see it through to the end. But maybe….just maybe...I will write a novel. This isn’t about being the next J.K. Rowlings. This is about doing something I have been scared to do. I don’t even care if what I write sucks. I just want to fly.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Hahm Sa

I might publish this on my blog site. I might not. I have not decided yet. As someone born and raised Catholic, what I am undergoing feels quite radical, though I can feel bubbles of laughter behind that sentiment. We humans murder one another for water we could share, but the idea of solitary meditation is radical and weird. Go figure.

I have been slowly reading Eat, Pray, Love. I mix it up, this spiritual and meaningful book with another book that is just fluffy and entertaining. I am letting my inner desires drive me as to which one I pick up when, which, if you consider my potato chip habit, may not be the best plan, but so far it is working out well. I am seeing myself in a new light and new levels of opportunity to connect with the Divine. It is no secret that spiritual faith as I knew it took a huge hit after The Seven Year Shit Sandwich (TSYSS for short). You know, that seven year period in which I lost my marriage, my house, my finances through bankruptcy. I lost a couple of jobs, my dad got sick and died, my youngest son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. My oldest son was diagnosed with aggressive leukemia and died in the final 18 months of TSYSS. I lost my last three grandparents in there as well, though their expected demise from aging meant less to my immature soul at the time, but seems more pertinent and poignant now, looking back. In any case, contemplating God had been fraught with angst and suspicion since that time, though as I have healed, I have felt a renewed desire for connection with a higher source. I have had it, in small doses, in gentle prayer and moments of solitude, but nothing that made me comfortable stating exactly what direction my faith comes from or where it is headed or who might control or guide it. I certainly wasn't the Catholic I once was. I definitely wasn't the Mormon I had flirted with for a time. I absolutely am not agnostic and never have been, even through the worst of it. I have taken to calling myself "spiritual not religious", with a definite disinterest in dogma and a reasonably strong desire not to talk about it to anyone. My spirituality has never felt more personal.

So here I am, wandering my way through a book of ideas and ideals that are so foreign to me that I can't even think about it too much. I have no frame of reference in which to compare the practices of meditation with chants, at least I thought at first. Over time I realized the Catholic church uses a lot of this concept. Rote repetition plays a huge role in Mass...that I actively engaged in rote repetition without internalizing the concepts isn't the fault of the practice itself. I believe it works for some, just not for me and it didn't mean I have no pathway to experience peace or divinity. Somehow this recognition freed some remnant of nervousness over what I am embarking on and I have moved in and around the ideas playfully, with great creative energy and a yearning to return to them when I am away in body or mind. Its important to note that this refers not to the book, but to the concepts and awakenings that the book has exposed me to.

I have tried to meditate before and ultimately, like any good Catholic woman, used it to flagellate myself because I wasn't "good at it". Meaning, sitting silently, quietly, without moving, guiding my thoughts gently back to my breathing.... while my knees ache and I know any minute now someone is coming in the door with all their bustle and their needs and I DID NOT WANT TO GET CAUGHT DOING THIS!!!....was not a peaceful practice. It was my own fault, in my mind. How hard could it be to just sit still?? This too I am not good at. I wandered between "meditation is dumb" and "I'll just get a color book of mandalas or something" and figured I'm not weird/good/kooky/enlightened/believer enough to get to know it. I knew my best friend from high school was way into it. This didn't surprise me. She was always better at touching God than me.

We went on a trip together and I got to witness her self care practices while on that trip. I marveled at how much she would eat. Without shame. Without fear. This girl has the chow GOING. ON. Every three hours, on the dot, it was time to indulge again. What was this madness, I wondered. She's was skinnier than me. Healthier. And not even shy about it. And....AND...she had not had to surrender her "girl card" because she admitted she likes her food. She was just as feminine and elegant as ever. Eating was not only NOT a source of shame, it was something she unabashedly indulged in. Craved. Surrendered to. We went to a Vegan restaurant and something in me woke up, like a cute little sleeping furry vegetarian raising its long-eared head from napping. The food felt GOOD to eat. I ate without shame, because Cami's lack of shame gave me permission to enjoy my food. Everything we ate was delicious. She was consistently setting food aside for me, all through the trip. She left me the last bite of the vegan Tiramisu and, let me tell you, that required some degree of self sacrifice on her part. It took delicious to a whole new level. (Had she demanded it for herself I just might have stabbed her with my fork. Not very vegan of me but hey, I'm new at this). I didn't realize it at the time, but an impression was made on me that night. We walked the streets of New York arm in arm and I pleasantly wondered if people thought we might be sisters. Or lovers. Or just really close friends. And I wasn't worried about it. I just internalized the feeling of gratitude and pleasure. She bought me a scarf at a second-hand store... a scarf now infused with the happy, peaceful, (vegan) memories of that night. I peace with who I am becoming. That's a step past the guilt of surviving my child. For a long time I could not even be at peace with the fact that I am

So I have been reading this book and thinking about things, remembering the mantras she exposed me to, accessing my "third eye" (its blue), moving my body rhythmically, which freed up my mind to focus least after I stopped worrying about whether I was doing it right. It was a cleansing experience and bonding for us both, but something I have not tried to replicate now that I am at home in my "real life" again. Step in Eat, Pray, Love. In the book, the author comfortingly reflects her own woeful stress about practicing meditation. She discussed the simple mantra that gave her the most "success" at meditation in the beginning. It was a simple Sanskrit phrase.  Hahm Sa. "I am That". 

I liked it. I could remember it. I could pronounce it. It didn't require any contortions or small-muscle adeptness at bumping my thumbs together above my head while exhaling and trying not to fart or accidentally tinkle a little. Yes, Hahm Sa might work for me, for now. I found myself coming back to it throughout the day....when I got bored.  When I would get frustrated. When I wanted to feel good. HahhhhhmmmmmmsssSssssaaaaah" Innnnnn with the air and Outtttt. A few times, until life moved and I moved, but somehow with this core of pleasure in the heart of me, touching something spiritually warm. I felt like vegan tiramisu in the core of me. Like second-hand colorful scarves bought by a close friend. Like truffle oil pizza. HahhhmmmmssssSsssaaaaah. I am That. Every little thing is gonna be all right. There is a comfort in it. I do it a lot.

The week after I got home, Joe and I went to the indoor pool to sit in the hot tub there. I enjoyed the warmth on my body, but wanted something more. I had tried swimming laps at other times in my life. I have a very very damaged knee. The excess weight on top of it makes most weight-bearing exercise impossible and swimming a no-brainer for getting in a good work out. But the last time I tried it, years ago, I felt tight in my lungs and scared I would drown. People were looking at me and I was fat and slapping the water awkwardly and I had to share a lane with someone and what if they touched my big lumbering butt, which floated all too well all by itself...In other words, I had created a mountain of negative association. Just walking around the pool imagining looks of horror crossing the faces and minds of the other people made me resist doing it. I was safe and hidden in the bubbles of the hot tub. I didn't want to get out.

But I did.

I realized that I did want to get out. I'd been a water fiend at one point in my life. In fact, young Sheri would get palpitations of excitement merely seeing a swimming pool. I could not get enough. I began to realize somewhere inside me, I am still that girl. I wanted to swim. 

I got out of the hot tub.

I walked to the lap pool. 

I selected a lane and put on my goggles. And I jumped in.

The water swallowed me, embracing me like an old friend and as I bobbed to the surface, I started swimming to the other side. The motion of my arms and legs created silken currents over my skin and I bobbed gently up and down with each stroke, inhale......exhale......I touched the other side and came back the other way. Rhythm. Movement. Water. Skin. Breath. Inhale. Exhale. 

When I got back to the point that I started, I was winded, but I didn't want to be done. I turned around and headed back, feeling my lungs and muscles working together to supply what was needed to continue. I was gaspy, with fast intakes of air and long, lingering exhalations into the water, making bubbles with my nostrils. INhale. Exxxxxxxxxxxxxhaaalllllle. INhale. Exxxxxxxxxxxxxxhalllllllllllllle. HAHM Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. The mantra started so naturally. So peacefully. The pleasure of movement in this safe environment from my young, young self...a place in which I had felt happy over and over again....melted into my strokes. I did six more laps, chanting Hahm Sa in my mind with every breath. My body fatigued. I could have kept going, but was so high from the feeling of the meditation. I doubted its ability to last if I got truly fatigued, so I stopped. I hauled myself out of the pool, smiling and peaceful and padded my wet self back to the indulgence of the hot tub. Hahm Sa. I am That.

I felt good. For the first time in forever, I had thoughts through the week about exercise and experienced desire rather than repulsion. I could not wait to go back. I did the following week, then again the week after, increasing my meditation time/number of laps each time. I've found something quiet and peaceful. Something that has brought these fragmented parts of me and shown me the place they are still knit together. I will probably swim today.

Combined with the book and the swimming, I've been having crazy dreams. GOOD crazy dreams. Lately, my dreams have me capable of doing things that I cannot really do in real life. In one, I was a singer on stage. The next one, I was a figure skater. In both of these, I was me.....age 47. Overweight. But super skilled and enjoying an audience. In one, I could play an energetic fiddle. The next, I was on Americas Next Top Model, getting coached on how to properly walk the runway. They are both funny and joyful. I get amused little chuckles when I wake up every morning and remember the dream and the feeling in them. I am not sure where these dreams are coming from or what they are trying to tell me. I'm just enjoying the heck out of them. The other dreams I have been having have been about my dad. Anyone who knows me knows he was mentally ill and abusive. He died during TSYSS without my ever experiencing having made him proud of me. But in the dreams I have been having lately, he is smiley - like, REALLY smiley. In a way the real Marv Huettner just never smiled. His arms open up. He wants hugs, for me to sit on his lap, to let him kiss my cheek and asks me to tell him all about my day, my month, my life. His eyes shine with an eagerness to see me and hear all my news. It was never like that in real life. That too, I am not sure where it is coming from. I feel perhaps he is communicating with me.

Food remains a difficult thing. I have addictive, compulsive food behaviors. Binging without the purging. Obsession. Things like that. And a tremendous amount of shame surrounding both the need and the desire to eat good food. Then one day, as I read Eat, Pray, Love....craving the Vegan food Cami and I had enjoyed in New York, a little voice smiled inside me and murmured a gentle, almost tender solution. When I write it or speak it, it sounds tremendously trite and "Well duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" and like it could even make someone angry with me, because surely someone somewhere has tried to tell me this before (most likely Joe). But this little sacred voice simply suggested that I eat things that do not cause me shame. It felt so....revolutionary. And not like it would have to be forever....but simply as a suggestion for MY suffering. That is something I just never contemplated before. How much I am SUFFERING from these food-oriented negativities, and that they don't have to be there and it has nothing to do with dieting or weight loss or eating organic or eating clean or save the animals or anything like it. Just....plain, Eat the food that doesn't make you feel ashamed.

So I have been embarking on that journey. Cooking more. I have stocked up on ancient grains. Berries. Cottage cheese. Colorful peppers. Root vegetables. Much less meat than I had been consuming. And each time I treat myself to these things, it is a little vacation for my mind, which I am seeing and feeling now has been SO FREAKING TIRED from the constant need to be pumping out shame as sacrifice for my food.

So this is where I have been. I don't know where it is going. Its just small and sweet and quiet. Hahm Sa. I am That. So are you.



Friday, January 26, 2018

When Sorrow Comes to Sit Awhile

One of the worst parts and yet most blessed parts of knowing the grief of a mother is knowing the grief of a mother. I have had people contact me randomly in agony for a friend who is losing a child and I never know what to do. These feelings are so big and so individual, and I can so easily get rolled by the intensity of it, that usually I decline to butt in. Even after all this time, I fear the ginormous feelings this generates and to take that on for a stranger feels like just too, too much for me to handle.

This week though, it has happened to a friend - a nurse I got to work with and got close to pretty immediately. She is fun and wonderful and kind. And this week, she lost her son suddenly and unexpectedly. After that, all that fear seems like a barrier I am not willing to yield to. Its there, but the fact of the matter is for this person, in this circumstance, I will stare it down and push that shadow back. No way would I ever leave my friend alone in this place...and to be the grieving mother of an adult, married son can be a very, very lonely place. There will be great attention on the widow and the child who lost their father, and that is well and good and right. But I have something unique to give her. I know the grief of a mother. I can do this. It is a period of growth for me and I hope I can do some good or at least impart some peace. She didn't deserve this. Nobody does.

So I have been walking around, carrying this internal ache of sorrow for her and for me and for Joe and for anyone who has had to face the failings of the human body in their child. I tear up easily and I smile and laugh with ease, with my Joe. Life is so fleeting. It has become a cliché saying, but you truly just don't ever know how much longer anyone you love will get. I am so grateful that I have learned the lessons I have. Generosity of spirit - that is what I want. Even if it hurts. Even when its hard. Especially when it hurts and when its hard. In the end, we all need one another.

So I am listening to songs like 'If You're Reading This" and "I'm Already There" and remembering those raw, crazy feelings from the earliest of the early days and lingering quietly on the fringes while she plans memorial services and learns that weird, forlorn, bitter wonder that the sun keeps on rising up each and every day. I am hoping somehow that knowing I am here helps her feel less alone, a little less crazy, a little less afraid, most especially once this time passes and the daily grind begins, when everyone else expects you to figure out quickly how to pick up and move on, not understanding that you don't. You can't. Rebirth comes, but it takes a million little seconds of sorrow and struggle and it bulldozes everything in its wake to make room for that new tomorrow. It can still be a good, good place, but it isn't what it was....and you always wonder in your heart what it would have been had it all been different.