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 felt....at 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 inward...at 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. Exxxxxxxxxxxxxxhalllllllllllll
le. HAHM Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aa. 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, simple....food. 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.