Yesterday was a hard day. Emotionally, it was a hard day. I am going to be upfront with that, because this post may be a bit of a ramble. We’ll see where it goes…
For the first time in my life, I went on a silent retreat. In all disclosure, despite everything that is going on, I am 100% at my happiest. I have thought a lot about my life, and it’s true. More on this later.
This post is very self-centered. I talk a lot about how things have affected ME. I feel weird about this, but honestly, how can it be any other way?
Retreat: as soon as I realized where it was happening, I burst into tears. The location is very beautiful, not difficult to get to, great parking (anyone who deeply knows me knows this is very important to me). Still, the location brought up emotions because I have only ever been there once before, for a student’s funeral in June.
The young lady’s name was Sophie. I honestly didn’t know her particularly well. Of course, I talked to her on occasion, and we had many positive exchanges over the couple years I knew her. She was a loving, kind person. I always felt a glow from our exchanges. But she was an addict. Her life ended far far too soon. It is wasteful and sad. I feel a lot of sorrow wrapped up in all the thoughts I have about Sophie.
I sobbed openly at her funeral, which was at this bright sanctuary on a beautiful piece of property. I sobbed openly in my car before my retreat yesterday. I texted another teacher, the one who has been closest to Sophie, and told her I missed both of them. (I left that job in June. I already knew I was leaving before Sophie died.) That felt good.
I pulled myself together; I began the silent retreat.
The first “event”, after a brief meditation, was finding more comfortable chair. When I realized we were leaving our multi-purpose room to enter the sanctuary, my body recoiled in instinct. I thought of changing my mind, dismissing my need for a more supportive base, and not entering the space where I had mourned for Sophie last. If I am being honest, I have had very few thoughts of her since June, less than a dozen actually conscious moments when I paused and let myself think of her. I usually don’t wait very long before I move on; I pause at the sorrow, but never investigate it.
But yesterday, I didn’t stop walking. I went into the church, and I felt my feelings crush me. I grabbed a chair, sturdy and with arms, and walked back to the other room.
I wore my light-green infinity scarf, the billowy one with all the hummingbirds, and by the time our first meditation, not quite an hour, was over, my scarf was soaked. My companions were all on their own journeys, and I didn’t feel embarrassed that my nose was now running and sniffling.
But the hour wasn’t all sadness. I felt joy, pure, real can’t-help-but-smile joy, when nature unleashed her early-spring torrents on the glass ceiling above us. Our instructor had reminded us to notice these, what she calls “Pizza!” moments, where even steeped in grief you notice yourself reacting to something with child-like glee. The first of mine was rain.
I’ve reflected now on why I love the rain. And I really really love rain. But only in special circumstances. I actually love all terrible weather, but only in special circumstance. Right now, as I am typing away in the formal sitting room, looking out my big bay window (woah, look! It is clean for once!), the room roars around me as wind pelts the glass and down to chimney to the right. But it doesn’t matter. I am safe inside. I am cozy and warm. I have pillows and blankets. I can make a warm drink. I could light candles. The fire is going in the living room. My whole family, husband and children, is safe in this house. We can sit hip to hip, as if the children would ever grant me that much room, in the dark, while the rain attacked our home, and be safe and whole. How awesome is that feeling? I embrace that part of me that craves that cozy, that comfort. Honestly, travel sound gross to me, unless there is a warm fire and a solid piece of glass between me and the sea.
That was my first comfort of the day. And there were many more.
Don’t get me wrong. This day was difficult. Tremendously affecting. But I got through it, and rather than being left feeling gutted, as my instincts told me I would, I am left feeling more neutral than anything. Or maybe not. I haven’t reflected much yet, and it hasn’t even been 24 hours since I began speaking again, but my overall impressions may be falling to the positive side, despite crying all day for the loss of people who I love.
Our third meditative practice yesterday was a walking practice anywhere you desired, inside or out. Instincts told me to go outside, walk in that rain bundled in all your layers, double socked in dry books, holding an industrial golf umbrella. But I again fought it. Do you see a pattern? My coping mechanism is emerging. Through mindfulness I have learned that ignoring the painful thoughts doesn’t make them go away. Yes, sometimes that is what is better for us, but eventually, we need to accept that those are part of our experience.
I walked into the chapel, and I walked to the front, where Sophie’s friends and relatives told heartfelt stories of her after the formal service. During her memorial, I was too emotional to speak, but I remember thinking I had wanted to tell people what a bright light that girl was, how kind she was to my children, and how all our other students spoke with so much love about her. At the time, I couldn’t, but I am doing it now that now because despite all her flaws, all the darkness, she was wonderful.
I started to touch my bracelet, a silver bangle with a large bee about an inch long at the center. I grabbed it last minute; I’m still not sure why. I didn’t even own it when I worked with Sophie; I had bought its “older sister”–the same but with a mermaid–on a trip with the school though. I let my fingers touch the bee–thorax, head, wings–trying to stay in the moment with no narratives attached to my thoughts. Throughout the course of the day, I wore off the silver plating; it is copper below.
I think of the bee as one of my symbols–Ms. B, and I have a bee tattooed on the back of my right shoulder. I started to think of Sophie like a bee. It seemed fitting. How they flit around, are so necessary to our world, but are so fragile and fleeting. You can never hold a bee in your hand.
Am I getting too sappy? Sorry, not sorry. It isn’t going to get better.
Of course, this brings up all the other students lost. All these little bees. I think about Rupert. I think about Lissy. She and I had a good relationship, and we weren’t permitted to go to her funeral. I don’t know if I ever grieved.
I think about a boy, Reid, whose funeral, in my introspection, I can easily list in the top 10 hardest moments of my entire life. I never met the boy.
But his death, and his funeral, the effects and particularly the waste of death taking these young people, guts me. My husband and I talked this week about Sophie and Reid, let our thoughts fall to them on purpose, even though it hurts. But I began to notice, as I paced the front of the chapel, that light had literally begun streaming through the skylights, the storm had passed, and at that very depth of my pain–no longer just for Sophie, but for Rupert, Lissy, Reid, Laverne, Phil, more and more experiences twisting and shaping–was something more complex, something that doesn’t hurt as much.
I brought myself back to the present moment and felt that. Of course, the mind is a bee too, and I didn’t stay there long. But throughout the day, behind all the narratives, judgements, planning, self-talk, and mouse-spinning on his wheel in my brain, I felt the crushing weight of everything that has and is my life, and I felt that elation that is underneath, buying up all the good with the bad and keeping me afloat.
Some of you (ahem, Mom?) are probably wondering what all this did to my blood sugar. And yes, you are right, I crashed all over the place. And yes, it was a sick day and I wasn’t really eating. (Backstory: Type 1 diabetic since 1992. In September, I developed this cyclical vomiting disorder because of a medication. Dr. is managing it all, but I barely eat and feel like I could barf, and do, often. Yes, I lost weight (near 50 pounds), but it has stopped as of December. My body is used to eating and drinking this little. Some days are fine-ish; some days I can’t even get down water, or at least keep it down. When I feel dehydrated, I switch to G2 and coconut water until that feels normal again. I treat my diabetes with those Fruit-to-Go bars that are real thick because I can get down 35 carbs in 3 bites. I suffer most of the day through work; sometimes I go outside to heave but because I generally don’t eat it isn’t like I have anything to throw up. Sometimes I need to break off conversations with kids because I can feel the saliva in my cheeks and know I don’t have long. At home, I have ways to feel better, so I don’t suffer as much. I can cook fine, and at dinner, I try to at least keep up appearances in front of the children and eat as much as Alice. I eat things that are calorie dense, like I drink chocolate milk and coconut/almond meal replacements fairly regularly. Mostly though, I need to just listen to my body and if it tells me “Stop!” as I am about to eat, I do. If I look at food and my tummy does a little flip, I immediately look away. It sounds horrible, and I guess it kind of is, but it is my normal now.)
When it came time for lunch, after having to eat a bar not long before, I couldn’t do it. Food, even being around food, was a no-go. I had drunk some water through the morning–my blood sugars had been high (21.8) when I went in, before dropping down to 3.3 in a couple hours–and it wasn’t sitting well. Since the property is gorgeous and there was a trail called the “Path of Remembrance”, I decided to go for a walk to barf in nature. Just kidding, but sort of, because that is kind of my normal, too–our whole family has a sort of pause mode when Mom needs to barf, as clearly that is much more difficult to hide and kids are gross and they like to watch–but don’t worry, I brought my water bottle to rinse my mouth.
My umbrella, used as a cane, and I set out on the poorly-kept path. The beauty and texture are hard to explain. My memories of the day are extra-crisp. It wasn’t raining anymore, but the trees still dripping. The trees were tall but spindly, not old growth, with ferns and branches at the top like lace, but mermaid-lace, made of feathery seaweed. Even the wood chips left a memory in my feet; I can feel the springiness, the wet give as took each step and the earth met me and resisted. In patches, the sun left windows of light photographs across dense undergrowth.
The path was steep. I cried openly. The tears rolled down my cheeks. There were so many that they didn’t have time to cool. The day was cold, but if there was any wind, it was at my well-protected back. I had to stop twice to catch my breath and get my bearings. There was no railing; it would have been a long and painful tumble down, a thought that randomly appeared.
At the crest, I thought I had lost the path, but it continued, less worn. I noticed a strange shape, hut or potting shed to my right, on the side of me that was more solid and continued uphill. Naturally curious, I wanted to know what this structure is. I went to it.
It is about 7 feet tall, round and made of simple planks. There is a cement base, a large gap, and then about four stacked eight-inch planks. Then, there is an eight-inch gap, presumedly to let the light in, and another six or seven planks. The structure is topped with a rounded roof, like a muffin top. In the very middle is light-tube or skylight. The sign on the door, a laminated slip of paper with Times New Roman font, says something simple like, “Please close and secure yurt door after use to protect from wildlife.”
That was my second “Pizza!” moment–yurt. Don’t you love everything about that stupid word? The way it falls out of your mouth like bad breath or the motion of throwing up. And the structure of a yurt itself is so cool! It is straight-out of my gnomic childhood stories: forest creatures living in cozy wooden mushroom-like dwellings. Yurts give me joy.
But I had never been in a yurt.
This yurt was unlocked.
In fact, it didn’t even seem to have a lock, just a simple hook-and-eye latch holding closed the simple white MDF door. Of course, because I am a normal human being, went in, despite being sure that this is the location I was going to be murdered by the Blair Witch or Hannibal Lector or the villain in my novel…but I quickly came back to the moment as I ducked down under the doorframe and my left foot met the fresh cedar wood chips lining the space.
There wasn’t much else in there, a few pieces of wood shaped into blocks to use as children’s furniture, chairs and a table. On the walls, using the same cheap thumbtacks I have in my classroom, seven posters with “rules” were the on walls. I read these over and over. What amazing statements. How powerful. In the moment, it honestly felt like a message from Sophie, but now I think that it was kind of dumb and sweet, but I am back to not being sure about higher powers.
Honestly though, that question is something that needs more time, and these are rules that can be applied here and now. These are statements that I think cover pretty much ALL my beliefs.
- We believe that each and every person is valuable.
- We believe that all people should be treated kindly and fairly.
- We believe in supporting one another on our spiritual journeys.
- We believe that each person must be free to search for their own truth and meaning.
- We believe that all person should have a vote about the things that concern them.
- We believe in working for a peaceful, fair, and free world.
- We believe in caring for our planet Earth, the home we share with all living things.
How cool is it that I discovered this at a time when I was feeling emotional turmoil in a YURT in the middle of a FOREST while I was on a silent meditation journey? It’s real. I took pictures. Well, I went back later, the light was a bit different at 3pm, and I took pictures then because I was also technology free, but that is beside the point….At the time, I wondered if this was a higher power or divine message.
I sat down on the table in the middle of the children’s yurt, under what had turned out to be a skylight. I could see out the slats and across the road below to some body of water. I thought about Laverne, because of course I had been; she’s always there. My mother-in-law is my #1 most painful thought, the person I miss the most, whose death has impacted my life the most. I thought of how much Laverne and Norm, her beloved pug who is now deceased, who I loved but found repugnant after Laverne died, and how much they would have loved the space.
I sat in the yurt amid the pink, orange, blue and red blocks and I cried for Sophie, Reid, Laverne, my selfish flawed dad. I cried because of the love they had and felt, and the love I had and felt. I cried in sorrow but I cried in comfort too.
For about 20 minutes, I let myself think and cry in the moment. I felt it all. And it was deep. And complicated. At some point in the day, I found myself thinking about being a parent, and the complicatedness of that. The deep deep soul-crushing-raising love and need for your children, but the guilt, shame, and oh-my-god the fear, fear, fear that is always in the background. No wonder parents are always tired; our emotions for our children are a battle. If you fight it, you lose. How do you just let it be there, and accept it? In the moment of being there with all of it, it felt okay, and I realized that is how you accept it, but not fighting in the battle, by watching the battle go on without your engagement.
I left the yurt. I noticed a small pebble, out of place here, a white smooth beach stone, partially opaque. I held it, cold and smooth but imperfect. I walked down the cliff and sat a moment on the wet bench looking over the bluff at the water.
In the distance, the loud pop-pop-pop from the gun range crushed me, and I cried for the child victims of gun violence. I have yet to find the feelings in those events that let me sit with them. My biggest fear as a parent and a teacher centers around school shootings.
Another rock sat lonely under the stone bench. I held it against the other rock, noticing the contrast. This other was still alien to the location, but larger, firm, more masculine feeling. I let these two rocks sit with me, companions, the same but very different. I thought of them in terms of my thoughts, light and dark, heavy and light, co-existing but different. I thought about the tiny bright rock as the glowing center, the larger tougher rock as the hardened heart around it. I don’t know. It sounds weird now, but in the moment I found it comforting.
I twisted my bee bracelet and rolled the rocks. I thought about both of the coexisting, taking up such different paths and spaces, but spaces all the same.
I had an “aha” moment about my now-happier life. I had a realization about myself and loss, and how much joy I feel in my teaching again away from alternative education. I realized that I had been experiencing grief around so many young people who were leaving me, and it often felt like death, because sometimes, not at all ALL, just a few, we didn’t know what was going to happen to them. We don’t mourn them; they aren’t dead. Their futures though, we fear, are bad, and that can feel like death. And that constant feeling is draining. I haven’t been dealing with that, and in my role in alt. ed., it grew every year and I turned further and further away from myself.
I know I need to look in.
I went back to the room where most people were still mindfully eating lunch. I unpacked my enormous bag of food, and went through my ritual of letting my stomach decide. As it recoiled item by item, I narrowed my choices down to an apple, chocolate milk, and a seedy bagel with plain cream cheese. I managed most of the milk, sweet, creamy, and delicious, and half the bagel, seeds bursting like synapses firing. “Pizza!” for sure. I do love food, even if the love is complicated.
The rest of the afternoon was easier. I didn’t turn away from my emotions about loss. I still have some trauma that needs dealing with in other areas, specifically stuff I have traced back to being around the time I broke my foot at 16/17, which I have been narrowing in on through the use of body scan. That I still couldn’t sit with with kindness. It is all a work in progress.
Through sitting and yoga practices, I began to say and feel a mantra. “I am a mountain. I am a river. I am a lake. I am the rain.”
This matra, feels so true to me now. I feel it through my bones and pumping in my blood. I feel it with every life that gives me breath all the way to the tips of my fingers and my toes.
It is true. I am a mountain. I have a strong base. I have support. I am solid and whole and complete. I have structure and mass. I am certain and real.
And it’s true, I am a river, always changing and in motion. Never solid. Never still. In the moment, passive, but over time, a river grinds down and changes the earth.
And it’s true, I am a lake. I contain all this but at the same time, I contain me. I hold us all together, and the holding together makes me whole.
And it’s true, I am the rain. I bring death, destruction, sorrow, life, growth, sustenance. I am a symbol of tears, but I am Pizza! and comfort.
And I am also the bee, busy and buzzing, flitting and flying, stinging and dying. And the stones. Heavy and light. Solid but fragile.
I knew this day was going to be a hard day. There is so so much loss. And I am fucking gutted. And I am happy. I can be both. Now I need more time to reflect on where to go from here.