Choice

In “Man’s Search For Meaning” Victor Frankl tells us that we can’t choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we react to them. Most of us never have to face the evils of a concentration camp as he did, but each of us will endure pain, grief, and eventually death.

We all know that life can be hard. We have sleepless nights, with pain that has no explanation (or a thousand explanations, none of them good). We lose the people we love, or watch them suffering. We want life to be good for our children, and hate to see them face difficulties. But each of us has to find our own way through.

We see life as good, or bad. We think that we can make these judgements, but we don’t have the proper context: when the hawk swoops down and carries away a mouse, life is very bad for the mouse, but good for the hawk. Sometimes we are the mouse, sometimes the hawk. Life’s pendulum swings back and forth.

“I am the lion-tamer locked in a cage

With lions leaping through hoops of flame,

I am the lion with bared teeth,

Breaking through the paper hoop.”

When we pass through the paper hoop we are moving from illusion to reality. We are in control of the narrative. We can choose to be constantly weighed down by pain and grief or we can choose to listen, to study, to breathe.

Laptime Thoughts

On Thursday, I had an errand to run, so I walked over there first thing. On the way home I could see very dark clouds gathering. I had just sat down, with Buddy making himself comfortable on my lap, and I could see the first drops of rain beginning to hit the window.

I was thinking about how quickly things can change, and how this reflects the Buddhist view of impermanence. When things are difficult, we know they will not always be so hard, and when good things happen we need to appreciate them without demanding that life should always be the way we want.  I want to try to look at the positives in my life and gather them  in my mind like beads on a string.  When problems come, as surely they will, I want to acknowledge them gently, and like the gathering rain clouds, wait for them to be dispersed by the wind.

Note To Self

Note to self:  Melanie, don’t decide to experiment with your cat.

A beautiful Easter Saturday. Sunny, and warm enough to sit outside. I asked Ron to put a couple of chairs on the deck, and was enjoying the sun on my face. Children were out with skateboards, children on the swings at the playground. I had this thought: Wouldn’t Buddy, my indoor cat, love to sit here with me and enjoy the sunshine too? I opened the door of the house to see if he would come outside. Little by little Buddy crept out and was exploring the perimeters of the deck. I sat back, closed my eyes, relaxed. The next time I saw Buddy he was exploring the yard. I have mobility problems, but I dashed into the yard and tried to catch my wandering cat. Finally. I had him cornered. I grabbed my yowling, thrashing, extremely unhappy cat and brought him inside, at great expense to my arms. Normally, it takes effort to climb the steps, but somehow I did it almost without thought.  I think this was the equivalent of a parent lifting a Volkswagen off their child!

Today is Payback. Every tiny joint in my body is crying out in protest. Buddy seems unperturbed, but he won’t be sunbathing on  the deck again!

 

Explanation

I am posting this poem here, as well as on my Facebook page, as it requires a longer explanation.

 

“Why do you seek us?”

I can see only blood pouring from my arm

from these invisible cuts

I can feel only pain from ungiven blows

the wind from the open door is making me cold

there is grass and sunshine in the courtyard

I can hear the rattle of the streetcar

but the lady

has come from the switchboard

she closes the door

“Are you cold”?

I have brought nothing with me

I want only to be warm

and enclosed by these walls,

behind these locked doors.

I have committed myself to these long wooden corridors

lacking the sunlight,

behind these doors scrawled with crayon.

You wake me in darkness

the morning is numb behind the grille

I fall down with fear.

I thought I would sit in a square of sunlight and dream-

why, here is no protection,

here is only the long drawn-out cry from within.

Why do you not let me lie down and cover my head?

Why will you not let me cancel my existence even briefly?

You even shape the substance of my dreams.

 

This is the final one of my early poems. After this I write nothing for ten years. I took a complete year away from life, doing jigsaw puzzles on my bedroom floor. Then marriage, and three children.

999 Queen Street West was a euphemism in the sixties for mental illness. The old building is not there today, replaced by a modern structure, but it was the old building where I signed myself in in 1970. This was no fancy Clarke Institute of Psychiatry. The floors were wooden, with paths worn in them from pacing. Men and women were in separate wards, the toilets had no doors. Baths were given in a large room that held several huge tubs. Patients were not allowed to be on their beds during the day, so everywhere there were people asleep sitting upright, dopey with the heavy medication that was used at that time. The picture I posted on Facebook is obviously from another era, but the large rooms with many beds were still there. The activities took place on a sunporch – we were given knitting needles and balls of yarn. At the end of the session we unravelled what we had knìtted…an allegory for the state of our minds? I was here for about a week, but it seemed like forever, and I  felt as if I had reached the lowest point of my life.

 

 

At Sixes and Sevens

A quiet Sunday. I was out for my walk this morning – Every day I try to walk a little further. I have heard about walking meditation, though I don’t completely understand what that means.  I think I need to stop the “chatter” in my mind, focus on my breathing and the sounds around me, my footsteps on the road, birds singing. I feel restless today, ” all at sixes and sevens”.

Ron set out to make pies this afternoon, but he was having a difficult day. His pastry would not roll out properly and he was becoming very discouraged. Sometimes I cannot understand what he is trying to tell me. I can imagine how difficult this is, as there was a time when I was not able to speak. There is very little I can do to make things easier , and this makes me very sad.

 

Woolgathering

“Woolgathering” is what my mother called that process of sitting and letting your thoughts  travel wherever they want to go. Today is a good day for that  – overcast, but not as blustery as yesterday, nowhere I need to be, nothing urgent that needs to be done. I am considering taking this blog in a new direction.  I use my Facebook pages for most of my poetry,  “Breaking Through The Paper Hoop” for new work, and “Paper Hoop Revisited” for republishing older poems.  I will need to find out how to add pictures to this page, and make it a more conversational place.

Since I was in the hospital in February I feel like a “new and improved” version of myself. I am sure the change of season has helped with that too. We can’t really call this Spring yet, but we are close, very close. My English cousin is posting photos of their spring flowers, and I am very envious. I also envy my brother who has set out on one of his journeys. How good it would be to experience different people and places. For me walking to the Mall is an expedition, but this was not even possible a few months ago. I have been trying to walk outside every day, no matter the weather. It strengthens my legs and gives me a different outlook on life. A big part of disability is a feeling of being stuck – “I can’t do this, I can’t go there.”  I feel very isolated and yet there are ways I could fix this, if I chose to. More than anything this is what has changed, the knowledge that I do have choices, choices of what to do, and, more importantly, choices of what to feel.

 

 

 

 

S

February and Fire

February always seems to be a bad month for fires.  Here in Sault Ste. Marie we have had several serious fires in the last two weeks.  My mind returns to February 1972, when an arsonist set ablaze the hall of my Toronto apartment building.  This short poem is an attempt to catch the feeling of that night:  the deep cold, lights flashing against the darkness, the sense of unreality.  I like the fact that the poem seems to reflect more than its surface meaning.

 

I’m standing in the darkness

Of February cold

and throwing stones

against your window.

I can’t seem to rouse you.

Please give me your attention!

Can’t you see

my house is burning down?

 

Cleaning House

I believe we all come to a time in our lives when we look around, try to see where we have come from, and where we are going.   Have we accomplished what we wanted to?  Would that hopeful child that we once were be satisfied?  Often we want to simplify our lives, to downsize to a smaller place, pare down our possessions.  We are searching for a way to interpret what we feel, even though we don’t quite understand it.

I am feeling this way now.  Many of you know that I have had periods of extreme anxiety and depression throughout most of my life.  I am beginning to learn that it is very human to be anxious or to be depressed.  It is part of the cycle of our lives, and when it becomes extreme I sometimes have to go into hospital to get myself “sorted out”.

Now, looking at the accumulation of my life, this is what I am going to discard.  The first thing to go will be shame.  I will no longer feel ashamed for emotions that are only too human.  I am not going to be ashamed that there are times when I can’t manage,  when I need to ask for extra help.  Next on the discard pile will be regret – whatever I did, I did, whatever I didn’t get done, I didn’t.  That is where life took me, and it hasn’t been such a bad journey, after all.  That critical woman who lives inside me has been given her marching papers, I’m afraid.  Her suitcase is packed and waiting at the door.  All that extra baggage that she brought along with her has been taken to the dump – it won’t be recycled, as I don’t wish it upon anyone else in any form.  All those stacks of other people’s opinions, just like piles of old newspapers, can go into the trash.  If I want to paint my room lavender, I will.  If I want to play Candy Crush at four in the morning, I will.

I am satisfied that I have all that I need to live well.  I don’t need more “stuff” to make my life better.

You are probably full of questions about all of this, but I might not have time to answer them – after all, I am busy cleaning house.

Some Thoughts On The Nature Of The Divine

For as long as humans have been capable of thought, we have tried to explain ourselves in relation to both our interior and exterior worlds, and to translate into meaning our idea of a god.  When I was about four I asked my mother “Who made God?” She could very well have replied “I made God.”, for my childhood God was the one that my mother created for me.  From that beginning I have progressed until now I too could say “I made God.” For each one of us creates God for ourselves.  And as I get older I realize more and more how little I know, and how little, as a human, I am able to understand.  I am sure we move in a constant direction towards “unknowing”, leaving a vast space within us waiting to be filled.  Because of our limitations we are all feeling our way through the darkness, holding our hands in front of us for protection against the unknown.

“We spend so much time searching for God, when really we should be searching for that tiny particle of ourselves that is within God.”

The Music of the Spheres – Part 2

Here is the second part of my reflections

on the nature of music, and the part that it plays in my own life.

I have thought quite a bit about what it is that makes music able to calm us, to stir us up, to cheer us.  All of us seem to respond to at least one type of music – some people enjoy classical music.  Some prefer a country song, others are rooted in the folk music of the sixties.  Certain songs rouse our emotions, call up a particular memory.  We use music to worship, to celebrate, and to mourn.

I was often unhappy as a young person.  When particularly distressed I used to listen to one particular piece, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major (opus 61). As soon as I heard the beginning notes I felt calmed and comforted.  The last movement, with its positive notes, would lift my spirits and I would begin to feel joy.

What is it that happens when we listen to music?  I believe that music stimulates brain patterns.  The progression of notes echoes in the pathways of our brains – the music leads us up or down, but we are always waiting for that final note, that resolution.  Even when the music moves unexpectedly, when notes are deliberately discordant, we still wait for that perfect completeness.

Lately I have seen another aspect of music – music as meditation.  When listening to music we are concentrating on the notes; our head space is not jumbled with thoughts and emotions all competing for our attention.  When we are stressed or upset, music provides us with a neutral space, almost a safe house on the path of our journey.  Our bodies need to rest when we are exhausted and drained, and our minds need to rest as well.

 

I