Thursday, November 15, 2012

Zen and the Art of...

Or should I say, living.

I think, after 39 years, I still know so little about the latter. I wake up to thunder showers, which I love. But they evoke a melancholy that I will likely struggle with for the remainder of the day.

It's okay; it's been a long time coming. I’ve allowed myself to be distracted from feelings I did not want to confront by immersing myself in the pleasure of beautiful whirls and swirls and words and promises and surprises and smiles and the warm, lovey-dovey dream-being-fulfilled feelings that events of the last few months have conjured. I cruised through August, September and October with a smile that could guide a ship to shore, so bright it was.

There is a funny thing about being hurt, though. When you don’t acknowledge the pain, it festers like a neglected wound. You can distract yourself completely from the horrible way someone else made you feel, but it unless you finally confront it, acknowledge it, and accept that maybe, just maybe, everyone else was right about them and you were wrong, the hurt feelings are going to keep coming back again and again, rising up when you least expect it. Like the venomous snake on the floor of my home recently, waiting for me when I stepped through the door, catching me so off guard I almost made an impulsive decision that could have been quite costly, hurt feelings that catch us by surprise have the potential to bite. Hard.

But here is the thing about snakes - faster than the speed of light is their strike. We don’t even know we’ve been bitten until we see the blood. The pain comes later, as the poison settles in, getting worse and worse as time progresses. It paralyzes the muscles, all the way from the site of the bite to the heart. It's not an easy thing to endure, and yet, knowing this, all of this, there is still, inside of me, some botched idea that if I approach from the right direction, move in the right way, if the snake knows that my intention is not to harm, that it won’t bite me.

But it I am not the snake whisperer. I've got the scars to prove that snakes strike out in self-defense, even if your intentions are good.

I close my eyes, listening to the sound of rain hitting the windows. There is a sweet, sweet sadness to the start of this day. I’ve been running away from how I feel for a long time, and I’m not sure anymore about the direction I’m heading. The worst part is no one can show me, and I’ve lost confidence in my own ability to tell. Now I’m just riding the wave of it all, seeing what happens, and feeling numbness inside more than anything else. I flow through my morning asanas, reminding myself to breathe. Breath in your feelings, my mind says. Breathe through them, and let them go.

My friend Eddy tells Cherokee stories to children at school, and I listen with the same rapt attention that they give him. I’ve heard this one many times before, the tale of a young man fooled by a rattlesnake. It’s a long story, but in short, the snake begs the boy to pick him up and put him in his shirt, because it is so cold and without warmth the snake will die. Because the boy wants to believe the snake is good, he picks it up and tucks it into the folds of his shirt. When he feels the sting of the snake’s bite, he’s startled. “You said you wouldn’t hurt me,” the boy cries.

“But you knew what I was when you picked me up,” the snake says as it slithers off into the night.

The kids love the story. I wonder, however, if they really understand it. Probably not right now. In twenty years, maybe...

Yesterday evening, a friend came over, and we swifted some skeins of yarn in preparation for holiday projects. I enjoyed the friendly banter and the calming repetitiveness of the work, but it was the feel of natural fibers in my hands that I found the most soothing. This connection to the natural world evoked the same healing that spending time outdoors has always given me. There is some spectacular beauty to sitting at a kitchen table, as women 100 years ago or more might have done, swifting yarn while children played in the neighboring rooms. My friend’s swifter was handmade for her by someone she knows. I cannot imagine a more beautiful gift than one like this, made by hand. Even though it isn’t mine, I’m sad to see it go when she leaves. Something about using that simple instrument seemed to free me just a little from the heaviness that’s been resting where it shouldn’t. It seemed to make laughter a little easier, to make life a little better in some small way. My swifted skeins of yarn sit ready in the basket to be transformed into beautiful things. I am the alchemist of this fiber, I will make with it what I like, and it will simply form to my wishes. Perhaps this is what I love most about the craft; it is the one small area in life where I begin something with the end in mind. Knitting follows patterns; it actually makes sense. Life...not so much.

I’ve heard it said that we may forget what another person says or does, but we will never, ever forget how they made us feel. This is so true. The idealist in me wants to live in a way that lifts others up, but the realist in me has learned that this attitude will not keep others from bringing me down, or even knocking me down. Still, the dreamer in me wants to believe that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I am not a fool to care as much as I do, whether it is about people or snakes. Sometimes those lines get blurred anyway.

I’m ecstatic; my son has learned to tie his shoes. He’ll soon be another year older. We plan the party. Time passes, mercifully healing all wounds as it marches on.

It is the only thing that does.

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