Integration

Life throws you curves and the only constant is change. I know I’m not alone here, all of us are suffering in one way or another. 2020 has been a year like I’ve never seen… unprecedented in many ways. All these changes and all the upheavals have been hard on the collective consciousness and on my personal consciousness as well.

And so, I find myself in the studio painting. I paint to reconnect myself to the Universe and to sometimes keep myself from floating away. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but painting is like an anchor or a tether, it grounds my energy when it feels like I’m spinning out. Like I a took a turn too fast and lost control of the car for a bit; gravity has loosened its hold and things have gotten squirrelly.

Before the fires exploded in the West, I took out an old canvas from my storage rack, it was only partially completed with a desert landscape. I decided once and for all to make something of this painting I never finished because I didn’t like where it was heading. A lone hiker heading off into the desert, brilliant poppies in the foreground that were mere sketches, nothing fully fleshed out. Cactus poked up against a spring haze, purple rocks littered the trail. I never really liked it, so I figured I couldn’t ruin it if I plopped a big Hamsa prayer of protection right on top of the whole thing and played around with my Posca Pens.

I took something old from my past that bothered me and jumped right in, making it something new. Something vibrant, something with energy and life. First though, I had to make it about where I was now (I don’t live in the desert!). The best of my art is biographical, that’s where I open up my heart. So the cacti were hidden behind tall firs and oaks. The Hamsa hand covered up the hiker; I used oil paint with a fast dry medium to fill in the colors. I waited through the days of smoke and ash for it to dry and while I could have worked on it sooner, it was 14 days before I could get back into the the studio to work. And work through that feeling of skidding out of control.

It hurts my heart to see how polarized our country has become, small issues become conflated just as the spark of wayward fires have burned through thousands and thousands of dry forest and woodland. Just when I get used to one more shock of 2020, another one comes to the surface. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg took my breath away. She was such a hero to millions of women… it’s hard to remain centered amid yet another far reaching loss.

But eventually the smoke had cleared and rain washed away the ash and we were all able to breath again. I took my canvas and laid it flat, Posca pens made swoops and swirls, dots and spirals and connected the old with the new. This is the image of integration. Where we have been and where we are now, the all seeing eye of God, of the Universe, of love and peace. The Hamsa watches over us in a prayer of protection and healing.

The energy of reality is more than the form we see, it’s the unseen, swirling like a psychedelic dream, showing us that there is more to life than meets the eye. There are unseen forces at work, vibrating at a level few attain.

It’s my fervent prayer that all will be well, that the dream of democracy will not be burned out in a fire of polarized ideals and flagrant insanity that seeks to undermine the truth by spinning deceit and crying out in victimization. What you reap, you shall sow… our karmic debts are at hand and we seem to be paying a very heavy price. The physical world has laws… such as Newtons third law of motion: for each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We can’t really escape that kind of lawful karma. To those unbelievers, I am reminded of what a spiritual teacher once said: your belief is not a requirement of the truth.

We are all connected by energy. By the air we breathe and the water we drink. By our very small home upon planet Earth… there is no where else we can go. To become integrated is to understand this on a deeply personal level.

We are all in this together.

Fires of change

WE DO WHAT MUST BE DONE 9/15/2020

 

On Tuesday we lost the sun to smoke.

On Wednesday, ash rained down like miniature snowflakes.  And again, on Thursday.

And Friday and Saturday and on and on and on.

Some lost their homes, some, their lives.

Fighters fought fires.  Emergency calls on our phones.  Evacuation zones grew.

The names of the fires themselves, as if a person, but more like a place:  Holiday Farm, Beachie Creek, Lionshead, Obenchain, Almeda and so many more. Lists of fires.

We watched the news to learn about containment and wind direction and how we were now the most heavily polluted air on Earth.  Oregon? Us?

Double masks to go outside to tend to the livestock.  I worry over the toll air will take on my 19-year-old horse, the young horse, the flock of chickens, the deer, the birds, the insects and their tiny lungs.

Gray, every day, we seal up vents and stay inside.  We are quarantined within a quarantine; nothing is safe to breathe.

Those fleeing the fires are delegated to tents and RV’s in parking lots, the lucky get hotel rooms. Volunteers pass out food and water and clothes… if you have to be outside, I worry about your lungs too.

The sky was blood orange the day the fires erupted; six days go by before we see a passing patch of blue.

Phone calls and texts from friends and family: “How are you? Are you OK? Please come here if you need to evacuate.” Some are crying, distraught over the loss of forests and beauty and feeling the despair of thousands. We are not alone.

Fire came to Washington.  Fire came to California.  Fires have leveled towns I’ve known and loved.  Vida and Blue River are gone.  I bought stained glass in Vida from a glass artist and longed to own property on Gates Creek.  All are gone now; I imagine the glass, hundreds upon hundreds of glorious sheets now become colorful puddles of exquisite hues among the ashy remains of the workshop and a life of creativity.

All are gone… it’s hard to fathom.  And there are more… Talent, Phoenix, Detroit.

Inside, a hollow of despair, a sorrow unexpressed, shocked into silence.  One foot placed before the other, we do what must be done.

Hallway littered with bags and boxes, the horse trailer is ready for last minute packing if need be, though the fire won’t reach us, strange arsonists roam the neighborhood.  Unfathomable to the rest of us, he starts a fire in a nearby field and runs away.  It was the first, most dangerous day, the day of heat and wind and a countryside dried to a crisp from weeks of heat and sun.

I pray for rain, drawing mandalas of wet drops, watercolors soften the paper and I weave deep wishes of healing water to quench the fires and return us to a place where we can evaluate the damage.

That first step will be the start of our recovery.  We lean into it, but it’s not forthcoming.

The fires rage on.  Uncontained but for 15%, 3%, 10%… numbers too small to take comfort in, we need percentages that are heavy and healing: 75%, 80%, 100%.

The winds shift slowly.  Today we are downgrades to “Very Unhealthy” rather than “Hazardous”. For the first time in a week, we leave the house and I see people without masks.  A man in his car, windows open, smoking a cigar passes me and I stare at him, behind a N-95, inside my sealed car with the air circulating internally.  Incredulous.

I see someone walking their dog, also no mask.  The someone, yes, and the dog too.  My dogs look at me, eyes wide and wondering why I sit all day and watch TV.

It only seems like all day, the TV being on during the day is an event reserved for illness or injury.  But She IS injured… my beautiful Earth, my lovely mother nature.  She’s been burned and so I watch the news and then comedies to lighten my heart’s load.

I also can tomatoes, beans, make jams, salsa and pickle cucumbers.  The cabbage is turned into sauerkraut, the kale gets frozen.  It’s time to harvest the garden but the ash falls on our fruit and vegetables.  We run sprinklers, mini firefighters, we wash what we can.

We do what must be done.

We pray.

We cry.

We volunteer.

We donate.

We reach out.

We reach within.

We bake, we read, we watch.

We used to be able to go outside.  Now it’s been 8 days of indoor recirculated air.  I miss the wind and the freshness.  I miss my world of green and cool and supple aliveness.

And then, after indulging my loss, I remember my gratitude for all I have.  For my safety, for my home, my life.  I’m grateful for the experience.  There is much to learn in every day that passes. 

Crisis contains opportunity; surely there is a chance for personal growth through tragedy?

And yet… now, it feels too soon.  I’ll get there, eventually.  When I’m ready.

I’m not ready yet.

I’m still in mourning.

Still awaiting containment before the first step of evaluating can begin.

I project my consciousness forward into the moment where I learn that the rains have drowned out the fires.  When we can lay down our arms, drop our guard and relax in the antidote for fire: water.  I pray the water does its job but doesn’t add to the destruction though I know our winter rains will wash ash into our creeks and streams and rivers and that too will take a toll.

But we are not there yet… we are in the NOW.  Now is a moveable moment, and soon, the now will be a now after the fire. 

This too shall pass.

We’ve done what must be done.

Written 3 days ago, this is snapshot of where we were at. Last night, the rains began. So grateful.

Surrender

I drew this mandala as part of my healing process.

Within yourself lies a realm of deep wisdom.  We think we are the mind, but we are not. The mind is just a part of who we are; the body holds much of our life experience and at times, seems to have a life of its own. At times, it’s as if you are on auto-pilot.  You drive yourself home without even remembering the drive in the same way your brain breathes for you without thought and digests for you without reason.  You don’t have to ask your arm to catch a ball, it will reach up and do it automatically if you’ve trained it to do such a thing. I can ride a horse in my sleep, I’ve done it enough times.  And apparently, I can also saddle one while my mind is occupied elsewhere. (Confusing reference?  Please read my last post.)

Which is where the seed of my accident began.  On autopilot, I saddled up my horse and somehow must have missed a step because not 15 minutes later I was on the ground and hours later, contemplating how my life was going to radically change with rotator cuff surgery. There I was with a left arm that felt deaf to the commands of my mind, the signals couldn’t get through, certainly something was torn and mechanically in need of repair.

During the weeks since the accident, I have been thinking a great deal about the autonomic system and how it failed me after years of doing the same procedure countless times.  In the retelling of my tale to my friend Fran, I was loaned a book to shed some light on the subject.  Deep Survival outlines how chaos theory and active systems interact, how experts make mistakes, and how some mistakes can be deadly.  Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales is a study of accidents and why some people survive them and why some do not. I would highly recommend this book if you, like me, are invested in not just knowing how accidents happen, but why they happen.  I actually was comforted in learning more about how the brain works and how I missed crucial steps by being on autopilot.  It was my expertise in the subject (saddling a horse) that was the pivotal point in which the system of horse-saddling failed.

However, knowing more did not prepare me for the magic that was to follow weeks later as I settled into my recovery.  I do not use the word magic lightly… however, the brain is still a mysterious place, we have yet to fully understand all its secrets. But, before the magic, a quick backstory: 18 days after my trip to the ER, I was denied by my insurance to have a critical MRI ordered by my orthopedic specialist.  Without this procedure, he couldn’t give a definitive diagnosis and proceed with surgery, though clearly, I was heading in that direction as I’d failed all the mobility tests.  The only way to lift my arm was using the other one to carry it into place.  Even in bed I had to reach over to place my arm next to me, the shoulder refused to work as it should.  But the wisdom of the insurance company decided I should have physical therapy for 6 weeks before an MRI. I was stunned by the delay and what I saw as interference in my health care.  To repeal the claim would take longer than the PT, so I called and made an appointment for the next day to get started on what I saw as “going through the motions”.  I also made a critical decision at that point.  Rather than express frustration or fight with my emotional reactions, I would “let it go”.  I surrendered to the situation.

Surrender, as I read later in Gonzales’ book, is a critical part of survival.  By surrender, he means seeing the situation as it IS, not as we want it to BE. The sooner you can accept your surroundings, or your situation, the sooner you can get down to the business of survival and doing what must be done.

With surrender, I discovered an awareness of the healing choices before me: I could fight the insurance company’s policy and stomp about in righteous indignation or I could release my need to insert my will and see what would come next.

Surrender is not the same as “let it go”; I could never quite figure out HOW to “let it go”.  But the concept of surrender I understand because surrender isn’t a passive act.  Surrender is an action of acceptance.  For someone with a willful determination in life, taking an action to accept is much easier to DO.  “Let go” seems like a not-doing, I don’t know how to “not do”.  It’s funny though, as I further my meditation practice, I now understand “not doing” better. Still, “not doing” can’t be done as it’s more like the negative space in a field of objects. But I digress.

I surrendered to the denial of my MRI and that night, when I went to bed, I prayed for the strength and wisdom in knowing the difference between what I could change and what I couldn’t.  The Serenity prayer is near and dear to my heart.  I did not sleep well, the injury kept me up, it was still painful and limiting my usual sleep position.  At 4 AM, mind zipping from thought to thought, I arose and sat in meditation, but could not still my mind. After 20 minutes, I gave up and returned to bed. I sent out a prayer, a silent wish for acceptance and help to get me through the night.  And then, a few deep breaths later, I felt an urge to stretch.  I did so, and along with my right arm reaching above my head, my left arm joined it on its own!  The signal to stretch was transmitted to my arm and although it hurt a little at the top of the stretch, it went up just like it always had before.

Shocked at my arms’ response, I hopped out of bed and tried it again from a standing position.  Yup!  It worked; it wasn’t a dream! I tested it a few more times before waking up my husband to share the magical news.  I had no explanation other than a mystical one but I was flooded with emotions and cried with relief.

The next day my new Physical Therapist, Dr. Abbey, was amazed and pleased at this turn of events.  After reading the surgeons report, she did not expect to see me raise my arm.

“Believe me,” I told her, “I am just as surprised.  It went from not responding to this!” and I waved it up in the air.

“Well, the brain is remarkable.” She went on to speculate, “I can’t say for sure this is what happened, but the body remembers injury and since you had a previous injury in that same shoulder, when you traumatized it with your fall, the brain shut down the signals.  It remembered what happened last time and shut it down so it could heal.”

If this is not an example of the illusion of control, I don’t know what is. That the accident happened at all was out of my control; why wouldn’t the recovery be the same?

The previous injury Dr. Abbey referred to had been several years ago when I was struck with a frozen shoulder.  That shoulder injury had taken almost a year to recover from, hence my dismay at facing another prolonged recovery.  But clearly my brain and body had other ideas when it came to this injury which showed me, I wasn’t as in control of myself as I thought I had been.  I couldn’t even shape the outcome of the recovery!  And I had tried, weeks of follow up appointments, phone calls, trying to push forward my MRI until the day it was denied.  I did everything I could and it still was beyond my ability to affect the outcome.  It was THIS concept, coupled with the accident that was a huge wake up call.  I’ve thought about this a lot… but here’s the gist of it:

                                           

                  Do your best, but be prepared to surrender.  Not everything is yours to control.  Sometimes, not even your own body. 

 

I guess that’s where prayer comes into play.