An open letter to my friends:
I hesitate to write about this subject that is the first thought on my mind at 6:00 this morning. It is a subject written about, discussed and psychoanalyed perhaps more than any other. What about this primary relationship we each have with the woman from whose body we entered this life? Some never know their birth mothers while others have life-long intimate relationships. Some of us have the insight that giving birth to a child has brought to the subject. Others are left to wonder what that event brings with it to the human experience.
My mother is 89. I just returned from a visit to celebrate her recent birthday. She lives with my father in South Dakota, the state she was born in. She has lived there all her life. I have moved about, leaving South Dakota and my mother when I was 18, returning a couple of times a year for visits.
When I was a young mother she came to stay with me to help with my babies. We took a few vacations together when my children were young. Mostly our relationship was a distant one. The truth of our realities was kept from one another. I felt as if my mother didn’t want to hear any of the challenges and difficulties I came up against…that she didn’t want to know when I was sad or angry about something. The few times I attempted to engage her in conversation about something that had happened to her when I thought she might need support, I was told, “I don’t want to talk about that!” So I stopped asking.
Now she is in the final chapter of her life. She could live several more years or die tomorrow. I know that is true for me as well, but for her, the odds are she will not live more than a few years. Her memory is failing and she is getting frail. Some days she tells me that she is very tired and “doesn’t want to do this anymore.” There are also times when she engages in a way that makes me think she is enjoying herself. Mostly she is “flat”, going through the motions of her limited life without emotion. I wonder what degree of that “flatness” is the result of the medications her doctors give her.
When she is gone, in truth, not a lot will change in the appearance of my life. The deep connection that exists between my mother and me is in the invisible realms. That is the place where the truths that have never been spoken between us live as well. I’m not sure what to do with this. I feel a regret here but I cannot name it. There are no words.
Growing up in Sturgis, South Dakota in the fifties I celebrated a European tradition my Mother learned as a child. She has Russian-German heritage and I believe our tradition is actually Russian, although Beltane is celebrated throughout the Northern Hemisphere as a celebration of summer. In South Dakota where blizzards in April are not uncommon, it was barely feeling like Spring by May! So for me, May Day associates with Spring.
During the last week of April I would make small construction paper baskets with handles and fill them with candies and flowers. On May 1, Mom would drive me around town and I would hang a basket from the doorknob of a friend’s house, ring the bell and run before they could catch me. If the giver is caught, the tradition is to exchange a kiss. The baskets are delivered nameless so the giver is anonymous.
This was a sweet tradition that I looked forward to. I loved artistic endeavors so the creation of the baskets was a treat and the anonymous delivery of the gifts had an air of excitement to it.
The tradition has its roots in the celebration of Summer. I believe the gifting of sweets and flowers to a loved one signifies gratitude for all that Summer represents; birth, revitalization, flowers and the greening of the land.
This practice, given up once I reached my teens, left me with a feeling of anticipation and sweetness towards Spring and Summer that remains to this day. Thanks, Mom.
Dance around the May Pole
Flowers in my hair
Ribbons weave a net of silk
Love is in the air
Dance around the May Pole
We laugh in our delight
The snows have left, the flowers bloom
Summer’s in our sight
Dance around the May Pole
Celebrate new birth
Laugh and sing your joy aloud
Send thanks to Mother Earth
I used to pride myself in my ability to maintain order. My house was neat with no clutter. My mantra was “everything has a home” and it was my job to find a home for each thing I owned and make sure if it wasn’t being used it was “home.”
This kind of orderliness has its advantages. I can always find what I need. I can relax and admire the beauty of the order I have created in the few moments it occasionally exists. While I was living alone it was easy. When I’m sharing a home it’s more challenging…in fact it’s a job that takes a lot of time. Getting your space mates to buy into your compulsion to have everything in strict order is impossible if they don’t already own that particular behavior pattern.
The worst aspect of this lifestyle is I can never relax at home. There is always something that “needs to be done.” If I sit and look around there is going to be at least one thing that is not in its home. The feeling that is created in me is a state of unease, and the sense that I need to “fix” it.
My home is in a state of chaos at the moment. I have been traveling a lot for the past few months and I am also building a retreat center here at my home. The combination of not being here to try to keep order and the influx of people and materials is creating a lot of disorder. I cannot keep up with it.
Something in me is shifting. I am moving into a level of acceptance for this chaos. I can’t say I am enjoying it but it isn’t making me crazy. I can look at a room that is in need of cleaning and organization and see it as a work in progress…and that is okay with me. It doesn’t all have to be done now!
I would never have allowed guests to come and stay with me in this state of chaos in the past but two friends just left and another has arrived and I am not worried about what they are thinking about my big mess. I don’t care. It doesn’t seem important anymore.
I have relaxed and slowed down. I am allowing life to sort itself out without feeling as if I am the one who has to do the sorting. In the midst of the disorder and chaos, I am keeping calm and stillness inside myself. I am scheduling my priorities rather than working my way down a to-do list. I am rejecting old patterns and the ways I was domesticated. I think chaos is being myself.
I am reminded of a quote by Francis Ford Coppola, the renowned film director. He said, “Anything you build on a large-scale or with intense passion invites chaos.” I am building something on a large-scale with intense passion so there we have it! I just brought a kind of order to my disorder by hearing that.
My favorite shrink, Carl Jung, said, “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” I’m going with that!
This ought to be interesting. I have “Brain Blur” this morning. I slept deeply last night, in bed by ten, so I can’t attribute this feeling to lack of sleep. I was in the middle of a dream when G woke me at 6 am. Maybe Brain Blur happens when the right hemisphere is dominant (sleeping dream state) and I move into a left brain activity (writing at the laptop.) As I pause to sip my tea I can feel it starting to clear a bit. Brain Blur is different from Brain Fog. I experienced Brain Fog when I entered the “sacred state of menopause.”
I remember trying to describe Brain Fog to my doctor as I sat deep inside it, wishing I had fog lights so I could “see” more clearly.
I told him, “In my normal state of being, my mind is a great problem solver. I seem to have a knack for approaching a problem or challenge of any nature and knowing what sequence of events will move me from where I am to where I want to be. It’s like approaching a puzzle with the pieces mixed up in a pile and knowing exactly how to sort them and order them so that the puzzle is solved. I always know what to do first, second, third and so on.”
“Since menopause started,” I continued, “my capacity for problem solving has changed.” “I now approach a project and my mind is confused. I don’t know what to do first! I can often see the parts of the problem, but they won’t order themselves. What I used to take for granted; that easy way of knowing that if I do this and that and then the other, voila, solution has arrived, is now gone. I feel worried and frustrated.”
I’m happy to report that “Brain Fog” is now gone. Dr. T. prescribed low dose 5 mg. Selegiline for me. Selegiline prevents the breakdown of a chemical in your brain called dopamine. It was originally developed for Parkinson’s disease but is considered obsolete for PD as much more effective drugs have replaced it.
I also learned about the nature of menopause. A woman’s body moves through its natural changes and leaving her child-bearing years is a big one. As her hormone levels drop to allow her body to stop the menstrual cycle, she is in a state of instability. I think of it as this: life before I started was menopause was my “normal.” Life after menopause is my “new normal.” What happens as I move from “normal” to “new normal” is a state of flux. My body is recalculating itself, adjusting and reorganizing. Symptoms arising from this period of reorganization include hot flashes as the internal thermometer regulates itself to the new level of hormones that are present. Mood swings and brain fog are also common responses of the brain to the hormones that are regulating.
The good news for me was this period of reorganization is not a life sentence. The body will at some point (how long it takes is very individual) reach its “new normal” and the symptoms will subside.
The “Brain Fog” has lifted. I am back to problem solving with the best of them. I am still taking Selegiline but weaning off it to see if indeed my brain’s new normal will feel like the previous normal. I’ll let you know how that goes!
- Cognitive difficulties associated with menopause described (sciencedaily.com)
In urban neighborhoods, smart feral cats domesticate themselves enough to get fed. Lemur was one of those. He “worked” his “hood” going from house to house winning his way into the hearts and warm kitchens of the people.
My friend, Paul, was one of Lemur’s people. Paul was my travel agent back in the days before we could book our airline tickets online for ourselves. My family and I took at least six trips a year so Paul was almost always working on travel plans for us. Over the years a friendship developed and sitting across his desk from me he told me his stories while I waited for tickets to print.
His stories were often about this cat of his he called Lemur. He told me about the day he moved from one side of town to the other. His car was parked at the curbside with the doors standing open as he went back and forth to his apartment loading his things. As he put in his last load he saw Lemur curled up in a basket of clothes. He took it as a sign that Lemur had just moved from feral neighborhood cat to HIS cat and took him with him. For the next seven years Lemur was Paul’s best friend and constant companion.
Lemur is large. I’ve seen huge cats and he isn’t huge but at 17 lbs. he is sizable. His medium length coat is white with a few small marbled markings on his noble face and long legs. His remarkable feature, however, is his tail. Looking like a photo shop joke, the tail of ringed lemur rises out of his white rump.
In his 49th year Paul’s health failed and I took him on as a client treating him with CranioSacral Therapy. He would come on his lunch hour and we would work together to find the key that might unlock his immune system and restore his health. We didn’t find it. Twelve months after his first treatment I was in the ICU holding Paul’s hand as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
At his funeral, I stood with his four sisters and asked which of them was taking Lemur? They looked at each other and with self-consciousness admitted that none of them were. I was shocked! “Well, who then?” I asked. “We are taking his to the animal shelter.”
The words that came out of my mouth surprised me. “No, you can’t! Lemur was Paul’s best friend! If you don’t care for him, Paul will haunt you!”
That was an inappropriate thing to say to four grieving sisters but I wasn’t thinking about their feelings, I was thinking about Paul’s. The next words surprised me even more. “I’ll take him.” I said.
I already had four dogs and five cats! What’s one more? I planned to find him a good home…and I did.
I was also in a state of turmoil getting ready to leave my marriage. When I left, about six months later, Lemur went with me.
Lemur and I lived alone in a log cabin in the deep oak woods of southern Illinois for two years. Perched over a lake it was our “Walden Pond” experience. Lemur entertained me with his intelligence and wit. He soothed me with his attention and gentle nature. I have had over forty cats in my lifetime…none hold a candle to Lemur.
The lady I rented the cabin from told me, “Cats won’t survive out here.” She had two Bull Mastiffs and a German shepherd name Uma. She told me Uma killed squirrels and would kill Lemur if given the chance. I kept Lemur inside.
One summer day I was going to take Lemur on the porch with me so he could lie in the sun. As I opened the door he stepped through and there was Uma. Face to face with the “killer dog” Lemur didn’t even get a “fat tail!” He didn’t hiss or run. He stood fully present and looked Uma in the eye. Uma stood frozen and then deferred to Lemur by dropping her head to one side and looking down. I was blown away! They became friends and would lie together on the porch unless Uma could sneak inside and then I would find them curled up on the couch, the alpha cat and his submissive dog.
Lemur won’t drink standing water from a small bowl. I hadn’t experienced this phenomenon with any of my previous cats so it took a while before I finally bought a running fountain for him. In the meantime, he would sit in the bathtub or jump up on a sink and yowl until someone turned the water on for him. Big water is acceptable so he also has a pool outside where he likes to dip his paw and drink from it like a cup. Life with Lemur is a trip.
Four years ago I packed a U-Hall and Lemur and I headed west. We now reside in the mountains of San Diego’s back country. Lemur has two best friends now. My boyfriend George is smitten with him. He likes to say Lemur is the best dog he has ever had.
Yesterday I walked outside and Lemur and G were in the truck. Lemur had walked out to the worksite where G was clearing some trees and sat on a big rock as a good supervisor would, then followed G to the truck and climbed in to ride to the brush pile and unload.
Lemur is pushing fifteen and doesn’t catch mice or birds and lay them ceremoniously in the center of the doormat for my approval any more. He spends a lot of hours curled up in his chair by the fireplace or in a lap when one is present. He sleeps between our heads at night or if it’s really cold he crawls under the covers and curls up at my belly. He loves his people and we can’t imagine what life will be without him. I smile when I think of Paul and know that giving Lemur a good home was a gift for all of us…a true win-win-win.
Sitting here at my laptop in the morning darkness is becoming my routine. Yet within this predictable experience the exceptional keeps happening. I relish a paradox. Show me an enigma and I will delight at the irony and oxymoronic nature of it. This morning is all about the common holding the extraordinary.
I am wondering where this is going…it feels as if it has to do with the BIG contradiction I feel all the time. I use the word “domestication” a lot lately. I learned it from don Miguel Ruiz. The paradox I am referring to is that I was taught (i.e.: domesticated) that there is something wrong with me, that I am imperfect…broken…implying that something in me needs to be fixed. The “truth” I have come to is that there is not! There is nothing to do, nothing to fix. My perceived “imperfections” are within the perfection of “all.”
Suzanne uses the term “widen your lens” in her teachings. When my lens is narrow and I turn it on myself I see every “wrinkle, scar and pimple” and they look less than perfect. I see my deficiencies and all that I am not. But when I widen my lens enough, something uncommon appears. I perceive myself as a part of something larger that has no limitations or imperfections. I feel a sense of awe as I see the abundance that is here. I feel freedom in the observation of myself as a part of something that I don’t need to seek to change.
Accepting who I am and what is happening in each moment without thinking, “and this would be better if only…” is freedom from needing to do anything. Non-acceptance is always a form of suffering no matter what it is I am not accepting. It is the trap that keeps me “doing” something to “make it better.”
Acceptance of “what is” is freedom, no matter what it is I am accepting.
When I have compassion for hating myself for all my perceived “wrinkles, scars and pimples”, when I have compassion for “all that I am not” I have stopped hating myself. In that moment of compassion for my “failings” I am loving myself. In that moment of loving myself, nothing needs to be changed. If nothing needs to be changed, I am free.