What can be said above the chatter inside my head to find some way to let things be, just be, as they are becomes my mantras. Some of these I came up with. Some of them are from mindfulness practitioners I admire, friends, family, and even things from conversations I overheard and heard something in.

Today I found myself in the usual space in my head…that ugly place where I feel fear rising and rippling out in waves. It isn’t paralyzing anymore, though I remember the years where it was. I remember my attempts to run from it. The days I literally hid, coiling myself into a tight ball under a desk or a piano bench or closing myself into a coat closet or a cupboard. I am grateful to know how to choose alternatives now. I appreciate that I see other answers to my fearfulness, though I still have that moment when I wonder whether I’ll backtrack and hide again. I watch that moment and let it pass.

Repetition helps.

Space helps. Internal space, I mean, but also the spaciousness of going outside. Nature has always helped. I have to find the space to let the fears dissipate, to be recognized and let go of.

So, while I have no idea if it will help anyone else, today I offer my five most frequently used mantras….just in case, something does have resonance:

1) “Don’t know” —a classic koan-like response a buddhist friend taught me; my reminder that it is the ultimate answer to all things. I don’t know. I don’t know. You don’t know. Knowing is not really possible. Knowing can be the enemy of openness and understanding; the fuel of ego. Knowing is not the goal. Knowing is not the way. I don’t get to know. No one gets to know. There is a kind of relief in that for me. The pursuit of answers, of being right, just isn’t an ultimate truth.

2) “Find the space” —this one I use a lot, especially when I’m in physical pain or really stressed. This got me through childbirth and keeps me going. I don’t really want to even try to explain it. It just works for me.

3) “I got you./ Mama’s got you.” —when my son was an infant this became important…I had to realize that I was mama/the adult and that my new job was to keep safe and meet the needs of this other dependent creature. In doing so, I also found out that I needed to tell myself that I could do that…that I was already equipped and wouldn’t break or fall apart. I had to say it, in my head, because it was dire that I realized it and acted accordingly. When I feel alone, this is also really helpful. It’s like being held, like a hug from my subconscious.

4) “Smile” —Thich Nhat Hahn reminded in his writings that it takes less muscles to frown than to smile, so when we brood we are working harder to create tension. A smile can be a way to relax the face, to relax the mind too.

5) “I give up.” —When I’m really upset about someone else, something that is happening that I feel I can’t fix…I try to remember that maybe it isn’t my job this second to do fix anything or anyone, that I can only fix me. So, instead of being really angry or disappointed or worked up, I just let myself give up for that moment and return to my own problems. I have enough to fix in me to fill the rest of my life, so that’s enough to do.

I live out in the woods. This place is my haven. Trees crowd around the house, obscure the sight of the blacktopped potholed street most of the year, and generally make me feel comforted. When nothing seems to make sense, the sounds of trees always helps. Leaves whisper by touching. Branches bend and creak in the breeze. There are a hundred tiny sounds, like the skittering of squirrel claws scaling up bark, and each one is part of a language of its own. Sometimes I think I understand it better than the words I speak…or it, at least, seems to make more sense than a lot of things I talk about.

When I don’t feel like I can be patient any longer, I try to become like a tree. The wind twists and bends them, rustles and tugs and gusts at them; rain pelts down and sometimes the rain comes as ice, snow, sleet, or hail. For a long time I’ve wished I could be like a tree…that I could accept the unseen buffeting, bend and twist and bear with life, because fighting the breeze doesn’t work. Rigidity is meant for the corpse only. Life itself seems against rigidity, against stasis and stagnation too. Everything is in motion, changing, choosing, being. Even the giant old trees that look immovable are in almost constant motion; only dead timber is at rest (and then there are other forces that change it). Roots and leaves, branches and bark, like me and you, are in a state of -ing.  

(a.k.a. “The Other Shu”)
Its always a puzzle to me that my husband loves whatever I do, no matter how much I struggle with doing it. I know it isn’t the struggle that he loves. I know it isn’t the thing I make he loves. I know it is me, but that is just so strange. I can’t ever quite accept it.
Other people might say it’s me that’s strange, not him. Since to love someone is to want to accept them and be supportive. I can see the strangeness in my own reaction. I just can’t shake my response. I feel like it is too good to be true so it must not be true. I peck at it with questions and wait for some facade to crack and fall, only it hasn’t yet. We’ve been together for a dozen years and it hasn’t. We’ve been together a dozen years, and I have yet to absorb this fully. I’m still waiting for the flaw, waiting for the blow to come.
He’s good natured about it. Finds it a bit amusing that I am this way. He doesn’t use it against me or mock me or even get (what I would get) exasperated or annoyed. The man isn’t a saint or anything, but this is odd to me. I lack a fundamental trust in other people being supportive and yet he does’t require that I change.
The concept that marriage is built on trust seems threatened by my responses, my inability to accept the gifts that are presented to me, my fears that everything is about to come loose or evaporate…and yet, I have never loved anyone as I love him. I have never felt as safe. I have never known such absolute kindness.
This isn’t one of those “the girl is insecure and can’t see her worth” things…and it isn’t a love letter to my man…it isn’t even a “he completes me” or “he shows me I could be more” crappy sentimental thing. It’s just that trust, for me, isn’t without great doubt and great fears. I think that love is easy, but trust is horrendously dangerous and difficult. Sometimes, I even wonder if we are really ever meant to trust at all.

(Day one of Detox Fasting)    

Wednesday: eating whole-grain brown rice and water only.

Last night, was mostly sleepless because my throat was hurting me and the low-grade fever persisted in making my joints ache. I document this to be thorough, but it annoys me to say it openly. This morning I’ve been doing well with the fast, but my fever it picking up a little. Hot water is helping my throat feel a bit better, but it’s a slow change. The rice is good—nutty, insipid, and easy to eat.
           

Everywhere I look there is other food. I notice that the house seems bursting at the seems with it—raisins, nuts, dried beans, a fridge with lots of dairy products, potato and tortilla chips, and bunches of bananas. I look at it and wonder why it doesn’t make me hungry. I’m more intrigued by the idea of variety than any desires for particular goodies. I wonder how long this will last?

Surely, it will be tested by eating suppers and breakfasts with my family as they do not fast on rice?

 

Wednesday noon: fevers, sleeping a lot…still eating nothing but rice and water.

 

Wednesday 5:30 p.m.: Feeling like I’ve done a good job sticking with the fast, but also getting annoyed at just that. I try to remember that I’m doing this so I don’t feel so awful (which is my present condition: aching joints,sore throat, fever I can’t keep from rising when the ibuprofen wears off, my jaw hurting because I always clench it when I don’t feel good and then it gets sore). Husband intercedes. The good doctor (not medical) tells me that I’m being stubborn and that you don’t fast when you have a virus. I say, “what?”

            He repeats, “You don’t start a fast when you have a virus. You have a virus. The boy (our child, referred to in Homer Simpson fashion) had it this weekend, and now you have it. This is how it usually goes–he gets the mild version, and you get the not so mild version.”

            Long story short, I’m easily convinced by the voice of my doctor. Sure, I tell him that I don’t think he’s right, that it is all the bread…that there’s nothing virus-like about chills, fevers, aches, sore throat, and ….but I lose my resolve as I say it aloud. I’ve eaten nothing but a cup and a half of rice all day, so I given in. I eat the organic blue corn tortilla chips with cheese and refried beans and sliced fresh cucumbers from the garden. They taste really good, and I worry that I’ve given up again, that I’m unreliable….yada, yada, yada. The voice in me that loves to say I’m a failure shrieks, but I know it will quiet down eventually.

            I have a virus, so the brown rice buffet will have to wait.

I grew up in the Midwest, not a farm girl, but the granddaughter of farmers on both sides. It was customary (and still is when I talk with my mom and dad) to discuss the status of the crops, the weather, and the inevitable difficulties of each particular year—i.e. too much rain, so the farmers can’t get into the fields when they need to; early frost; late frost; winds that knock down acres of corn; floods; droughts; the annual fears and hardships of a living dependent on nature, God, luck, savvy, and hard labor.

When I moved to the South, I thought it would be much the same. I knew it to be more agrarian than the metropolis loving U.S. coasts of California and New England, but I didn’t really know much more than that. Having lived in the South for fifteen years, I can say much more about the culture, but I still feel like a bit of an outsider looking in at times. Words like gentility, grace, humor, and pride have new connotations here.

One of my first encounters moving south was in making friends with a dear local woman about my age who told me amazing children’s stories filled with the usual list of characters: giants, innocent children, spooky settings, mystery, and gruesome finales. The most memorable of those tales was that of a giant who stalked up a set of stairs to terrorize a young child. The story wasn’t that interesting but the language was. He didn’t walk up the steps, instead there was a counting chant that was said, “He’s on the one-step” and then you make a scary noise, “he’s on the two-step” and another scary noise, etc. Initially, I was confused, the one-step, two-step, seemed more like dancing that a dangerous stalking, but it stuck in my head. At the end the giant was outwitted and the child, whose house was a mere shack without food or comforts (or parents, it seems), ate the giant’s toes to sustain himself. They tasted like potatoes, the story said, and the boy cut them off one-by-one and roasted them in a fire before filling his belly.

Who knows what happened to the rest of the giant’s body? How hungry must that kid have been to eat up a giant’s toes? It wasn’t the kind of tale you asked questions about later. Well, not outloud anyway. It was just good that the giant was dead, the boy fed and sleeping in the shack contented, and the toes of the real kids who were listening mockingly cut off and feet tickled until they cried for mercy. 

Fast Detox

 

Being almost forty, I have a hard time admitting the things I have not done that I always wanted to try. Visiting foreign countries that are not contiguous to the conterminous United States, deep sea diving (though I’d probably have a heart attack, if I tried it), auditioning for a big-time theatrical production, mastering Norwegian and Spanish, really knowing how to play guitar well and mandolin fast, visiting at least one old-growth forest on each of the human-inhabited continents, etc. This may be a boring list, but if I had a bucket list (which I don’t) at some time in life these were probably on there along with a series of x-rated or bizarre wishes that probably had more to do with hormone imbalances than actual desires.

The last decade has been devoted to seeking new and interesting ways to be healthier. Excitement I have plenty of. I feel sated. Health, real health, isn’t quite as complete in my life. On this quest, I’ve done lots of things…and recently, I’ve also let go of a lot of things that I know help me and work to make me healthier. I say it’s because I’m going through a transition in life (no, not menopause) and that makes me relearn and rebel against all that I thought I knew. So, after eleven years of being mostly vegetarian, no refined sugars, no artificial sweeteners, no refined flours (except when visiting family or older people who are offering me homemade love, which can’t be turned down without hurt feelings, abandonment, and just plain rudeness), smaller meals, lots of plain yogurt, lots of greens, 100% whole grains only, etc., etc., I find that the last month or so I’ve let myself eat things I haven’t eaten in a long long time. I’m suffering for it.

Having not eaten all-purpose wheat flour and refined sugars in a long time, it acts crazy in my body. I get symptoms like a very bad cold is coming on—congestion in head and chest, coughing, sore throat, body aches, headaches, low-grade fevers, tender and swollen lymph glands, etc. Yes, I got myself into this for love of some dear people who toiled over stoves making beautiful breads and pastas that I enjoyed thoroughly. Yes, I would eat these things again, but no, I would not eat them in the enormous quantities I chose to eat them in.

Full disclosure means I must admit that I ate much more than I should have, with a gluttony worthy of Porky Pig or Boss Hog. I devoured an entire loaf of bread by myself in two days. That’s pretty disgusting, and I did it while not missing any of my three square meals or snacks and desserts. Clearly, that’s not okay, but I told myself it was fine, because I needed to get it done and out of the house, so I wouldn’t think of it anymore…I needed to eat it so that it wouldn’t bother other people in my house who wouldn’t likely have even a piece of it because it was made of all-purpose flour…I needed to eat it as a gift to myself, since I don’t eat things like that on a normal basis and maybe I’ve deprived myself of something…and most of all, I needed to eat it because we all know that bread only lasts for two days—there’s “fresh bread,” which means day one and there’s “day old bread,” which I assume is self-explanatory—so it wouldn’t make sense not to eat it all during the time it was “good.”

Um, yes. I know that is crazy, but it’s also honest. I ate it because I could. I enjoyed it. I knew it would make me suffer, and now it is doing just that.

I do not seek sympathy here. Calling myself swine-like in my eating of all that white flour and other food was not meant to gather pity, though laughter would have been welcomed. Still is.

So, I find that my choices have led to an interesting new adventure—fasting. I have always wanted to fast, but don’t ever remember actually trying it. I suppose it isn’t something that one forgets, so I must not have done it. Sure, I remember several occasions where people around me fasted, but I’m pretty sure my response to that was “cool, but I’m not ready for that” or “I’ll try it next time.” Actually meaning to try it, the fasting just never happened. I remember planning a fast even…and then finding out I was pregnant and deciding that fasting and pregnancy, especially long-awaited sort of miraculous pregnancy, didn’t seem sensible. In my elated and still irreverent mind, my internal voice said, “Screw fasting, you’re going to have a baby…kid’s gotta eat.”

Now, after all these years, I find I’m on the brink of really trying a fast, and there’s nothing to stop me. This one will be a detox fast, meant to expel the candida (yeast) reaction I’m having to eating all that flour. The plan is that I start with food that is yeast-free and basically non-allergenic, a foundational food. So, I’m not doing the Jesus-in-the-desert-for-40-days-&-nights fast. I get to eat food, but it will be limited to one food and then I’ll build other foods in slowly.

The plan is to start with eating nothing by brown rice and water for four days.

I begin tomorrow.

I’ve heard lots of amazing stories of how great people feel after a few days of fasting, but I’ve always been skeptical. In the back of my brain, there’s a cynical practical joker who says that what those people are really saying is, “I tried live squid (and it was horrible, slippery, fighting for it’s life to get out of my mouth, I think it may even have peed on my chin, and I had to seek counseling…in fact, I’m still in counseling trying to overcome this experience) and you’ve got to try it;” like fooling someone else into a bad experience might make your own experience better. My other thoughts are that maybe it’s true, and you do feel better after a detox. Or maybe you say that so you can start eating more interesting things again, and that’s what let’s you add them?

Really, I don’t know…but I’m going to try to find out. 

When you’re a university student or a teacher your life is strung together in a series of semesters, periods of intense focus followed by the let down, confusion, and excitement of taking a break. If you’re like me, you deal pretty well with the focused times, but not so great when things slow down or stop altogether. A break is a time when exhaustion grabs you by the collar and blackjacks you, so you’ll be quiet and rest without having to see it as your choice to do so. Being on break right now also means that there are no carved out times to do the projects that I’d like to get done. I don’t have the excuse of a class assignment needing my attention. Thus, I feel guilty that I want so badly to take on my own projects when no one is demanding me to do so. It’s a strange thing to realize that I love to work and will do almost anything to get back to it.

Being the mother of a toddler, I see how hard it can be to notice simple things—the desire for food, rest, time to go to the bathroom—when you’re focused on learning (and play is learning). My child teaches me this lesson every day, in his relentless pursuit of action and knowledge and pleasure. The struggle to stop doing one thing and do what your body asks you to do is infuriating to him. He can push against the thing that needs to be done—eating, sleeping, etc.—but only for a little while. Then the moment of realization that the need must be met arrives and with it emotional turmoil, rebellion, fear, and sometimes loud protests. Suddenly, as if there were no signs leading up to this understanding that he is hungry for example, he begins an angst-ridden cry. I wonder if his subconscious is saying things like, “Why do I not feel good? Why was this not prevented?” If soothing doesn’t occur (and it is a tricky thing trying to soothe a toddler), then anger takes over. Anger at a lack of feeling fine, a lack of harmony, I suppose.

Try to fix the need, and there will be pushing against you, because the time of understanding is too late. It is past when something should have been done. Everything has changed. The bodily need is now a psychological/emotional void. The integrity of the whole system is compromised. There must be protest and anxiety and contrariness, because there’s fear and fear is always what feeds anger.

When I see my son like this I think of how often I am still like a toddler not wanting to stop for those annoying pit stops that the body demands in order to function properly, in love with the intense focus that comes with trying to understand something, and trying to always be on the move doing something. I wonder how it is that a person ever knows what they are doing, where it will lead, whether it is worth doing, or why it seems so important to try all the time.

So, as another semester fades away and this short break arises with all its threats and guilt attached, I hope I can slow down and do what is needed before I feel the panic of understanding too late what I’ve been putting off. Or maybe I should just be sure to set up some play times for me?