Who’s here? And is she okay?

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I’m going to turn 60 in the Autumn. Last summer, when I was feeling miserable and angry about not be able to go on holiday, I talked myself down from financial acting out, partly by starting to plan this trip to Hydra, as a sixtieth birthday gift to heart and soul.

And now I’m here.

Over the last few months I’ve spent far too much time in Headfuck Central, about should I or shouldn’t I cancel the trip. My life has become increasingly reduced by escalating back/hip/leg pain. When I say pain, I mean the kind that makes me want to scream all the time. If it wasn’t for the constant love of Leonard The Dog and the love and forbearance of the ones that know and love me well, I’d have eaten my own arm off. Or killed someone. Maybe myself.

I have hunkered down. Surviving. Getting through days on dog kisses, prayer and swearing. And boxsets. I’m waiting for disc surgery in an NHS queue. I was scared to leave the comfort zone of BedWorld and home, and navigate the journey to another country. I know it isn’t so far, but when your borders have closed in, it is.

And I came, because I couldn’t not. I did kind things on route, like an airport hotel, a port stay in Athens, taking the ferry in the morning. It took three days in all. And, not shaming myself for needing that. Epic.

I’ve been here a few days, three and a half to be exact, with ten and a half more to go. The very fact I just wrote that makes me cross. I’m such a warrior for Being Here and This is It… and Welcoming IT ALL, that it’s so very painful to find myself struggling so, with this THIS. I don’t want to be counting days in an anxious tone, and worrying about whether it’s alright to lay on my beautiful white bed in my whitewashed room, this much, when I’ve come all the way to Hydra to be Here. I absolutely know it is nuts. And, it is often comedy and tenderness that get me through the days of my little life. So, none of this is driving the car, to use a favourite metaphor, but it is making a lot of noise in the damn car, and I’ve had to pull over so we can all take a few good, slow breaths.

Writing like this is part of how I get back to the earth. And in this case, the breath of the sea. I am here already. I just forgot, as I do, and then if I’m lucky I remember again without too much suffering.

I’ve discovered a few things through this bloody pain. For example, that it can sometimes make the ravaged landscape of my depression look like a walk in the park. Please forgive me, my fellow depressives, as I know it’s not any kind of park you’d want picnic in. It’s just that for me, I’ve been beaten down by this physical pain. I don’t know how to lay down with it, although I do lay down a lot. When I couldn’t escape my depression , I gave up and I fell into the fields of Kindness. I want that fall, and of course we cannot chase such things down. I know that poems, tears, orgasms, falls and fields, only get further away if chased.

I am here and it’s this, This, and I still can’t help kicking and yelling and wanting it to be like an idea I didn’t even know I had, about this trip. We are funny, us humans. I am funny and I’m always glad when I can feel connected to that. When the very serious, and not very serious business, of my little human life can make me laugh. And, I am laughing now, at how hard I try, not to try, and how I fail every time… and how the grace of that will bring me home. Everytime if I let it.

I’m signing off this postcard from Hydra. I’m in bed early after calamari and gin and tonic by the harbour. I’m in the landscape of my little dog’s namesake, Mr. Leonard Cohen. A pilgrim for my heart and soul, not to forget the broken body that keeps going, albeit more and more slowly.

Worry will probably rise and fall, as will every damned and beautiful thing. As Leonard wrote: Here It Is. Here it all is.

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And, my love, Goodbye.

And here you are hurried,
And here you are gone
And here is the love,
That it’s all built upon

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The Power of Loving Attention

Gorgeous writing from dear writing Sister, Fanny Behrens.

Fanny's Blog

When I haven’t written for a while, it is as if the stream dries up.

The lack of care and attention to the muse, means that the stream starts to seep quietly underground. I know it is there, it hasn’t vanished forever, but it goes very quiet and I cannot even perceive it until I stop everything else and start to listen. I need to be willing to hear nothing, just hang in the empty space. I need to wait, and I need to remember that it works by magic, and it is a precious opportunity to love.

It seems to me that all things thrive when they are given loving, spacious, attuned attention. And that in the lack of attention and interest they go dormant. Or start to run amok! What is neglected either dies, retreats or kicks up a storm.

When I stopped holding back, began writing this…

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Giving Your Gift

Fanny's Blog

“If you bring forth what is within you it will save you, if you do not bring it forth, it will destroy you    Jesus, from the gospel of St Thomas

Some fortunate people, seem to know more or less from the get-go what their vocation is, and they give everything to the manifestation of it. Some find it over time and an ongoing trial and error process. Some just follow the thread of their interest and – in some kind of extraordinarily logical or often apparently random process – it reveals itself over time. Many people know deep down or even on the surface what they need to do but keep avoiding it. And some go through a whole life time never seeming to know what they are here for, or how to give their gifts in the world.

I have been fascinated by this for many years now…

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1095 Days With Leonard (in haiku)

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Dear Dog of my Heart
Gratitude for all those days
You keep me alive

You teach me Simple
like some ancient zen master
or comedian

You get me laughing
even though my mood is grim
You kiss my defeat

I follow you through
the days of my little life
I am so grateful

Mr. Cohen says:
Love comes how it comes. You came
to show me my heart

I could write haiku
for you, every single day
chasing the essence

Never even catching
the tailwind of loving you
It is just like This

You give me poems
You are the sweetest Dog Muse
Leonard had women

I had a few too
along the highways of life
You are so easy

to love full-hearted
My devotion is fearless
and it is massive

You kiss my eyelids
I raise up my face to yours
Blessings are bestowed

You stand beside me
You move inside me as well
I live in you too

I whisper your name
Your body moves towards mine
even as you sleep

Anniversary:
Looking for the last haiku
My gratitude Hymn

 

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Mercy

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I was walking with Leonard The Dog earlier, all tangled up in headfuck (technical term) about feeling hopeless, defeated and angry. The struggle was, to relax where I found myself. I didn’t want to. I was trying so hard to make it into something easier to welcome, something more palatable. I tried to make a poem about it, but the poem knew what I was up to and wouldn’t cooperate. Poems, like the body, are where truth lives.
 
When there’s nowhere left to turn, I pray for Mercy. Often, though not always, this cracks me open so I can just put my head down, and rest in what is true. Today, my prayer took me to Leonard’s prayer… I am resting in the cradle of Mercy.
Just this.
 

Losing Things

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A few weeks ago, Bebe The Cat went missing. She doesn’t wander far or for long, so I knew she was in trouble. Some well-meaning people, told me stories about cats that wandered off for days/weeks/months and returned home none the worse for wear.

I knew she was in trouble because I know her ways. She had a few secrets, but was never out of range for more than an hour or two. If I stood by the back door and called her name, she’d often appear from a few gardens down. I knew she was in trouble and she was. On the morning of the sixth day, I found her under the barbeque. Her back, right leg was obviously broken. It turned out to be more shattered than broken, and the only course of treatment was to amputate. My tiny black panther is now one leg short.

We are all coming out the other side now. The light is back in her sea-green eyes, and my system has just about stopped trembling. Leonard The Dog doesn’t quite get it. He’s looking for the cat that jousted and danced with him, and doesn’t yet recognize our more vulnerable Queen.

Maybe, that’s why I’ve been slouching through my days with this title: Losing Things, sitting at the top of an empty page. My attitude to losing things is not what it was. I have lost a few things along the road: people, places and things, like we all do. It’s not only that. More like a deep curiosity and borderline preoccupation with loss and losing. I remember listening to Janis Joplin singing, Me and Bobby Magee: freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. That song, and particularly that line would crack my thirteen-year-old heart wide open, with something like tenderness and despair.

We lose everything, and in the end, we are gone. I find this so damn comforting, and it makes me laugh that I do. I’ve written before, about simplicity and it’s something to do with that. All that, down to the bone simplicity, just waiting for me.

I had a significant ‘losing it’ moment in my late twenties. I was living in Sydney and practicing the dark art of self-hatred, with all my might. We use that terminology, don’t we? Losing it. Losing what? I had lost a lot already, but never IT, if it meant the capacity to hold on. This night, walking through Darlinghurst as dawn broke, I did lose that. I was so broken, drug addled, psychotic, homeless, loveless, empty and humiliated, that I fell over the edge. It’s so long ago now, that I only just remember the street beneath me, the lightening sky, my bedraggled body, only just dressed for dancing. I barely remember the narcissistic boy that left me there, once the chemicals had run out and worn off. What I do remember though, is the feeling of falling. I remember crying out: it’s happening… it’s happening. I remember the fall and those words in my mouth.

Of course, I hit the ground, and continued pursuing relief or communion, or whatever it was I ached for. And, for a very long time.

This falling though, it left its trace memory in my cells.

Much more recently, I fell like that again. I was so tired of never quite being okay, and from working so hard to not be depressed. I was exhausted from trying to heal and somehow failing. Even though I can’t pin down an exact day, when there was just, nowhere left to go, I went over the edge into free fall. I lost some stuff on the way down, and funnily enough I don’t miss it.

You could say my life got smaller?  Or more spacious? That’s the thing about simple: both small and wide at the same time. I love this idea: My Little Life, not as a put down, but as an affirmation. My little life. Your little life. All burning briefly, like wave after wave of tiny lights. We burn, flicker, and we die.

So, what did I lose?

Some deep, oh, so deeply entrenched ideas about what matters and what makes me okay, or not okay. Some stories about success and failure. Some notions about who I am, or should be. Yes, in a nutshell, that is what I lost in my fall, not from Grace, but directly into Grace.

Into the Fields of Kindness, rather than onto a lonely road in Australia. And the cry from my lips and heart, this time, is something like: thank you. I have found a lot of gratitude in these fields, now that I know I don’t have to fix myself, and that even if depression is my home address, I am whole, as well as broken. That we all are.

I’ve been thinking about my mother, and how her life was an epic journey of humiliating losses, until all that was left was bitterness, self-hatred and the husk of a tiny body, attached to oxygen. She taught me well: how to find myself in the mirror of all that. Her little life feels brutally small. I had to go all the way to Australia just to keep breathing. Breathing and dying on the sunny side of the world. I didn’t know she’d died for quite some time, but strangely, it happened at the very same time I started living.

In eleven months time, I’ll turn sixty. My mother died three days after her sixtieth birthday. I wasn’t there, but felt it in the realms of mystery. Maybe a death/life baton was passed from hand to hand? From mother to daughter? It has taken a lot of my little life, to find the Kindness, Mercy and Grace, that brought me home. It has taken my fierce attachment to life, in chaotic coexistence with my appetite and longing for death. And, it has taken so much help: from strangers, friends, dance floors, poets, healers and destroyers, from cats, dogs, horses, nature, and from my teachers and their teachers, and  many, many circles of courage and love.

I am increasingly, more humbled than humiliated by losing things, and that comfort I mentioned, maybe there is a kind of freedom in nothing left to lose…and, even though that’s never going to be quite true, until the very last breaths, at least I can offer up my struggles with losing things, to what is truly precious.

 

 

 

 

The Pain Closet

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I consider myself out in the world about my broken bits. I write and post and publish. It helps me feel connected to the heartbeat of the world, and if sometimes it touches another human, then that’s an extra blessing.

I’ve written about depression, my mental health, sex, longing, hopeless and helpless, poetry, death, dogs and despair. I’ve even written about my relationship with money, and thought it was my last taboo. It was hard to write about me and money. There was a suffocating cloud of shame keeping the closet door closed, tight. I crowbarred it open, and light got in. The shame fell away, as it always does.

Why? Why? Why, does deeply knowing the truth of that, not translate into closet doors being flung wide open?

Retorical question.

I have never written about my physical pain. I didn’t even talk about it, directly and clearly (shamelessly?) until relatively recently. I’ve lived with back pain for so long that I can’t remember an embodied experience from before that. I actually don’t know when it started or if there was any, before that. Six or seven years ago, I was diagnosed with herniated discs and offered steroids injected into the spine and surgery. I was so horrified by either possibility that I chose pain management, with a combination of prayer, medication and the support of my precious GP.

Before this. Before any diagnostic dialogue, I just thought it was my fault. I bought into a narrative, seemingly about healing, but in a slippery way, about blame and shame. I was holding something in my body that I should translate and release. I should welcome it, name it, rescue it, love it, give voice to it, give kindness to it, and above all, by these methods and more, I should be able to release and heal it. I made so many journeys to so many mountains, rituals, medicines, practices and practitioners, and at some fundamental level, I kept failing.

Failing, is an interesting concept, of course.

I have been held, helped, supported and loved by many of my endeavours. I value all the nourishment, beyond words or measure. I think, now I am less invested in being fixed, I can allow more nourishment.

As for the pain… it has slowly, but surely got worse year by year. I have been slowly but surely, moving towards some kind of treatment plan. Even the inconceivable suggestions from those years back. Then in November last year, the slowly worsening pain started galloping. It was escalating day by day. It took my breath away and not in a good way.

It stabilised in the Spring. When I say stabilised, I mean at the new, much heightened pitch.

Maybe, I haven’t written about it because the words don’t pour forth? Maybe, as well as the shame, it’s a technical difficulty? And, what’s funny in an awful sort of way, is that the language I find to write about depression, is kind of the same. It is unforgiving and relentless, it hammers and smashes and breaks, and crushes breath and hope out of every inch of me… so, I feel like I’ve written about it already. But I haven’t. This is me trying.

I think it is something like this: I was learning to live with my depression. And, I do mean in a good way. Kindness and welcome. Celebration even. Here … I am… and, what if that can really be okay? I was getting it. Not getting it exactly… allowing it to find me, this sweetness restored… I believe in this simple possibility, so deeply that my heart could just burst from it… and… oh my, how I am struggling to find the softness around living like this. My back and hips constantly roaring. My knees going. My stumbling and wincing and grimacing, and trying to look vaguely normal, and not be a total bore. I mean how many times can I tell you how it rolls, when I seem to have taken up residence here?

So, somewhat the same, but also not the same. I’m crawling towards steroids and surgery, and I am attached to getting fixed. In the meantime, I am trying to practice welcoming what I don’t want to welcome, and being where I don’t want to be.

It is a small and vast terrain: PainWorld. I am surviving. And, I honestly don’t know if writing about it, is helpful, or not. What I do know, though, is that I can’t breathe inside a closet.

730 Days With Leonard

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It’s two years ago today that Leonard The Dog came home.

I’m making a tradition that can only end in the vale of tears, where all stories end… but there is something compelling about counting the days. How many days will we have? I have an inner nerd, if only I were better at mathematics. I wonder about things like how many miles I have walked in my life, so far. How far?

Loving Leonard is a fine thing. It’s much more of a breathtaking thing than I ever could have imagined. I mean that literally. This dog love, it cracks in my chest and catches in my throat. He is often my muse. There is a folder on my laptop titled: Love Songs to Leonard (the dog) not to be confused with any fragments of love, inspired by Leonard (the man).

It’s the proximity of human coupledom that has always defeated me. I need so much space, silence and solitude. The extrovert I thought I was, turns out to have been hiding the deeply introverted truth of me.  Living with Leonard is fiercely intimate. He’s always there and he sees everything. It is unutterably healing to be able to give myself up to this life sharing kind of love, that I’d thought was not to be my lot.

And you might say, but he’s a dog, not a person. You might think it’s not a true compare. You might never be able to grasp just how much one person can love a dog. This person. This dog. This love.

Almost all of those 730 days, I’ve walked out with Leonard. It’s unequivocal. It’s just what happens. This is the best dog medicine for my baseline depression. It doesn’t fix it, but rather takes it out perambulating. I would never walk myself through the days, through the changing colours and smells of the seasons. Sometimes it’s a labour to walk the length of my own corridor. But for the love and commitment to Leonard, I walk or stumble four to five miles a day. I know this because someone bought my nerdy self a little machine to measure the ground we cover.

Did I say that my dog is a comedian? He makes me laugh, even and especially when I’m very gloomy. He’s such an optimist and an extrovert: he shows me the good stuff every day, just being himself.

Last summer I had my bedroom redecorated. I bought my first ever bed. And because it is almost certainly going to be my one and only bed, I got a truly beautiful one. Then I got Leonard a new bed: a luxuriously simple, soft blue corduroy, beanbag bed. Up to this point, Leonard had a very nice, though not quite as nice as that, dog bed, in the corner of our bedroom. He spent a lot of time on the bed with me, but usually retired to his bed to sleep through the night.

I wanted him to sleep with me, which he did on rare occasions. It always felt like a bit of Grace when that happened. I always said, thank you.

And then, dear reader, the beanbag bed well and truly threw him. He wasn’t at all sure about the beans and all the moving and grooving that getting onto it entailed. Before giving up on the beanbag bed, which I was rather attached to, I initiated a small training programme to befriend the bed. Everyday I encouraged Leonard to approach and master the weird beans, and sustained by treats and compliments, he started to get the hang of it.

While this process was winding its way, Leonard took to sleeping up on the bed with me. It is oddly tricky to put this into words, but something beyond the shores of tenderness ensued. Sleeping very close together, each night, which I’m sure for Leonard was a tempory thing, has woven us more deeply together. It is quite something to sleep in such close company. It’s that proximity thing again… but, oh how I am able to delight in and cherish this. I wake frequently. I need to pee. My back and hips hurt. I wake up frequently in my beautiful, white ash bed, and he is right there: his body against my shoulder or a paw on my head. He snuffles and snorts and forgives me all the getting up and getting down, the rearrangement of body parts, both dog and human.

You might say I’m being anthropomorphic… nevertheless; we are more tightly linked together now we sleep pushed up against the other. Sleeping with another is an intimate thing: an intimate thing that I’ve never really known and tasted. For all the good company I have had in my bed(s) over a lifetime, no, not ever like this.

I’m going to post this anniversary, dog card from my window ledge, and walk out with Leonard into a sunny afternoon. Blessings and dog prayers for the next 365… and gratitude to Leonard The Dog, for sharing my days and nights.

 

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