Tag Archives: Feelings

2016. Relax.

Kuan Yin

A poster of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion and mercy, hangs in my living room. She looks relaxed, at ease, overlooking the worldly chaos that we endure daily. “Relax,” she seems to radiate. Okay. I think I will.

The new year is always a pretty high time for me. This year, it all began with a Christmas tree. For the first time in, oh, say 30 years, I bought a small tree a few days before Christmas. It came with lights and, I have to say, was pretty cute. I decorated the artificial leaves with paper ornaments downloaded from the Internet and added a few more lights to brighten the room. It brought me great joy. Each morning, I plodded around in my red flannel nightgown feeling, well, relaxed.

Nice. No urgency, no panic. Could it be that making that last payment on my living room furniture could bring such calm? No. It was deeper than that. I had begun to take charge of my life in this strange world of recovery from CIDP in a more confident way.

Relax.

Like the calming voice of a hypnotist, everything seemed to be repeating that word, and the word itself seemed to be swathed in a soft blue light. “Okay,” I thought.

One morning, I plugged in the tree and (using my new Roku television app!) found a virtual fireplace with Christmas music. Standing back and looking at the fireplace and the tree, I was once again struck by how relaxed I felt. I’ve had such rare moments of this kind of peace that I had to take it all in one moment at a time. I felt warm, cozy, and ready for 2016. How would I begin this year?

I emptied a pack of raw cranberries into a saucepan, added some sugar, and stood stirring and watching as the red berries began to bubble. There were three things that came to mind that would make this a year of relaxation: cooking, writing, and— crocheting. Crocheting? More about that later.

Cooking puts me in my happy place. It’s one of the few areas in my life where I am totally at ease, content. This explains why, when I lost my ability to feel with my hands or lift things, I panicked. The kitchen is my sacred space. And this is something I got from my parents and extended family, both men and women. In the kitchen, secrets were shared, hearts were healed, and great food was made. Perhaps this is why, when I think of the peaceful times in my family, it has to do with food.

The cranberries had boiled into a thick, sugary sauce. Yes, cooking would definitely contribute to a peaceful year. Then, I thought about writing. Ahh. Writing. It is no exaggeration to say that writing has saved my life. But my resolution is not about discipline; I can always use more discipline. It’s about staying in touch with that fire that kept me going in my journals when I thought everything was lost. It’s about using it to connect my personal history, my ancestry, and food.

Yum. I knew that I was gonna have a glorious holiday breakfast. The virtual fireplace was roaring, the choir was singing “Angels We Have Heard On High,” and the tree sparkled against the dawn.

I sliced a hunk of cranberry speckled cornbread and put it in the toaster oven to heat. Now, about this crochet madness. Really, Sala? Really?

When I was child living with six other people in a two bedroom apartment, my mother (very much a southern woman) ensured that my sister and I learn needlework, crochet, and a little sewing. While my sister seemed to take to sewing like a duck in water, I rebelled (my middle name).  In my young adult years, however, I came back to crocheting. It seemed that even several straight rows, unrecognizable as anything usable, appeared to erase the passage of time. An added benefit was that sitting at a party with yarn and a crochet needle drew the guys to my corner like bees to honey. They considered me “deep.”

The cornbread was hot and I slathered it with my newly made cranberry sauce and butter. Nope. Watching my weight was not even in the list for the new year. Next were fried apples, heavily seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and dates for sweetener. Of course I cooked them in butter; I’m not stupid!

Standing over the stove and plating the food filled me with an inner sweetness matched only by the odors filling my apartment. Like a ghost, the smells slipped under the door and out into the building hallway. I’m sure that everyone on my floor knew I had cinnamon for breakfast.

This morning, post-New Year’s celebrations and all, I have the urge to crochet a wall hanging and frame it. I’ll let y’all know how that goes. Joy is the greatest gift we have, and for some outlandish reason, I feel that  relaxed joy is the most important part of my resolution for 2016. Not weight loss; not changing my style; not a spreadsheet with tips about exercise. All this is important, but the most important is joy.

Relaxation and joy. That’s what I want for the new year. And that’s what I wish for you.

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In Search of Balance

Yin-Yang

 

 

Yin: feminine, shadowy, receptive, compassionate.

 

At this moment, slicing pears for a vinaigrette dressing, I think that cooking is yin. I feel like I am receiving the grace of Annapurna, the goddess of kitchens and food. Kitchen wisdom has traditionally been thought of as feminine.

Not being a scholar, I don’t thoroughly understand the concepts of yin and yang. Years ago, a therapist told me I was too yang, that I needed to be or have more yin, more feminine energy. I did not tell her to go to Hades. That would have been too yang. But when a boyfriend told me that the only time I was soft was in the bedroom, I did not bite my tongue. Is it yin to express my personal thoughts, or is it aggressively yang?

What did that therapist mean? Was I too aggressive in my desire to be liked? Was it my anger (and at that time I was quite the angry woman)? Too pushy in my efforts to participate in an unbalanced culture while looking for work? I did not see myself as having such an overabundance of male energy. I thought I was pretty soft. Truth is, it seemed like I was unhappy a lot of the time. Ah. Shadowy.

I’ve thought about her words over the past couple of years. A serious illness puts a certain spin on things. Thanks to my overabundance of aggressive energy, I have been able to stay afloat emotionally and physically. (Lord knows, the health teams in the nursing facilities I experienced were not capable of helping folks to really heal.) Thanks to my compassion, a yin quality, I was able to help make things better for other patients.

I think this therapist meant to say, “you are out of balance.” She saw my aggression in my efforts to not have people take advantage of me. I went overboard and gave up my ability to receive the good that was being offered. The world appeared to be all or nothing, a flip-flop between angry defensiveness and tearful resignation.

Ah. Desperately seeking balance. I’m following the foggy path, pushing aside emotional weeds, and looking for the bright clearing. Yin and yang are the male and female of all things:  light and dark, positive and negative, sunny and cloudy. We exist in a world of opposites; sometimes opposites attract, sometimes they repel. But we cannot exist without both.

If we are to survive and thrive, we must be balanced. It seems to me that balance is an inside out proposition. There can’t be balance on the outside if it doesn’t exist within.

I once left a retreat pissed off at the expressions of unconscious racism. Things were out of balance. There were only a few African-Americans present, and I have always been impatient with the fact that white people assumed we all lived the same kind of lives in the mid-20th century. We did not, oh, we did not; our lives were very different. Things were not equal. Communities were separate. And so, I lost my patience, not only with the expressions of yet more unconscious assumptions, but with trying to be an educator.

So. I drove to a spot near the bay and screamed at the sea, the rocks, and the trees that had bent almost to the ground from surrender to the wind. Surrender. The trees were able to surrender, and they bore their evidence of — beautiful, too — survival. There was balance in that surrender. But to what would I surrender?

I could not scream at people and achieve what I wanted to achieve, so I screamed and cursed at the sea. I got out of my car. I got back in my car. I got out of my car. There were a million stars in the black sky. The mist wetting my face was cold. The night was both scary and lovely.

I was fed up with trying to please everyone around me. I was tired of trying to replace people’s ignorance with information. I was angry and wanted to receive — something. What? Everyone around me seemed aggressive, and hard — filled with what I identified as male energy.

“I just want softness around me.”

That was my voice. It wasn’t the first time I heard my voice and those words. “…softness around me.”  Softness, compassion, the ability to receive and accept love. A little more yin. Perhaps that’s what the therapist was saying.

The night provided a quiet opening, a soft space wherein I recognized both my power and my surrender. As the ocean was both yang and yin, so was I. Balance. Before that night, I loved the ocean. Now, I swore to worship her.

Ours is a society of pushing and aggression, an amazing hermetically sealed bubble in which we are prone to swing to extremes: prohibition or uncontrolled excess; compassionate sharing or the complete hoarding of resources so that only the wealthy thrive. We have not been raised to live in balance. It is a concept as foreign as yin or yang.

I, for one, am of the opinion that in the stillness of making pear vinaigrette dressing lies surrender to the softness of balance.

 

On touch — and other sense matters

Is it hot? Is it cold? Is it sharp? Is it dull? These are the simple questions.

I was not fully conscious of how finely sensitive my finger tips are — until my sense of touch was compromised by carpal tunnel. And although surgery for CTS is common, I’ve been a holdout. That’s changed. I’m going to have surgery. Because in the process of holding out, I learned what it means to have everything I touch feel like a bowl of sand.

The texture of bread dough? Sand. The round, firm skin of a grape? Sand. The silky smooth flesh of salmon? Sand.  As I comb and brush my hair — that’s right — sand. Paper?  I won’t say it again.

There is the sad fact that I have lost bragging rights to my asbestos hands. I could pick up a veggie burger from a pan and it would not burn my fingers. This is not the case right now, and I don’t like the experience. Touch is an iridescent spoke on the wheel of my world. Touch is why I love to cook. Touch is why I love to hug and cuddle. Touch makes me happy.

A friend of mine charged me with being “touchy-feely.” I embrace that label with love. When I think of my childhood, I go back to the place where I was not raised. I go back to the summers I spent with grandparents in South Carolina. It was there where I connected with the silk of corn, the taste of well water, and the sunny warmth of fresh-cut watermelon on my tongue. It was there where I experienced soundless nights and pink cloud mornings. If I could live to be a thousand years old, I would forever embrace the sense experiences I received from my grandparents’ lands.

When I remember touch in the city, it is not a soft memory — except in the context of food. With food, touch drives memory: squeezing an orange, fluting a pie crust, slicing a melon, or rubbing a roast. When I think of touch in the city, I think of standing in summer rain to cool off from the heat of a small apartment that seven people called home. When I think of touch in the city, it comes with art—the thin press of violin strings, the satiny fit of a leotard.

And when I think of sand, in its own nature, I think of the sea. There is no sea in my kitchen; no sea in my hair.

Yesterday, for the sake of feeling the smoothness of dough, I made a pizza. I like the touch of food:  (haven’t you noticed?) kneading dough, slicing carrots, tearing lettuce, dicing onions or potatoes. But yesterday, I had a spiritual bonding with my food processor as it made the dough, and when I poured it out onto parchment to give it a brief knead…it felt like sand.

I know that this is temporary. But it’s given me pause to reflect on the importance of touch and how much I love the purity of the senses.

I guess there is truth in the saying after all. “In everything is a gift.”

On Emotion – Part 2

One of my favorite guys, (I call him Billy Shakes), wrote in Hamlet:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them…

This morning, I’m taking liberty with Shakespeare’s words:

To feel, or not to feel, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to acknowledge a sea of repressed emotions
And by embracing them heal them.

Love, they say, makes you do the unthinkable. This complex blend of joy, surrender, acceptance, risk, adventure and courage is a fire under our butts to make us live fully.

For love of freedom, their families, and a chance to thrive, my parents, and hundreds of thousands of other folks’ parents, came north during the Great Migration of African-Americans in the mid twentieth century. They were looking to survive, thrive, and make a difference in their lives.  All the words of the poets, sociologists, rappers, and humanitarians—for centuries—will never convey the emotion involved with that movement.

For some, it worked out very well. For others—not so much.

I don’t know that my mother ever really knew, or acknowledged, what her real feelings were. Rage masked the pain of sacrifice.  She’d left behind her beloved parents, a job as a working teacher—a career that is so much a part of her identity that she remembers this if nothing else these days—in order to move to an area of the country she didn’t know and raise, in poverty, five children that were not in her life plans. Over the years, she swallowed her truth and regurgitated rage.  I watched, listened, fought back, and learned.

Unexpressed truth is like an ever-present itch. The only salve is to recognize true feelings, learn to express them appropriately, and make choices that allow one to live an emotionally healthy life. The process, for sure, can be a long, slow, and psychically painful one. And not everyone is up for the task.

Today, when I see my mother drop back in time and wander in that place where she ran on a farm, sang with the birds, ate freshly picked peaches, and idolized her father, my own emotion is sadness.

“Here, doggie,” she says with leftover food. “Give this to the dogs,” she says in a child-like voice.

There are no dogs here today, but I won’t argue. I say “okay” and tuck the food, when she’s not looking, into the garbage. She lives, now—so much of the time—in a place where her emotions are softer–and free.

I am fortunate.  My choices in life have given me the opportunity to learn how to feel—and express my emotions creatively. I sing, I write, I journal. I chant, and when I’m disciplined, meditate. I make an effort to say what I am feeling in a kind, respectful, and truthful way. When what I have to say is not received and the conversation floats to anger, the person ends up on a page. Yep. I will not repress my emotions.

It was once taught, even in my nuclear and extended family, that children should be seen and not heard. I’m happy to see that my siblings have chosen to raise children who laugh, get angry, express sadness, and show their feelings openly. The old rules about emotional response are as dead as pulled weeds. My nieces and nephews speak their minds, invent their stories, write, sing, dance, and ice skate with passion and freedom.

At the end of the day, being honestly connected to our feelings is our saving grace and a benefit to our community. Men in touch with and able to express their true feelings in a healthy way do not go ballistic in the work place, shooting up friends and co-workers. Women who feel safe in sharing their range of emotions in a healthy way do not murder their children, their husbands, or themselves.

Emotions count. The spectacular spectrum of energies that pass through our bodies every day in the form of joy, love, sorrow, anger, fear, and more are here for a reason. Emotions are the underpinning to creativity:  songs, stories, theater, sports marathons, raising healthy children…We sing, speak, cook, run, and dance our emotions.

Emotions are the gift and evidence of being alive, a human being—not a robot.