Monday, February 25, 2013

Cries of the Heart

I am struggling tonight.  I just want to put that out there.
And I am not sure how to talk about it.
These days it feels like it is one thing after another after another
and I am feeling world weary. 
I think I need some support.
And some kindness.
Very little feels kind these days. 
Much of the truth I am seeing around my own life
feels harsh and hard to bear. Hard to hold.
Softness feels elusive right now. And I am craving it.
And if one more person tells me I am strong I think I will go out of my mind.
I know that I am strong,
and being strong does not mean the heart does not feel it when it hurts.

I wrote this one day when life felt particularly difficult and shared it with a small group of friends who wrote back and buoyed me without having to know what was wrong or my having to explain myself.  I am lucky. I have terrific friends.  Their support made the difference for me that day.  Even though I had been feeling terribly alone, I knew there were people out there who care about me and who were thinking about me, sending loving energy for whatever healing and support I needed at the time. 
There are days when we all need that kind of support, but so often we try to soldier through difficult times without asking for help.  And we end up feeling isolated.  Isolation makes whatever we are contending with even more difficult.  Human beings are creatures of connection.  We are meant to connect with each other, with the Divine, with nature, and with our own deep interior spirits.  All of these are essential relationships that are important to recognize and nurture.  They are part of what help us to be healthy and vital.  
But so often we confuse strength with self-sufficiency.  And sometimes things can become difficult for us when we encounter people who project their own need for us to demonstrate that we don't need any support.  There seems to be an unspoken contract in some relationships that suggests that if one person can "be strong" when times are tough then the other person will be able to also.  And not wanting to disappoint the other person, we might be tempted not to ask for help when we need it. There is no shame in asking for help.  It does not make us weak. It does not make us a burden.       
Instead, asking for help can open whole horizons of joy in life.  Knowing we are connected with others and part of a web of support enable us to face the challenges in life with more confidence.  It helps us to know that we can be the central core of our own web of support and that when we are feeling shaky, there are others we can call upon who can help to buoy our spirits and hold our hurting hearts while they heal.  And then, when the tough times pass, there are people with whom we can celebrate.
One of my favorite responses to my request for support that day is this -- 

Just breathe deeply. Give yourself a break.
Know you are loved and appreciated.
We are here to be aware, not to save the world.
Take in the pain.  Let it enter your heart, then breathe it out,
and your love will transform it to a goodness.
I will send you warm thoughts of love...thank you for being you.
You are wonderful!

I return to this message when I am feeling a little shaky.  It has become both poetry and prayer for me, just as my cry above has.  Together, they remind me of a Psalm -- a genre of literature in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) that are some of the most real and human words in the Bible.  So many of them explore the depth of human suffering and the turning of the soul toward remembering its relationship with the Divine and the love that surrounds us and fills us at all times. They were sung together by the community - a living expression of support.  My favorite is Psalm 139.  Read it sometime when you need a reminder of just how precious you are and how there is never any true isolation, no matter how you are feeling or what you are experiencing. 
Some of my favorite lines...
Beloved, you have searched me and known me.
Even before a word is on my tongue you know it completely.
Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence.
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and settle at the farthest limits of the sea
even there your hand shall lead me, and you shall hold me fast.
Even the darkness is not dark to you.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made...
intricately woven in the depths of the earth and
your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
Search me, Beloved, and know my heart... 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Caught by Surprise by the Tides

The final weeks of winter is a great time to ponder death and rebirth.  The season of Lent is a few days away and I think we've probably had our last big snow of the season -- another big storm like the one last fall, except this time we were just on the edge of it.  We were fortunate -- woke up Saturday morning to a beautiful white landscape, plowed roads, crystal clear blue skies, and the feeling that the old energies had been completely cleared and something new was coming in.  It feels ironic in the deep winter -- the time just before spring begins to green and bring forth flowers on the earth.  It feels like the time between the final exhale and the first inbreath of rebirth.

Like everyone else, I have my cycles of death and rebirth.  I'm in a pretty big one right now. Lots of change. Lots of loss. I sit by the river every day and think about what's left.  And I think this may be a problem.  Thinking about what's left.  Watching the waters flow beyond my ability to see is definitely teaching me something about allowing things just to go. It's starting to feel pretty clear to me these days that when everything goes, it's time to stop fighting it and discover something new.

I like to kayak on rivers.  I love dynamic water. This was something new I discovered eight years ago after my father died.  I'm not one of those paddlers that hugs the shoreline and looks for herons and turtles.  The first time I was on a river, the Hudson, near Rhinebeck, NY, while most of our group of first-time paddlers kept close to shore, intimidated by the fast-flowing waters that were so different from the quiet lake we'd learned on, I waited for the big boats to come by -- like bullets shot down the middle of the river and leaving turbulent waters in their wake.  Sending waves out on three sides and disturbing the comparatively quiet waters, they sent most of the group back to the shoreline the few times they ventured father out.

I loved it, though -- turning my small craft into the wake and paddling my heart out to get to the middle of the wide river, thrilled by the motion that sent me flying above the water's surface as I paddled over the waves to get to where the action of the water was even more choppy and precarious. 

You can't sit still in water like that.  You can't look around and ponder the beauty and wonder of nature.  If you do, you'll find yourself in the water instead of on it.  What you have to do is paddle as if your life depends on it with a strong power stroke.  And what I had to do while doing that was to laugh my heart out at the top of my lungs.  Just because it was so thrilling.

Sometimes on the river, though, you can forget how powerful dynamic water is.  And when you paddle long enough, you may even become so comfortable that you don't remember to plan for what you might not expect to happen.

I was on a river near Ft. Meyer's Beach, FL, paddling across the shipping lanes and into a bay that would lead me into a mangrove forest where I looked forward to a peaceful search for manatees.  And it was wonderful.  Especially crossing the shipping lanes where there is plenty of wake. The only problem was, I hadn't planned on the tides. 

Most of my paddling experience had been on freshwater rivers and I didn't even think about it.  Probably should have.  Coming out of the mangrove forest, I barely recognized the peaceful bay I'd paddled across a few hours before.  The tide was coming in so powerfully, it took all my strength to paddle within yards of the mouth of the small bay that opened onto the tidal river and shipping lanes.  I could not get across it.  I could barely keep my position.  When I stopped paddling even for a second, the power of the water pushed me away, losing ground (so to speak) in seconds that had taken so long to gain.  And once I'd lost the ground, I didn't have the strength to regain it. It's a hard lesson to learn -- that some things are just more powerful than we are.  I could not get back across the bay and into the peace and safety of the mangrove forest either. The way was closed in the current conditions and I was stuck in the middle of a bay paddling for my life to keep from getting pushed into a terrain made of trees that were mostly gigantic roots somehow anchored in the water.      

I knew the real danger would be panic.  I could somehow manage the water, and the boat, but not my own panic.  Whenever you watch those "how did people survive that?" shows, they always tell you that it is panic that kills.  Like when you drive your car off a bridge or a cougar jumps on an unsuspecting you while mountain-biking.  I looked around quickly to assess the situation and saw a trail marker.  It was the only solid ground in the middle of all that turbulence -- a slender metal pole anchored in chaos.  I paddled over to it, looped my arm around it, and held on until the tide turned.  Fortunately, I'd brought a picnic lunch. I must have been a sight -- one arm hooked around the trail marker and a ham and cheese sandwich in my other hand.

A trail marker in a bay is easy to spot.  Not so, the trail markers in life.  Still, they are there.  And when we're in the middle of the unexpected, or the unplanned for, sometimes we get through by hanging on and relaxing until a way through is clear.