Resources and the Space that Lies Between

I turned 50 last month. It felt good. Like the completion of the first half of a journey when you reach the mountain top and get to see the views for the first time.

It’s not that I’ve “arrived” per se. It’s that something inside of me is softening. It’s as though the mountain top has met me part way and enabled me to see the views from where I am now, rather than at some unknown point in the future. The longing for transformation to happen, like a Malcolm Gladwell tipping point, is shifting.

St-Jo-Autumn

photo taken by my Dad on a fall hike

I used to wish that I’d wake up one morning and that all I’d been working on so fiercely and with such dedication would have suddenly, finally, come to fruition. Where I would feel a sense of energy rather than deficit and my new task would be all about rebuilding instead of trying to stop the tide of decline. Where my food intolerances would have resolved and I would know that it was all going to be okay. Where the years of chronic illness would all have become nothing more than a bad dream.

But even as I continue to have exacerbations, something is changing and it is unexpected. A softening has been happening. Gently. Almost impercetibly. It has to do with a dawning realization that things seem to change slowly. Incrementally. That the personal process, the internal journey, the work with trauma and early attachment wounds and prenatal and ancestral patterns are all just a part of my life. And may simply be an ongoing part of my journey of evolving, growing, and learning. They may not lead to recovery as I’ve imagined it. Although I still hold that desire and possibility, there is a gradual letting go of the need for it to happen NOW. And an occasional arriving of something that enables me to appreciate my life as it is, things as they are today.

The pace of change feels like it needs time if it is to be kind to me and to enable me to keep up and catch my breath and smell the apples ripening on the tree and enjoy the fall colors along the way. I’ve been looking forward to posting a series of Photos in Red for weeks now, and there is something about these little pleasures that is taking up residence with greater availability inside of me.

maple-leaves-

There is a growing sense of acceptance that my life really is okay just as it is.

Although I’ve touched into this place before, learned about it in my psychology training, and read about it in Buddhist texts and in the poetry of the sages over the years, having the direct experience of it remains so very different. To feel this gentle sense of decreasing urgency and internal okayness starting to sprout inside of me leaves me with a sense of gratitude.

two red apples sit between yellow leaves

And at this time of being a half century old I am coming upon a resource with a new “reframe” about my life. And my health. A reframing of perspective may be one way in which the internal work through the years is helping to change the very earth that resides inside of me.

In my explorations I’ve come to think of chronic illness as arising from a place of brilliance rather than broken-ness. This is a reframe from our common cultural perceptions that illness arises from a fault in our physiology. It changes how I feel about my limitations, and my perspective about how I live with it. And relate to it.

I’ve long thought of my fatigue as the trade-off my body made to get through difficulty. It did so by settling into hibernation. Looking at the view from the mountaintop in recent weeks, I find that I can sometimes look down and see gifts that come with winter. The grass has stopped growing and the mowing is done for the year. The garden has been put to bed and no longer needs to be watered. There is no 90 degree heat to escape. The harvest is in, the coffers are full, and new spring bulbs are in the ground. And I find that I am appreciating the arrival of winter for the ways in which it enables me to slow down. To take a break. To rest.

maple-leaf-in-snow

The poet Mark Nepo writes about this concept I think of as reframing, one which helps me think of interruptions differently. He tells the story of how Pursuing the Obstacle will Set you Free.

When I came upon the mountain, I was in a hurry. I thought it would take too long to make my way around, so I set out to break a path through. Each rock and branch felt like a waste of time. If only the mountain weren’t in the way. I cut my legs and arms as I rushed along. It grew harder to breathe, and I lost all sense of direction. Now I had to climb high enough to see. … Finally, I broke the clouds… I sat in a clearing on a cliff, the light on top of my head… Suddenly, reaching the top or getting beyond the mountain no longer seemed important…

This story invites us to honor each obstacle as something flowing in its own right in the Universal stream, to see ourselves and the obstacle as two limbs of the same tree drifting in the same river, bumping into each other, and even blocking one another for a moment.

…if we can, we must focus on our relationship to the stream and not to the things being carried alongside us. If something appears to be blocking our way, we must try to understand what is moving it and what is moving us. If our movement in the world is still blocked, perhaps we are meant to be still. …

In the final reframe, he asks us to

…describe the obstacle as a piece of nature that has its own history. Is it like a shell being broken by the surf, or a stone tumbling in a landslide, or like a small deer frightened in the middle of a busy road? How is what you want or need colliding with what it wants or needs? (1)Nepo, M. (2011). The Book of Awakening: Having the life you want by being present to the life you have. San Francisco, Conari Press, p. 400 “December 5th”.

small-apples-with-snow-and-yellow-behind

As I’ve pondered this experience of winter and hibernation in my life, I’ve gradually grown more and more accepting of it, at least in between the periods of frustration and urgency and fear that sometimes come with exacerbations and long periods of forced rest not of my choosing.

In some of the trauma work I’ve done there is a perspective that the way one moves through a traumatic or blocked state is by eventually experiencing the pattern without the associated emotions of overwhelm. One comes into the present moment where a sensation is nothing more than sensation and where the predominant emotion is no longer overwhelm but one of knowing that support is present even as the difficulty remains. Something flows through the block and we wake up to the reality that we have survived and made it through. This perspective finds that if I can work through the blocks and truly be in that old state with a sense of resource that was missing at the time, then the state dissolves and the pattern can stop repeating.

small-orange-berries-and-yellow-leaves

I’ve often wondered what that would feel like, given the lack of change in my fatigue even as I’ve grown my capacity to simply be with it without fear. Like Mark’s questions above, I’ve wondered how I could deeply experience the intelligence of this obstacle of fatigue in my life and be okay with it.

What is slowly emerging is not what I expected.

It is not the difficult place that I’d imagined, where I was afraid of being overwhelmed with fear or pain.

Instead, I find that I simply have a craving. And that craving, even though it has taken me a lifetime to come to, is simple.

What I crave is Stillness.

River-stillness

In trying to cope with the natural, inherent-to-being-human ripples in my life, I feel as though I’ve been trying to find the Space that Lies Between.

I’ve been unconsciously seeking the pause that allows us to catch our breath, integrate the ups and owns, and more fluidly roll with the waves.

What I’ve been craving is a natural and innate part of life. It is the other half of the ripple: the stillness of quiet and pleasure and connection that exists in the spaces between the waves.

waves-in-the-pond

I am realizing that this process, slowly and almost imperceptibly, is what this internal journey and work with trauma and blocks is helping me to access. Finding my way into the present moment, over and over and over again, has been a helpful part of this process. Paying attention to resources, giving myself time and space, and paying attention to the little things that give me pleasure, as best I can – these have all been contributing too.

Could my body’s fatigue be a buoy, left out to help me find my way to the stillness that got interrupted? To a place of rest that allows for recovery? Has my fatigue been a built-in homing device, creating temporary space between the ridges that have been so close together, waiting until I could access that space between in a more direct way?

Trauma is really nothing more than waves getting too big and too close together for us to process without additional help and resources. Our bodies all carry an inherent wisdom for finding the spaces between these waves. They keep nudging us, in the language of symptoms and emotions and cravings, towards that which can set us free. The challenge seems to be to learn how to look into the face of the obstacles and reframe what they are saying so that we can listen with an open heart and a curious mind.

apples-abundant-on-a-tree-sm-final-WR

Allowing ourselves the moments of pleasure that are interwoven within the obstacles seems important. Like learning to rest into stillness instead of feeling interrupted by fatigue.

I don’t know where this new awareness and sprouting seed of calm will take me. It’s not that this craving makes me want to stop everything (although I’ve done that and found it deeply satisfying), or give up on my interests or let go of projects and research and internal work. It’s more that I want to carry it around inside of me, available and an integral part of who I am. I want to keep uncovering this resource that we all inherently have within us but that sometimes gets squished into hiding. I want to have access to experiences of feeling settled and secure and satisfied. Of landing into more moments of gratitude and experiences of okayness.

berry-tree-leaves

Some of my symptoms seem to have slowed down in recent months, even as I’ve had increases in fatigue. I’ve had the sense that the internal journey has been making changes under the surface in a slow yet ongoing way. An image has been flaunting itself in the corners of my mind. It’s a picture of a large ship that is slowing down, very, very slowly as it prepares to change course. The clearest detail of this image is that it takes time for a large vessel to change direction because it has so much momentum. Changing direction is a slow process even when the signal is clear. And the fact that it takes time is simply the way nature and weight and water interact. Perhaps this is how my health is changing – slowly, almost imperceptibly, like a ship homing into port.

Ship

I don’t know whether I will recover my health to a place where I can choose what to do with an abundance of vitality and energy. But growing a portable inner peace is changing the journey. I’m gaining more ease in listening to the cravings and learning to distinguish what to follow. And watching as my body learns what to leave behind. More at ease with the subtle reapings of the internal journey that keep intriguing me and whispering their secrets in ancient languages that take time and love and patience to understand. The path on the mountain continues to coax me, to invite me to keep softening around what I think of as obstacles and interruptions. We’ll see where it takes me.

What gives you pleasure, even for a moment? What is the sensation, or image, or the feeling of what you crave? What metaphor have you found for an obstacle in your life? If you thought of your body and illness, as intelligent and loving, what might your symptoms be whispering, in the only way they can?

PS – Here are additional posts on Resources and Slowing Down

Making Time for Things that Resource Us

Meditation I: The Appeal of Slowing Down

Meditation II: My Resistance to Slowing Down

 

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