Aha’s: Part Two–You’re Not Alone

We got married at age 19! We had been married for seven years. Our daughter was five years old. My immature husband had tugs towards freedom. He didn’t want to be married anymore. He never discussed his unhappiness or yearnings–one day, he just announced that he was leaving. In shock, I begged him not to go. Couldn’t we possibly work things out? Why didn’t he talk to me about his longings? But then, he talked so little. He was after all, a macho man who heroically kept his feelings and thoughts to himself. I remember dramatically falling to the ground and grabbing his leg as he tugged me across the kitchen floor. That was it! He was gone! And there was nothing I could do about it. I had no idea where he was going. He left no way to contact him.

That night, I cried into my pillow as my daughter slept in the room next to mine. The next day, one of my brothers came to stay with me, sleeping on the living room sofa. I had to get my bearings, figure out what I was going to do. We had bought our little fixer-upper house at a “steal” so our mortgage was reasonable. I could manage the payments with support from him. But I couldn’t think straight. My mind was going in a roundabout–what had I done wrong? Why did he leave us, me? Was I really on my own? How could I be a single mom? I wasn’t prepared for this. My mom had stayed with my dad through every sort of hell. Aren’t we bred to stay in a marriage no matter what?

After a week or so, I told my brother to go home. “I’m going to have to make it on my own sooner or later,” I said. “I might as well start now.” That first night, I got my daughter to bed at the usual time. The long evening was ahead of me. I was emotionally exhausted. I thought I might as well call it a day also. The bed faced the doorway to the kitchen–it was an old house probably built in a hurry, without a hallway. I remember lying there, crying. I said in a muffled voice, “I’m alone, I’m so alone.”

In that precise moment, I felt the most calming presence. It seemed to be present in the doorway, although invisible. It spoke clearly, yet without a voice: “You’re not alone.” The sense of calm deepened. I felt no fear. I fell into a deep and restful sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I knew what I needed to do and I proceeded in that direction.

A week or so later, my ex-husband came back. My intuition said, “Don’t take him back. He needs to grow up.” My upbringing said “You need a husband, a man. You can’t be a woman on her own.” I let him return and life got very difficult after that. He became a raging alcoholic and I stayed through it all until our two daughters were grown and left home. You can be married and feel the loneliest when there isn’t open communication…or love.
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The message “You’re not alone,” held my hand through many a lonely time after I finally left my marriage. Sometimes, I try to recreate the experience and that calm feeling that accompanied it. At the beginning of winter, lessening of light and shorter days, I can slip into an existential loneliness. Sensing into this existential feeling, I began to realize that loneliness is a human condition and it’s also not true.

On one such wintry evening, I was working on a painting of a polar bear. I couldn’t quite capture something as I painted. I stopped and sat down with my pen and paper.

“It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
the stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting does anyone care?”

In that poetic moment, my own loneliness joined with a polar bear out there in the frozen wilds, alone on an ice floe watching his world melt. What was to become of him? My loneliness met with what I perceived as his loneliness. I was immediately less lonely. I was part of something larger than my small self in my little cottage. I was part of this earthly home, connected to that polar bear, to all of life.

When I can fully grasp that I’m not alone, I invoke that deep calm.
“You’re not alone.” Those words resonated with me then, and they do today.

88 Degrees in the Shade

It’s nearly 2:00 p.m. It’s hot–almost 88 degrees in the shade! I turned the hose upward to rain down upon me a few times. Now, I’m eating a piece of my famous chocolate cake as I write this. I planted two tomato plants and an Anaheim Chile Pepper. I watered everything. I won’t plant the herbs until my friend, Philip, is finished building the three-tiered redwood herb bed for my garden.

Today, it seems, I’m aware of choices–choosing for myself. I chose not to go to improv at Rochelle’s. I chose to go to Mary’s with Polly and friends to write poetry tonight. I chose to walk a wooded path up and down Stellar Way for over an hour. I then came home, grabbed a bite to eat, made phone calls and yes, gardening. Maybe I’ll paint the fence for half-an-hour and then take a bath. I have chosen to dismiss Timothy as my lover. I think that it’s right; however, there’s a big blank space where he once was. I have longings to create home and family. How would that look at this time of my life, I wonder. The garden is my teacher (and life is my teacher).

A deer thundered through the brush when I got too close on my hike. A big, tawny, beautiful, strong, watchful deer. Gentle is the word attributed to deer. I would say they are a powerful form of gentle.

What is the garden teaching me? The soil is volcanic, red, softened slightly with watering and soil enhancers. Weeds grow easiest when the soil has been watered over several days. Is the soil clay or is it only very dry? Why do humans crave family and solitude simultaneously? Who do we live our lives for in solitude? Is it enough to keep a garden and live for oneself? And yes, we need to know how to be alone, yet… I received an invitation to Jana’s, my niece’s, graduation. These special times. These special, dissolving times. Is my life over before I realize why I’m here? What is the secret to this every-dayness? How do we carry on despite the wars that are being waged around the world?

The garden is so lovely in this season, in Spring, lavishing its beauty on me, on Sara the cat and any friendly birds and insects. The garden is welcoming. I’ll continue to plant here until I move somewhere else. It’s not only Timothy I miss, it’s the loneliness of not having a daily someone with whom to interact. Why not Timothy? He’s not partner material. I wanted him to be as I don’t enjoy the search for a mate. However, he’s not the one.

The garden is patient and it trusts that it’ll flower and fruit at the right time. It doesn’t have a mental process. It takes in nurturance and preens in the sun and waits for what’s next.

People are Talking…

These days of distancing, mask-wearing, not hugging and isolating, people are talking about loneliness. Not the existential sort of loneliness, but missing the actual physical connections with one another. When you live alone, this is magnified. I used to be able to go out and connect with people in cafes, at musical events and other social occasions. This has been less available. Whenever I met a friend or acquaintance in public, we hugged. No more.

In the film, Shall We Dance with Susan Sarandon, her character is sitting at a bar and talking to a male acquaintance. She is experiencing some challenges in her long-term marriage. She says to him that the thing she found to be invaluable in her relationship was that the two are witnesses to one another’s lives. This really struck me as something important. Perhaps crucial to one’s well-being.

If you aren’t married or in a relationship, then you have to construct friendships that support this need. Extended family and therapists can also be witnesses–it’s not necessarily that we want to be fixed, rather we want to be truly seen and heard. A few years ago, a well-meaning friend trying to console me around the loss of an older gentleman friend, quoted a yoga sutra–something like, “We are going to lose everything–our bodies, our lives, our friends and family.” I thought, if this is meant to comfort me, it’s falling way short! Don’t I already realize this at some level? I took it as her saying, so don’t take it too seriously. Maybe she wasn’t comfortable with my feeling sad and wanted to dismiss it with a wise but inept saying. I responded by saying, “We are here now and we each face challenges and we learn how to be with them or take action around them. Grief is part of the human experience and it’s immediate for me.” Reminder to self my need is not to be fixed or judged. Rather, can she/he be a witness to my experience, to my life in a compassionate way? Can I be that for him/her?

I realized this morning that my feelings of isolation have more to do with not feeling so witnessed. That, at the end of the day, my occasional cynicism is about not voicing what goes on in my daily life to someone. When I meet a friend, I notice how I fast forward talking about my particular life circumstances because I don’t want to sound ungrateful or like a complainer. The message to myself then is that I need to minimize my life stuff in order to accommodate someone else’s potential discomfort. I might conclude that this friend doesn’t want to hear about what’s really going on with me which may or may not be true.

When someone else has a seemingly larger problem, that doesn’t diminish my or your need to be seen or heard. We’re not supposed to be so smart and so wise as to not face challenges over the course of life. I think that we’re meant to learn, grow and come to a place of self-understanding and self-acceptance/compassion. At what age can a person finally say “I’m completely together.” Age doesn’t necessarily equal wisdom. We’re still humans with needs. This is alright. Some things we handle alone, with other things there is benefit in sharing.

My friend asked “Are you feeling better?” “No, not really,” I say. She offers “It will pass,” which disallows what is here and now. Sounding to me like a dismissal again–as if she’s saying, “I don’t want to hear more of your pain. Can we move on to something else.”

I might be judging her responses too harshly. It’s likely that few of us were trained to feel comfortable with another’s grief or know how to best offer support. And, we’ve lost the ability, it seems, to just listen.

Six More Weeks of Winter?

So the groundhog predicted on February 2nd…that gives us three weeks down and three weeks to go approximately in the northern hemisphere. It’s all so unpredictable these days. Like everything else in front of us, we’re going to know how much longer we have of winter when it happens. Forecasting is a strange sport.

We’ve had a long inward time…much longer than we anticipated. Another writer, K. DuMont, said

“Time introduces a new character to our lives each season,
one with a temperature and a temperament that affects our own.”

So, what has your temperament been like lately? People here are talking about covid fatigue. Someone asked me today how that expresses itself for me. I thought about it and found myself talking about the things that I miss…like the ease of movement, sitting in a café leisurely sharing time and tea with a friend, hugs. The incentive to clean my house used to be strong if I knew I was going to have company coming over. Now, who cares. A pile here, a pile there. Visits to my family five hours away have been curtailed. Another friend asked if I take fewer showers than I typically would. And, the last time I had a professional haircut was over one year ago. I’m weary of the limitations. And, with that, I have a lot to be grateful for although sometimes it’s hard to remember. Humans are social beings.

Each of us has our own particular tale to tell around this unprecedented time as I hear it being referred to. I inquire within…if these are the rules of the game, can I safely bend them or come up with a creative solution to alleviate the loneliness (I live alone)? Without knowing how much longer that we have to do this cautious dance in the world, is there something I can offer to myself to make it a little lighter? Is there some sort of community (yes, we are grateful for ZOOM–but then there is ZOOM Fatigue?) Is there some other way that we can create community for ourselves? I’m open for suggestions. Even if you’re an introvert, you miss the company of people. Don’t you?

I was invited to do a collaborative painting with another artist. I received a panel through the mail. The first artist had etched the design–there was an original from which she created her own unique expression. As the second artist in the collaboration, my part was to embellish it. Which I did, adding color, collage and using various techniques to try to render something compatible yet unique to me. I then mailed the panel to a local art council. They gather the panels from several other participating artists to create a mural. That’s one way to connect with others. Interesting, but not totally satisfying.

I am, by nature, introspective. However, prolonged introspection–urgh. Regardless, winter is considered the season for the inward journey. According to author, Jamie Sams, in the Native American tradition, the bear is the guardian of the west and winter, the season for introspection. She says that “…bear seeks honey or the sweetness of truth in the hollow of an old oak tree.”

Over the course of this long time with your own company and thoughts, is there a sweetness of truth that you have gleaned. One thing? More than one thing? Share it under comments here if you like or at least share it with one other person.

Alone (from an earlier journal writing)

I almost turned the car around and drove home although I had booked a cottage for the night.  I didn’t come to Ashland to feel into the loneliness.  I wanted a day of escape.  Now, I had a sudden longing for home and the usual distractions that occupy me.

There is a lot going on in my life right now.  People close to me are gravely sick.  I give, sometimes over-give, or just carry the weight of things.  I’m taking too many online classes.  I need real people who are in good health to counterbalance the rest.  Virtual people don’t help with loneliness.

Earlier in the day, I had lunch at a favorite cafe–alone.  I went to see a movie–alone.  I walked out of the movie theater after fifteen minutes of watching the actors go through torment.  Why watch other people’s drama on a big screen?  Even if the acting is good, who needs it?  I went out to dinner–alone.  And now, I’m in a newly renovated cottage, again, alone.

I hadn’t unpacked the car yet.  A pang of loneliness surfaced and I got in the car to drive home.  As I was driving down the alley, four stately deer blocked my path.  They are accustomed to people.  They stood there for a few minutes.  I waited–the spotlight on them.  They were unfazed by the car or me.  They neither leapt nor ran.  They either stood stationary or they mosied.  I groped for the camera and got one hazy photo of the youngest deer, though not a good one.  It was at that point that I committed to staying for the night.

This room smells like fresh paint.  There is no television.  It’s weird to be in a large room without my “stuff” floating around me in familiar disarray.  The cottage has a sweet creature comfort–a jacuzzi tub, bath salts and a candle–why not?

I got my luggage from the car and unpacked.  I lit the candle, set it beside the tub, said a prayer, took a bath.  I practiced the familiar rituals of quieting myself.  Tomorrow is another day.  For now, it’s my time.  Self-nurture can soothe the feeling of loneliness and get one through a difficult moment.

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In our culture, there are a lot of lonely people.  We certainly aren’t alone in our loneliness.

 

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The Stone’s Story

I do not for a second believe it when someone says to me: “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”  Or, “I didn’t get that gene.”

Like anything that one values, your own brand of creativity needs attention.  If you show up and pay attention, inspiration is everywhere and the point where you and inspiration intersect is a creative opportunity.  Creativity isn’t about perfection or making a painting or drawing like someone else.  It’s about tapping into your own unique expression.  And it takes DARING.  Especially in the beginning.  Below is an invitation to you to dare to be creative in a way that is unique to you.  Yes, you get to foster your own creativity!  Have fun.

In her book, Freeing the Creative Spirit, artist/author Adriana Diaz, offers a guided meditation, drawing and writing exercise with a stone or river rock that you select
as your object and subject.  She calls it “The Counsel of Stone.”  Have you ever journeyed with a stone?  Have you considered the stories it holds, the messages it conveys?  I have.  You are invited to follow suit, if you choose.

Stone Consciousness
© by Christine O’Brien

I know loneliness
a stone separated
from it’s streambed
My particular glamour
is less appealing here
Or, residing here for nine years,
have I become part of the wallpaper
unseen, too familiar
Like this displaced stone
am I commonplace
or too old
This stone a misshapen buddha
solitary bodhisattva
witness to its own cleaving
remembering the whole
What dissension shattered humankind
into this separation
Lonely and separate as this scarred stone
praised for its cool detachment
who cares to hear
the untold encrypted story

A star has fallen
to the bottom of the sea
fossilized
while a starfish rises into
the darkening sky
alternating realities
God is in us
is all right with the world
Has the stone learned compassion
Is that the panacea for such loneliness

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Go ahead and find your  stone and seek its counsel.  Study it from every side, notice its angles and curves, any markings, hold it in your palm, draw it, meditate with it, write about what is revealed to you in a poem or prose.  Just do it!

Share here under comments if you like.

Awakening Beside the Stream of Consciousness

So, is there a stream of consciousness, of awakening?  Would all who sat beside it or sipped from it become enlightened?  Could it be that easy?

The mystic poets, i.e. Rumi, Hafiz, Lalla, Gibran, Blake, Miribai and more, appear to have drunk from the stream of consciousness.

I wonder what has to be surrendered in order to sip this divine nectar?  Any ideas?

Rumi says:
“There is only one sunrise a day.
In  your sleep you see many shapes and people.
When you wake, you see nothing.
Close those eyes and open these eyes.”

Realistically, can you do that…see through your dreamer’s eyes?  At least some of the time?

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This one rings true because I’ve had some experience with it and I have talked with others who practice gratitude.  Even in troubled times, they look for something to be grateful for.

from Rumi (again):
“Flying toward thankfulness, you become
the rare bird with one wing made of fear,
and one of hope. “

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I also appreciate this poem by Hafiz.

Absolutely Clear
Don’t surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God
absolutely
Clear.

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Have you thought of loneliness as a doorway to the divine?  I’ve had the experience of being deeply with my loneliness.  And then, slipping into the place of reflecting on the loneliness that is pervasive across our planet.  A connection was then established with all who experience loneliness.  I was less alone.IMG_9970.jpg

Writing Prompt:
What’s it like for you when you visit this deeper Stream of Consciousness (Awakening)?
Tell me…don’t be shy.  We’re more connected than we realize.