Essay: Who Am I?

When I was quite young, I sometimes wondered who I really was. At the time, I didn’t have words to make sense of what I even meant by this. I was called “Katie” by those who knew me. But was this who I was, really? I was the daughter of 2 people called “Lydia and “Bill”, but did that make up who I was? I had a body I walked around in, that got me from one place to another. But my body certainly wasn’t all of who I was. I had developed likes and dislikes: I hated eggs but loved root beer Popsicles. I hated school but loved reading. But those things didn’t completely define me, either.

            These questions, organized around thoughts & feelings & sensations, scared me. If I wasn’t these things, then who was I? Was I nothing at all? That thought really scared me. I knew intuitively, that the adults around me wouldn’t know the answers to all these questions. This concerned me, because usually, adults had all the answers. And if they couldn’t answer this Big Question, then I’d have to walk around with an uneasiness without getting any resolution. I didn’t like that.

            It was not until I reached my 40’s that I realized the questions I had about having a fixed self was called “self-inquiry”. I learned this from reading books on eastern philosophy and some of my experiences meditating. When meditating, I sometimes lost my usual sense of self. Gone was my hold on my identity with my body and mind and all its expressions and projections. I understood that who I was couldn’t ever really be pinned down, but that it didn’t vanish altogether, either. This was a great revelation. It gave me a feeling of great peace and comfort.

            It still does; when anxiety becomes overwhelming, being reminded of a vaster consciousness softens my experience and makes it less frightening. Bringing space to the anxiety begins to relax the knot of tension in my solar plexus, giving the sensations there – room to move. From there, tenderness moves in. Staying with spacious awareness allows the contracted body (in this case, what I’ve labeled “anxiety”) to relax and feel held.

            In writing all this (which took some time), I really had to reflect on all that this brought up for me. So, I asked myself this question: How do I apply this to my daily life? How do I remind myself of vast awareness?

            Letting that idea float in my mind, I put my pen down for a moment and decided to do some yoga. My back has been bothering me for a while, so when I started doing the poses, I paid close attention to those places that felt tense. Ah – I thought – contraction. Yoga places an emphasis on breath, so I breathed into those areas as I went from pose to pose. Breath… Yes – that’s a way to open the body/mind and create space to let those knotted areas have room to loosen up. After a while, some tension was released, and those constricted areas let go a little. When I ended the session in a relaxation pose, my attention was more able to take in the whole of my body, rather than just the painful part. Contraction leading to expansion.            

How about you? Did this post open you up? How did it affect you? What can you do today to bring a bigger perspective into your life – for example, the pain you experience (whether physical or emotional), that’s happening right now? Experiment. And, if comfortable, let me know what happens.

Who Am I?

Who Am I?

Not this body with

its bones and bruises

its weighted stone and brick

Not these emotions

that sink and rise

and tumble on their own

Not these thoughts

that roam and scramble

through the brain

But this Something Else

words can’t touch

that kisses the ocean

and caresses the earth

I am beyond the song

of the red-winged blackbird

the feel of breeze upon the skin

the sweet taste of a peach

and the pink opening of morning

Come find me.

~ Maluma

Salt Heart

I was tired,
half sleeping in the sun.
A single bee
delved the lavender nearby,
and beyond the fence,
a trowel’s shoulder knocked a white stone.
Soon, the ringing stopped.
And from somewhere,
a quiet voice said the one word.
Surely a command,
though it seemed more a question,
a wondering perhaps—”What about joy?”
So long it had been forgotten,
even the thought raised surprise.
But however briefly, there,
in the untuned devotions of bee
and the lavender fragrance,
the murmur of better and worse was unimportant.
From next door, the sound of raking,
and neither courage nor cowardice mattered.
Failure – uncountable failure – did not matter.
Soon enough that gate swung closed,
the world turned back to heart-salt
of wanting, heart-salts of will and grief.
My friend would continue dying, at last
only exhausted, even his wrists thinned with pain.
The river Suffering would take what it
wished of him, then go. And I would stay
and drink on, as the living do, until the rest
would enter into that water—the lavender swept in,
the bee, the swallowed labors of my neighbor.
The ordinary moment swept in, whatever it drowsily holds.
I begin to believe the only sin is distance, refusal.
All others stemming from this. Then come.
Rivers, come. Irrevocable futures, come. Come even joy.
Even now, even here, and though it vanish like him.

Jane Hirshfield

What About Joy?

The other day, one of my caregivers arrived with Riley – a 2-year-old, small poodle, who has come here before. I forgot she was coming or else didn’t know, but I was having a particularly dismal morning and when my caregiver opened the door and let Riley in, I burst into tears; both from joy and pent-up sadness at having one more day of difficulty. Riley immediately jumped into my lap, and the tears poured out more.

            Listen. I know all dogs are “good dogs”, even the “bad” ones. I know your dog is “the best” dog ever to pad the universe. But I have to tell you Riley is at the top of the list. She is also the Absolute Cutest Dog in the world. She is a true lap dog, weighing about 10 pounds, has the sweetest brown eyes and the best disposition. She is the embodiment of joy.

            Many days, I contemplate what I can do to make myself feel better. I think of meditation, relaxation CD’s, Yoga, or calling my therapist. Serious stuff. Yet, on some levels, all these can take effort or determination. Dogs, on the other hand, take nothing at all to lift your spirits. They embody loving-kindness, unconditional love and acceptance. They jump in your lap, lick your face, are genuinely glad to see you. They don’t judge you; they have zero pretenses. This is refreshing. This is good news. They don’t care if you can’t walk, can’t sleep, are in pain, or have snot on your face. They simply just love you the way you are. And I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling at my worst, my negative judgments come sailing in. So, to have this little, exuberant bundle of joy come literally leaping into my lap, is a precious gift and a reminder that who I am, right here, right now, is perfect. I don’t need to do “it” better. I’m not a failure for having anxiety and not sleeping (again). Who I am is deserving of unconditional love – no matter what state of mind I’m in.

            Thanks for the reminder, Riley.

Riley
Me and Riley




Home from School

I stay home from school today because I know I’m going to have a seizure. It lurks in my body, taunts me with its octopus’ arms, wants me in its clutches.

            I lie on my parents’ bed on my stomach and watch Dialing for Dollars on tv, waiting.

            The waiting is the worst. Like waiting for death only I think worse.  Like waiting for an abusive husband to come home and notice you broke a dish. You know he’s going to hit you. It’s like that. I know the seizure’s going to come like I know my own name, where I was born, the sound of rain against a window. It has its own texture and taste and you hate it, but you’ve got to bear it, right? You don’t have a choice.

            At some point, my mother comes into the bedroom with my lunch: grilled cheese and tomato soup. After I eat, I set aside my plate and I lie back. I know it’s coming now, and just as I yell out “Help me!” I fall into terror and space. I am gone.

            When I come to, I am still gripped with terror. I have no idea who I am, or who this woman is standing over me. I ask the same questions over and over again, “What happened? Where am I?” My mother answers my questions with patience and kindness and an undertone of sadness.

            The force that has ripped through my body has left me completely and utterly spent. I feel like I’ve run a marathon. Every muscle aches. You never know how many muscles you’ve got until you’ve had a seizure. And my head screams with pain, a heavy pain, an all-encompassing pain, a dead weight on my forehead, entering my skull. Even with the blinds drawn, the light is too bright, too loud, an explosion. I feel like a hurt animal. And even though my mother’s here with her pained expression, I am dismally alone. I don’t know anyone like me, anyone that goes through this. I feel guilty. I feel like I’ve done something wrong.

            “I’m sorry”, I say to my mother. She looks more pained. “Oh darlin! You don’t have anything to be sorry for”. But I do somehow. The guilt doesn’t go away with her saying this. I’m a problem, I think. I’ve created a problem. I’m making her life harder; I know it. And I can’t seem to change it.

            All these thoughts though, they’re like gray moths fluttering beneath my mind. I’m too exhausted, too spent to really know they’re there.

            Bit by bit the terror recedes, and I pull the covers up and fall into a dark sleep.