Driving my small, sporty, old car through single track country lanes, the sunshine pours over my legs, hands and chest through the glass. I feel my eyeballs get hot, my tongue begins to feel thick, the dry surface of my lips puffs up and then tears begin to unravel in a disorganized, watery trail down my warm face like raindrops scuttling down a window pane.
I am driving.
It is easy, it is fast and I love it.
My head feels numb and blank, a sphere full of air and I cannot ascertain the thought or even a word, that prompted this. I am only aware of a mild ache in my lower, right belly and the spreading heat from my shoulder blades as I sit back in my seat. I keep my attention on sensation.
My arms feel strong and solid, stretched towards the wheel, my shoulders broad and capable, I am compact and small but heavy as I sit, my legs broad, bottom planted. I breathe in the Spring air that would feel like summer were it not for the faintest of chills that catches the back of my throat as I breathe in through the wide open window.
There are moments of breath and driving. There are moments that are only crying. Not knowing why is strange and disconcerting and time passes with the long road, the trees and the view. Entranced.
I park. I struggle to gather my things off the passenger seat; folders, diary, bag, leftover cake, water bottle – I stop and say out loud to no-one “Well, this is metaphorical.” Clarity peeks in as I attempt to manage and carry large amounts on my own without dropping anything. A question. What do I need? What do I need? No answer.
Back in the house I unload everything onto the kitchen side and floor, keys clatter, stone tiles – coldly comforting – are dependable under my bare feet. Upstairs, I climb, fully clothed, into the big, white bed and sink into squashy pillows, gathering the duvet around me. I lie in a ball, foetal, quiet, weary, capitulated. Minutes pass and I know this is not it. I am neither comforted nor appeased, just a bit cross. Sighing, throwing off the covers, I get up and go back downstairs. I fill a litre bottle with cold water and drink. Maybe I am dehydrated. Drinking while standing at the kitchen sink appears to send water directly from the mouth to leak out of my eyes. I give in to crying.
I open the drawer where I know I left a 3 month old packet of Marlboro Lights I bought in Spain when I was feeling sultry, Mediterranean and free. I light one and go sit outside on the stone steps, sun hot on the back of my neck, alternately drinking water, smoking and crying quietly. As a rare and bloody-minded gesture, I very occasionally smoke to make myself feel worse – a throwback from 20 years ago that I am au fait with by now. There’s a weird, inverse gratitude that arises from it when I realize I actually have the power to make matters worse, hence the conclusion is drawn that things could not be as bad as they previously appeared to be.
Thoughts start to surface. I sense that I am now at the bottom of a deep well and all I see are the walls around me while everything else is unsubstantial and flat. I finish the cigarette and the water and a shadowy, male part of me watches and nods as if to say “That’s enough now”. The second I notice this, I remember that I am almost an hour late for lunch with a very good friend and then it is as if a tap is turned on and lovely thoughts rush out, all tumbling one on top of the other, beginning with the idea that she is there for me even when I am not there for me. The influx and speed of good thoughts takes me by surprise and I am confused, then relieved.
I leave the house and walking in the hot sunshine soothes me enormously.
Later on, I am talking, laying on the grass and I see clearly the pile-up of thought traffic that resulted in today’s bodily equivalent of an emergency stop. I understand my need, know that I require more time, space, love and gentleness from myself to digest events, emotion, reaction. I feel the residue within me and I consciously let it go with every out breath, feeling it all again as it leaves – happy to be freed. I know this process, I am aware of the intelligence in making space for it, I know its efficacy and still I forget. Many, many times I forget.
Mind chatter becomes physical drama when left unchecked, that grows and silently solidifies until it overshadows the awareness of all that is good and already perfect (which really is everything if we’re in the business of accepting reality as it is). This solid mass of unspent energy must find a way to clear out out by force if no outlet is provided. Our beings are self-cleaning whether we like it or not, balance always wants to resume, the dance of yin and yang is eternal and there is only filling and emptying, in-flow, out-flow. Beginning and ending. Forgetting and Remembering.
Attempting to contain and control begets a sense of smallness, an overwhelming sense of being inconsequential in the face of that which we have no authority over. The mind seeks ways to placate the panic, seeks resolution by searching for more ways to regulate and dominate that which is outside of ourselves. Sooner or later the futility of this strategy becomes clear and maybe fear, self-doubt and paralysis surface before realization happens.
The real command we always have access to is the mastery of our own beings. To focus inwards, to be discerning about what we let linger in our headspace, to make choices that serve us well – this is what results in a strong, healthy and resilient psyche. From this place it is easier to see what is coming before it becomes charged with cortisol and adrenalin, before we invest energy into trying to outrun or fight ourselves. Though frustratingly frequent, this common misdirecting of resources is the long way round to surrender. It’s the kicking, crying, sweaty tantrum of a 1 year old five minutes before they fall peacefully to sleep, sometimes necessary, often not.
Daily practice provides the check-in that enables awareness which in turn brings clarity on what we require to be full, centred and at ease, in any given moment and conversely what we need to drop off and let go of for the same outcome. To observe the congestion of undigested information and emotion is to begin to discover where we get stuck. There is gold here in this mud. Piece by small, manageable piece we clear space in which to receive our experience with equanimity and grace. The practice alters our brain chemistry and physiology in a way that enhances our experience rather than detracts from it.
To begin is the only step we need remember. It does not matter how many times we forget. Always the beginning awaits us. Repetition of this becomes the practice. This is how we learn to remember.
“The best way is to understand yourself and then you will understand everything. So when you try hard to make your own way, you will help others and you will be helped by others. Before you make your own way, you cannot help anyone, and no-one can help you. ” Shunyu Suzuki