There is a wilderness we walk alone
Stephen Vincent Benet
Recently my aunt emailed me an old photo from the 1980's. Isn't that you sitting on the back step behind your sister? she wrote.
The girl in question certainly looked like me, but I wasn't quite sure, so I downloaded and enlarged the picture to get a better look. I didn't recall the t-shirt or the over-sized glasses the girl wore, but she did have dark hair and eyes...and the tight-lipped expression certainly looked familiar.
Still I wrote to my aunt, That's not me...although we sure do look alike.
It reminded me of the time I was seven-years-old and sat at local department store, waiting for my older sister to walk across the stage while modeling in a local fashion show. Naturally I was bored out of my mind. My tights itched to beat the band and my mother warned me that if I pulled the lace collar of my polyester dress one more time, I couldn't watch T.V. that night. Sighing, I leaned forward and looked around the audience, hoping to be entertained by anything other than a long parade of maxi skirts and obnoxious plaid pants.
It was then that I caught a glimpse of another little girl to my left...and she looked exactly like me. We both lifted our brows and dropped our jaws to see a mirror reflection across the room at the Hudson's store. Although I wouldn't have described it this way at the time, it certainly was a "Twilight Zone" moment.
That can't be me...I'm sitting right here, I thought.
Moments later she darted behind her mother's shoulder and I never saw her again. But I never forgot her either...my twin in a green-checked dress.
Lately I look in the mirror and often don't recognize the woman I've become in the past five years. It's not that I mind aging. The lines around my eyes and the silver streak of hair over my left temple are things I gracefully accept as the years pass by. Since my return from California, I've made changes in my diet, changes in the way I exercise, changes in the way I deal with day-to-day living and find that as I get older, things get better.
But not everything all of the time.
Last week I spent the better part of my vacation resting on the couch or in bed, and not because I wanted to. There were "to do" lists to tackle and friends I wanted to visit. Books I intended to read and a garden that needed nurturing. But my body had other plans, for I had a debilitating migraine that stripped away the extraneous and forced me into seclusion. It would have made sense if the migraine was triggered by more than the noise outside my window. If I had to deal with an injury or an illness or a family crisis. It would have made sense if I were walking through a life-changing event, enduring stress on the job, or embroiled in relationship challenges. But I'm not experiencing any of those things.
Still, it's been an over-stimulating summer with neighborhood road construction that often shakes my house from the floorboards to the rafters. Sirens blare on their way to and from Toledo Hospital, the life flight often sounds like it's going to land on my roof, and loud motorcycles can be heard tearing up and down the main roads. My home used to be my haven, but during long, hot summer days, it's felt more like a prison.
And yet cooler weather this week has brought a respite from the humidity and glaring sunlight that made me uncommonly queasy last week. On cloudy mornings I can sit on my back porch with the windows closed to drown out some of the noise and still enjoy the lush beauty of my gardens in full bloom. During the day the phone's not ringing all that much and I don't have a lot of commitments until after Labor Day. I can enjoy the quiet simplicity of the crickets at twilight and the stillness of the house after sunset. When the house is calm and silent after a long day of mayhem and activity, I can see it for what it truly is and appreciate the solace of space and time.
There have been years that have aged me faster than others, but I find that if I can find my way back to the still point of peace, I'm not as affected by what's happening in the world around me. I can take things as they come. Let go of things I can't control. Reframe that which needs to be revisited and come out on the other side with greater awareness and clarity.
One my friends recently told me, "I've known you for more than twenty years and you are the one person in my life who is nothing like the woman you used to be when we met."
I smiled. "It's been a lot of hard work to change."
"I don't know if it's that you've changed," she replied. "I think you've been working hard to remove all of the parts of you that aren't really who you are...the parts that kept you hidden. The real Kate has always been there deep inside...now I can see her more clearly."
"It's the old peeling the onion analogy, huh?" I smiled. "Layer by layer, I can get to the real deal."
I once thought that when I had made it through to the other side of a stressful event (leaving my job, earning my yoga certification, publishing a book) I'd never have to go back into darkness again. It was the old story: "once I have the life I want, I'll be happy/content/satisfied". I've lived long enough to know that I'm never, ever done. Even when I think I've reached the mountain top, I can look out on the horizon and see ever larger ones to scale. Now, instead of shrinking away from the unknown, I move more deeply into the experience, especially if it's something that doesn't make any sense.
When I was little and struggling to grow from a girl into a teenager, I would often close my eyes and chant, "“I’m not me…I’m not me…I’m not me” until the feeling of dread passed. I said it over and over and over again until I had distanced myself from reality...until I felt as though I was no longer human. My anger and frustration folded in on itself and began to retreat to the back of my mind. Only then could I walk into the world with any sense of control.
I was thinking about the little girl I used to be last week while struggling to sit up or feed the cats or even get a drink of water. I wished I could have been anyone other than who I was...if only to escape the pain. Still, the pain wasn't me...not really. The heaviness I dragged around with me was only another layer to be removed. And so I spent the better part of ten days lying in a metaphoric tomb of darkness, listening to my breath. Sifting through the past year. Re-evaluating my priorities. Hoping for a healthier future. Every day seemed to bring more discomfort than the last, but still, I stuck it out, knowing that the other side would be that much brighter if I could only hold on.
And I did...but where I've been resurrected is someplace I really can't explain.
Heinrich Zimmer says the best things in life can't be told because they transcend thought. The second best things are misunderstood because those are the ones explained with words that refer to that which can't be told...and that people often find themselves stuck in the thoughts or words. After last week, I find that I'm not stuck in thought anymore. Perhaps that's why my head hurt so badly...too many words swirling around inside. And too many thoughts can inadvertently replace the layers I've worked so diligently to remove.
For I've learned yet again to find the still point inside which teaches that, while a wave on the sea might forget for a moment that it's part of the ocean, in the end they are both one and the same. In yoga we say, "Tat tvam asi" or "Thou art That".
So while I can surely explain to you everything I'm not, I'm only just beginning to experience who I really am.