You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Monday, 9th February
I’m breaking a habit and skipping a day, leaving yesterday where it is. It was too busy, too full, and I’m not sure in trying I could even begin to explain it. I was attending a course: Level Two of the four-part training I am doing, the follow-on from the one I previously cited and have been writing this observation for. It was good and I was once again surprised at how well I managed, especially when compared to before. When I took it in Australia I barely managed to complete the day. Just me, it was too intense; tight enough to be considered claustrophobic, lacking space in which to pull back, burrow down and hide. I couldn’t sit in silence. I couldn’t disappear into my head. I couldn’t even doodle or take a short break. And the way of actually practicing, the ‘what’ attached to the ‘do’, was much more complex, demanding more than I had to give. It is a relief to have found a good teacher, one that I like.
What wasn’t quite so good was that I left with a bee in my bonnet and wild horses instead of legs, too much containment fuelling a need to run – or in my case, walk, as fast as my body was able. I was also upset (or perhaps disappointed is the better word?) by the lack of presence and attention given by my partner, his distance denting what had previously been a buoyant mood. It scares me. The further I travel down this road of self-discovery, this track of becoming, of being true: the further away he gets; his energy, his drive, his present place of being and point of focus, at odds with mine. He’s fast: I’m slow. He’s hard: I’m soft. He’s full-on, full pelt, angry and aggressive. I’m sailing at half mast, floating and benign. I look for the good: in places and in people. I stop to talk. I try to bring happiness, even if it’s only fleeting: a smile exchanged, a mumbled “hi”. Sometimes, most times, the weight he brings is heavy and painful; I cannot breathe. Around him, I’m not sure how to be myself. It’s difficult and challenging.
It helps to knit. And with wine, I relax: more able to accept, to take. But it’s not the answer. In order to reunite – mending what has accidentally been broken, damaged, destroyed – more is needed; only neither one of us currently knows what that particular element is.
New day, morning; I am brushing all of that aside, focussing instead on my work. Too much ruminating is unhealthy and I have a tendency of doing it. It shouts where I whisper. It pushes where I beg, overriding everything, killing all good.
I look in the mirror and assess how I feel, trying to ignore the dents and the lines. I feel clean. I feel light. I have energy. My eczema is almost gone. As are the sores on my tongue. And my cold is sort of behaving, a relief to my nose. I won’t be competing with any 20-year-olds, but I will survive.
Tuesday, 10th February
Running after my tail. Breathless, exhausted, mind divided up into separate pieces – happy, useful, overwhelmed; sad, hopeful, disappointed: lots of things pulling me to and from, into and away… I’m wondering: Where is here?, Where is now?, no longer sure of the way.
Trying, tasting, finding, attending and uncovering, attempting to water what has already started to grow: I scan my calendar and it complicates. Full of dots – social, personal, friends and family, business, events, groups and classes, special days, potential things, emergency activities: ‘I’ struggle to find space.
And yet it’s good: what I’m up to, how I feel. Not perfect, nowhere near; but good enough for now. I’ve found a path and begun to unravel. I’ve begun to connect and communicate. Questions that need answers and boxes that demand ticking are being addressed. Different from imagined, there in comfort in amongst the pain. Dulling the unavoidable down, delaying decisions that might harm; pretending, acting, haming it up: I continue to convince for now. All too familiar: the charade is simple enough; the best option for now. Pushing myself; confronting the things I usually resist: I do myself proud. A long day; many faces, places, moving around: I am growing in the right ways.
But I worry that I am also leaving behind and I cling to what I will miss. Is it possible to continue to grow, walking a path others don’t travel, climbing a tree in a secret wood; finding a space, building a home, settling down: when those to whom you are attached remain conected to the ground?
The repetition of our particular drama frustrates and I hate myself for my reluctance to stray. How can I hope, when each day my dreams are shattered? How can I believe, when what I believe in never manifests? Am I a lost cause? Or am I simply a prisoner to my heart, desperately clinging on to something that has already gone?
Wednesday, 11th February
Amazing day; felt blessed: people smiling at me everywhere I went; lots of beautiful connections.
Taught a friend to knit. Met another to catch up. Wrote. Lots of energy and strength.
Eczema worse. Tongue too. Itchy eyes, red. Nose raw, bleeding. Why?
Did distance healing on a baby, plus a long session on myself; then struggled to sleep, worried about the baby. Premature, born with serious complications – a blockage in her food pipe, a hernia, underdeveloped lungs: she was only given a 50% chance of survival and was unlikely to survive. Her first six hours were spent in surgery; her next, intensive care. Awful! Tragic…
I picture her behind closed eyes: scared and alone, hurting from things she can’t name. I picture her family too: mother and father, grandparents, aunt and niece – their despair and distress, their fear and frustration, their not being able to do. It makes me want to weep, my heart profoundly aching. It must be the connection, the Reiki. I mean: I can’t imagine how it must feel for real; not to have created something, made something, held it inside you, and then to (possibly, heaven forbid) have to let it go. Surely you would break in two; collapse, shatter and melt? I know I would. I can’t even manage losing a pet. I mourned a rabbit for three years: cremated him and kept him; I couldn’t get another animal for four, I couldn’t take the risk. And when I did – eventually, finally – it was only a hamster. And while he might have been a friend – one whom I spoiled and indulged, one whom I built houses for and trained to use a tray, one whom I let run around the house – we weren’t connected: I couldn’t. I miss them still: my rabbit and my hamster, my Damien and my Pumpkin Pie. It was only when I got a dog that I managed to open up, learning to trust all over again as if I had never learned how at the start. And even that took time, years, needing separation and injury.
Now, I’m a sap: letting her into my bed, sleeping with her against my arm, my neck. And in Mallorca, she followed us everywhere: always in the car, always in restaurants and cafés, always present in my arms or on my lap. It’s unfair that she can’t be now, that it’s not permitted. But we adjust: me, her, us. And it’s not forever…
I do my best to make amends, to compensate: why else would I voluntarily disturb my sleep, injure my body, damage my health; why else would I put her above meditation and Reiki, my daily practicing of it? We do it out of love, in an attempt to appease our guilt.
Thursday, 12th February
The baby made it through the night: still delicate, still fragile, but hanging in there, clinging on. I hope my Reiki helped, although I’m not vain enough to believe it did. I lack confidence, both in my own personal skills and in the process; in something as simple as ‘the laying on of hands’, especially when worked from a distance, possessing that power, being that potent. But that’s not to say that it isn’t or that it can’t: people have overcome worse, been helped by less: what is prayer, after all, if not a statement of intention, an affirmation of love, a thought or a wish firmly believed? In this case, however, it is far more likely that she, the baby, chose of her own free will to fight, along with that of her family and doctors. I pray that she remains okay and that she continues to heal. And I will do Reiki again tonight, simply stating that if either she or her family do not wish for my help, for the Reiki, that it returns to the place from whence (hence?) it came. It’s what they suggest: the masters, the teachers… and I must obey. In the meantime, I will wait and hope to hear something, but only if it’s good. If it’s bad, the coward in me would rather not know.
Baby aside, I’m challenged: struggling to adjust to a different seat in a newly-discovered cafe; same old… And the alien element – the not being where I belong, where I want to be – is making me feel unsettled. Coupled with the already-present bodily discomfort, the spikes and the spines, the clicks and the aches, the bites and the scratches: I’m feeling great. Winter, the cold; the ever-changing, up one minute, down the next, nature of the temperature; the hostility of the wind, central heating pitted against draughty streets, crowded stations, cold cafes and stuffy bars; overly warm shops: all compete to unpick me, pulling my together apart. As I try desperately to catch the edges, to pick up and sew back the pills, to repair the holes, I realise that it is a futile task. Life has at long last caught up, biting where she used to snap: there are dues to be paid, debts to be honoured, promises kept. Lacking the power to physically go back and undo; my only choice is to carry on, focussing on the things I can do. I realise now that my greatest task, far from in-formidable, is to make peace with my past, forgiving not just where I would like, where it feels easy, safe, but everywhere I have to. It’s the only way. It used to be safe to stay relatively still, to sit and wallow in boredom. Today, that place is full of darkness, damage and danger. There is a clock on the wall that lately has started to tick. The hands move, the hours pass, the day’s vanish. Time flies even though it mostly feels slow.
As my mind struggles to add it all up, to collect and reflect upon its various pieces; to repair, to resolve, to restore and to remove: my body continues to complain. Things that were whole are now somehow in pieces, things that were healthy are sick, things that fitted don’t and things that worked won’t. It’s hard not to resent, to hold against and reject. The thing I rely on the most, I need over and above everything, has let me down when I still need it, when I require its strength.
I am travelling a difficult road. I am facing countless challenges. It’s that ‘one more thing’, the ‘straw’ that threatens to break the ‘camel’s’ sloping back.
Friday, 13th February
It’s been a long day – but all my days are long these days: it’s the nature of my new life, the routine I’ve been forced to adopt. Spending time in an unfurnished apartment doesn’t appeal: there’s no chair, no desk, no cupboard or bookcase. There’s also no light. Basement living doesn’t suit me. And, besides: I’m here to grow not hide. I need new experiences, fresh challenges, social interaction and noise; music and conversation, movement in and out. I need to push myself, expanding the dimensions of where I am comfortable, putting myself out.
Attempting to do just that, to throw myself into London and everything that its got, I went to another meet-up group this morning: a book group run by American expats. Feeling challenged by my current physical discomfort – the eczema flare-up, the sore tongue, the nose that won’t stop running and that hurts to touch; the stomach discomfort and the sciatica in my leg – I was tempted to skive, choosing to stay in the café where I was working fairly productively instead. But I had made a promise and was reluctant to do to others what others so often do to me: it’s not nice, it’s embarrassing and it hurts. So I took my grumbling body out into the cold and drew upon my inner warrior.
To begin with, it was awkward and I felt out of place. They mostly all knew each other and I was new. They were that much older and a lot better off. They were ‘official’ expats and I was an imposter: a Brit pretending at being one of them, at not belonging… But as we talked and started to share, I realised that we had lots in common: busy partners, well-travelled pets, a desire to fit in to a place that is temporary, storage containers, stories about moving, finding a place to live in a space that’s alien, expanded awareness and experience of the world, time on our hands, missing pieces… I stopped watching the clock and thinking about when I could leave and instead relaxed.
Now, later, after a long walk in the rain brainstorming a quiet solution to the busy predicament: I am almost blind. Having worked solidly for almost four hours, it’s time to go. I shall pack up and leave, biding a fond farewell to yet another addition to my ‘Places to Return to’ list. I’m doing well. Growing it slowly. I’ve worked out that ‘new’ helps, the excitement providing energy that would otherwise be absent, the anonymity curbing my paranoia and unrest: things I am working on but yet to fix.
Saturday, 14th February
It’s Valentine’s Day but it could just as easily be Monday or Tuesday or any other day of the week, a day like any other. I haven’t done anything different. I haven’t been whisked or swept. I haven’t even been lifted.
Instead: I’ve washed my hair, tidied the flat, fed the dog, done Reiki, walked, got wet and ended up in a café. There, I’ve drunk two cups of tea and worked intently: head down, concentration focussed. It feels like Valentine’s Day has been put on hold, its contents and manifestation left up to me. Being a traditionalist, this doesn’t sit well with my notion of roses and candy.
I’m trying not to care: after all, it’s totally commercial; a made-up merchandising concept, invented to encourage uncharacteristic expenditure on frivolous things. Things like chocolates and flowers, bouquets of roses, meals that are overpriced… But I do. What woman doesn’t want to feel special, to witness and then bathe in a declaration of love? It’s normal. It’s in our nature.
At least I feel physically better than yesterday: less sore and congested, less spiteful and mean. Last night, too many things were present at once. My tongue hurt. My nose stung. My eczema itched. And all were inflamed. I’m trying to figure out why. My latest attunement? My giving healing? Doing too much? Or perhaps it’s the weather; or just general distress, caused by moving and feeling uprooted?
Asking myself what to do; I hear an answer. Take it easy. Be soft and gentle. Respect your mind and treat your body with care. Stop pushing yourself too hard. Blow out the base of the candle. Drink more water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Remove sugar where you can. Add more supplements and make everything that goes in count. Be mindful. Do not attempt to silence the things you are reluctant to confront, the things you would rather avoid. While chocolate helps, the effects are temporary; better to focus on natural solutions: meditate or walk. They might not cure the root, but they will at least water the flowers, helping them to grow.
Sunday, 15th February
Attempting to bridge the gap – soothing the parts that hurt, tending the bits that have broken, the body that’s unwell: I fill my days with impending deadlines. I’ve fallen behind: the size of my plate insufficient for the contents I’m asking of it. Living in fear – of windows, of holes; I’ve created an open door, accommodating an endless supply of guests. Meditation clashes with Reiki, both within the circumference of my daily schedule and the face of my notebook. Classes, workshops, groups, talks and seminars, revision, research, study, visiting family, touching base with friends… Used to a slower pace, an altogether less demanding existence: it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. And while I might not be drowning, I’m not swimming either.
Floating, kicking as I cling on, searching for land in an unfamiliar environment, I look to the things that I am learning for aid. Like a dog: I’ve been chewing a similar problem for years. Only where once I believed – in an easy solution, in a quick fix; now I know better. A long way to go, the present day seems daunting; the future, far off. If I felt like things were changing; if I could connect with the Universal Life Force, the Source, the Spirit, the Supreme Soul, the ‘whatever it is that’s out there’: it would feel like I was getting closer to where I feel I belong.
I have always argued that there has to be more than what we are able to see, what is visible on the surface: something bigger, better; an overarching point. Now there is a hint of it existing, if only I can believe. But as I try to educate my intellect and commune with my soul, my mind puts up a barrier and my ego resists.
This morning, I prayed while practicing Reiki, asking God to guide my hands. Still fighting ailments – face, foot, stomach, nose and tongue: I’m tired with the same old story repeating itself, over and over. It feels like each time I advance, repairing what was only recently broken, picking up and stitching what has come undone, my achievements are quickly stolen. Why, with so much effort, must the world be so unjust?
by Rebecca L. Atherton
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