Rescuing Another Little Jenny

Woke up feeling utterly bleak.  Actually this is worse than bleak.  It feels like everyone has died and I’m left all alone.  It’s not really sad, sad is much easier to bear because it’s moving.  This is not moving, it’s too heavy to move.  But the song in my mind is “We are the World, we are the children…  There’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives…”   That is completely opposed to the energy that’s holding me down.  Yes, it feels bigger than me and heavy and hopeless, the end of a wasted life.  I wonder if this is how Mom felt, sitting alone in that big empty house?  Perhaps this is someone else’s feeling and not mine at all.  What does this deep heavy feeling want?  To be rescued, held, and comforted.  It’s quite a job getting to her.  Down a tunnel in the rock.  At least it’s not dark, and I have a good sense of where she is.  I break into the rock chamber and throw my arms around her.  Holding her, I back up, moving up & out of the maze.  A lot of dark cobwebby material clings to her trying to hold her back.  I keep pulling, the black sticky stuff stretches and stretches, and finally breaks.  We flee for home, which is this couch, next to Mocha.  I think I’m going to have to clean the black stuff off her, but as she warms up it dries and flakes off.  She sighs and falls asleep next to me with my arm around her.  She’s exhausted and will need to sleep for a long time.

O gosh.  Another Little Jenny rescued.  I think I must have gotten much stronger to be able to find her, and break the walls holding her.  I hold her tight, feeling such love for her, and angry that she was left alone so long that that horrible helpless hopeless, indescribable by words, is how she felt.

Second cup of tea.  Still holding her.

I had been having a struggle about continuing to try to verbally describe the feeling, or try to get away from it into the song.  Asking “What does it want?” was magical, shifted everything.  Something I learned from my therapist Karen, who asks it frequently.  Usually I ask and don’t get anything.  I’m glad I did it this time.

Other pieces of this experience:  Back in the early 90’s, I went into therapy to try to find and heal the sexual abuse that I thought was responsible for me cutting myself and not being able to have sex with my husband.  It was only after the divorce that I discovered I was dealing with PTSD.  In one of those early therapy sessions, trying to explore my feelings, I came up with an image of a bombed out village, burning cars, crumbled walls, a lot of smoke, a few people wandering dazedly through the rubble.  I realized that that was how my childhood had felt, that’s where I’d been living for years.  Later I had another image of me as an old woman, deep in a cave, stirring a big pot of stew and waiting for the children who began to find me and come in.  I knew they were my inner children.  For years I’ve worked with them, getting to know individuals, rescuing some who were just babies.

Cutting myself was the story I told, actually enacted on stage in Journey Into Courage.

When I wrote the word “break” as I break into the stone chamber, I think of Brenda in Journey, pushing her fist through a window frame as she said “Break – through the window with a 30-06,” telling a story of when her boyfriend tried to kill her.

The song “We are the World” came to mind because it was the theme song for this years Kindred Spirits Camp.

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Big Change in my Life

I’ve been through some huge convulsion, or conversion, or transformation, or rearrangement of my psyche — I don’t have any words for it.  It’s even hard to talk about because its effects in my life don’t seem monumental.  It all seems very natural, and at the same time a wholly new experience.  The only thing I can compare it to is when I got on anti-depressant medication that worked, and normal brain chemistry was a completely different experience from depressed brain chemistry, an experience I’d never had before in my life.  I felt like I had lost 500 pounds.  I felt like I had dropped a big heavy chain attached to a big block of concrete.

In the present, I’m aware of two major changes.  I can see the beauty in Nature for the first time in a long time, but at the same time there is grief — I’m guessing it’s because I can see that nature is suffering under our onslaughts.  I see dying trees, and mourn.  I see living trees and rejoice.  The other huge change is that I don’t feel the old “push, push” any more.  It had to do with needing to prove that I deserve to live.  That push has disappeared many times in my life, but then reappeared fairly quickly.  Now it seems to be gone for good.  How do you notice something that’s not there?  Usually by being struck by what’s there instead.  In this case, I feel very solid, instead of vulnerable and anxious.  In the past when I seem to have got to a place of healing, I tend to think “O good, I’m OK now,” and imagine I’ll be OK forever.  Sometimes I even try to lower my medication, but that always turned out to be a disaster.  Or I think “O jeez, I feel good now and that’s not OK so something will go wrong pretty soon.”  Either way, something generally goes wrong pretty soon.  Now, I expect there will still come hard times, but I’m not scared that I will lose this solidity, this feeling of being planted solidly in my life.

Part of this transformation was certainly helped along when I went to California to do a Grief Workshop with Francis Weller.  My driver to Bolinas from the Airport, said, as we got close, “We’ve left America.”  We had crossed the San Andreas fault, where the Pacific Plate is moving underneath the North American Plate, creating periodic earthquakes.  We had left the North American Plate behind and are now on the Pacific Plate, a totally different kind of rock.  I like to think of the earth made up of all these sliding shells of rock, and sliding apart, or over each other, or colliding with each other as the Indian block hits Asia in a million year crash that raises the Himalaya Mountains.  All the pieces of me, sliding, riding over each other, breaking into volcanoes or mountain ranges.  It’s such a surprising image.  I always think, when I fall apart, of my pieces lying like a puzzle, scattered about.  I didn’t realize that I also saw them falling through space, until I started doing Somatic Experiencing and suddenly there was a floor where no floor had been before.  But this is new.  All these pieces are staying in contact and interacting instead of separating out.  I’ve seen beautiful pine cones — I don’t know if they are pine cones, but they look a little like the plates in a turtle’s shell.  I’ll find one and bring it home to remind me that my pieces are all here and interacting and alive.  They are not stuck in some rigid pattern, or completely separated.  They can have a relationship.  They can help each other change and grow.  I think this is called “integration.”

Two other things that helped this transition:
Kindred Spirits Camp
Writers for Recovery

Forgot one other thing.  When I first read about Francis Weller’s “Five Gates of Grief” it validated my grief that I hadn’t let myself feel because I didn’t believe it was real.  Once I allowed myself to grieve, I stopped being depressed.  I haven’t been depressed since.

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People talk a lot about stories as in “she’s stuck in her story.”  Story is made out to be a bad thing.  Story is often given a bad rap, but there are also stories that inspire, that open doors for us.  I think we need to learn the difference between stories that trap us, and stories that support us.

One of the things I learned, perhaps when I was doing co-counseling, was that if you listened with attention, the person would work their own way through whatever the problem was.  One time I was listening to my friend Beverly talk about something that was troubling her.  I had all sorts of ideas and agendas to ask her about, but fortunately I kept my mouth closed.  She took the story to an entirely different place that was a good solution for her.  So I learned to keep my mouth shut and listen.

I had another friend, someone I saw regularly, who was living in a community.  Some new people moved in who belonged to a fundamentalist group.  Every time I saw her, she would talk about how awful they were, how she was scared they would take over.  I kept listening dutifully, hoping she would work her way through, but hearing the same story over and over.  Finally I got so fed up I told her it was boring.  She was horrified.  I felt terrible.  I thought about it a lot and realized I should have intervened much earlier.  I had failed to pay attention to my own frustration, and had forgotten the useful skills of NonViolent communication.  It would have been so much better if, as soon as I started feeling frustrated at hearing the same story yet again, I had said “I’m uncomfortable listening to this story.  It sounds to me like you are telling the same story over and over.  Could you tell me what you’re feeling as you tell me about these people?” or some variation.  I learned from that experience that sometimes people do use a story to stay stuck.

I don’t think anyone uses a story to “stay stuck.”  But I think it is possible to get stuck.  Lots of people get stuck in “victim” stories, possibly that makes people feel sorry for them?  It also allows them not to do the hard work of healing.  Or they blame their perpetrator.  Neither of these stories creates movement.  On the other hand, sometimes you have to realize that you were a victim, because then you can stop beating yourself up about the stupid behavior that resulted from being victimized, and you can start to heal.

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Here is the Plan…

This is a piece of writing I did in Writers for Recovery.  “Show up,” and “Pay attention” are from Angeles Arrien’s Rules for Life.

Here is the plan:

First, do not turn on the Computer
Do not read emails
Do the next right thing
Remember to show up
Now pay attention
Now pay attention some more
Ask God, Higher Power, or Divine Process what to do
If you don’t hear anything do not swear
Practice patience
Practice patience some more
Pay attention
Now do the next right thing
You will know because the dog will follow you
Ask God, Higher Power, Divine Process for help
Pay attention
Listen carefully
Listen very carefully
Help will arrive
Practice patience
Remember, help may not look like what you expect
Accept help when it comes
Give thanks.

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My Recent Adventure

This is what I wrote the morning after I got home from California.  I went to Commonweal, a retreat center in Bolinas, for a workshop with Francis Weller.  We did a lot of writing, and reading out loud in a small group.  There was drumming and movement and some wonderful songs and chants.  Sunday afternoon we did a grief ritual, which was very intense.  I will probably do a blog post about it.

Home.  Second cup of proper tea.  Dog next to me.  Of course now I’m on California time.  Don’t need to do anything but rest and digest.

I did it!  I did it!!  I got myself out there and back and I was present for the whole workshop.

I had a moment yesterday when I thought “I didn’t do anything at the workshop, I didn’t get anywhere.”  Then I remember — that’s how I felt after dance camp, too.  The theme was “change” and we did sequences of dances on that theme.  We also did exercises around what we needed to give up, what we wanted, what we intended.   But I didn’t feel like I had “gotten anywhere.”  Well, as Francis would say, “That’s not the point.”  I understand that I have set a process in motion and now I have to wait, without interfering, for it to work its intention into my life.  The same is true of Dance Camp.  I was disappointed afterward that “nothing had happened.”  Then I comforted myself that most of the work is below consciousness.  “Seeing that a process has been set in motion,” which I just saw today, is more than comforting, it’s trusting the process.  That I can put myself in the right place, open my mind and my heart, and wait.  It’s like planting a seed.  I don’t do the work of growing but I can create good conditions for the seed to grow.  I remember Beverly saying: “Jenny, seeds want to grow.”  I can till the soul (o my!) soil, aerate the compost, stir it up, let it cook.  Tend the fire as Francis said Jung said.  The work I did in the plane, “I remember…” was a good start.

Do not turn on the computer.  Do not check emails.  Repeat not.  Enjoy your cup of real tea.  Have some blueberries.  Allow yourself to be welcomed back to New Hampshire, to your village, by blueberries, rabbits, bears, moose.  By Mount Lafayette and Lafayette Brook, and the Gale River.  By Mac’s and Mojo’s and the Hardware store.  I was welcomed back by an incredible sunset behind Lafayette and Cannon, right in the Notch, and by Lynelle and Daria’s note & blueberries, and by Pam and Mocha.  By the puzzle and my journal.  By blue stone fireplace and denim couches.  Let yourself settle.  Feast on your life.

Yes.  A process has been set in motion and I can let it carry me.  “… as the arrow endures the bow, to become in the gathering outleap something more than itself…”

“Real tea” means tea made with water from my own well and soy milk.

The last line is from Rilke’s first Duino Elegy.  I learned it from a fellow graduate.  I don’t know who did the translation.

The injunctions “Do not turn on the computer..” come from a piece I did in Writers for Recovery.

Feast on your life” is from a poem I love, that Francis read to us.

For more about Francis:   YouTube talk
His website

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Struggle to Understand

Little bits of the past come up, and it’s so painful.  I was remembering when Daddy dislocated his shoulder riding, and Granpappy’s palomino Rey del Oro and how I would call him “Ray Dell” in teenage fashion — or so it seems to me now — I look at that lost girl, trying to… what? be like the popular girls? claim something for my own?  I look back and I see her trying so hard, and my heart just goes out to her.  I want to put my arms around her and hold her and say “there there.”  She was wanting romance and passion and color.  She never really found it, she found sadness and pain instead.  I sit here, lost and sad, at the end of a wasted life.  Part of me knows that’s not true, but that’s an objective observer, not my experience.

Painful painful session with Erica.  I cried a lot.  I told her I was lost.  She asked if she could get closer, I said yes.  She put her feet outside mine and her hands on my knees.  I grabbed her wrist and held on.  She asked if I felt connected.  Not really.  I told her I saw my life stretching away in greyness, like being in the desert, no excitement, no color, no friendship.  It felt a lot like that twilight feeling.   I read her the pages about life “designed by god.”   I asked her why the good times come and then fade and are completely forgotten.  She said something about “shelf life.”  I said I don’t have the receptors for good things because they didn’t get built when I was very young.  How can I build them in now?  There was something about it wasn’t OK to feel good about what I do well, because that would be “thinking I was so great.”  She asked me if I could tell that I had done better with my life than my parents had with theirs.  Not really.  My life right now looks like a wasted life.  Erica wondered if I felt disloyal to have a bigger life than they did.  I don’t know if it’s loyalty or fear — I think it’s fear that keeps me small.  Erica asked again if I felt connected to her.  I struggled, searching, and found “not allowed.”  It’s like Mama Greene, I’m afraid of mother’s jealousy.  I was afraid to build a relationship with the woman who came to take care of us when I was three.  I told Erica about telling R “I just want to go home and be taken care of,” and her saying “Everybody wants that,” and how it diminished my actual experience.  Mother did that all the time.  But everybody doesn’t feel the same terrible lostness and loneliness I’m in.  I think maybe R’s remark was one of the big triggers of this baby state I seem to be stuck in.  I guess claiming that my experience is more painful and deep than most people’s is also “thinking I’m so great.”  No, you are not allowed to be any bigger or feel more deeply than your mother.  I feel like my whole emotional life has collapsed to a flat line.  Francis Weller talks about this, he described our culture as being a “flatline” culture because we aren’t allowed to feel great joy or deep sorrow.

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Who am I Really?

Lots of people who know me through circle dance see me as enthusiastic, creative, competent, etc.  When I tell them how awful I feel about myself, they have trouble believing it.  This is painful for me, because it means that my pain is invisible, and I often get invalidated by people who can’t believe I’m as vulnerable as I am.  They don’t understand that the person they see when I’m “on” — that’s what I call it to myself, and I know I’m being enthusiastic, creative, etc. — even though I can experience myself when I’m “on” it’s like she disappears when I stop being “on.”  The truth is, though I’m aware of being her, there’s a dissociative barrier to my being able to integrate those qualities into the self that I experience.  This is not about “self-image” which is how I see myself, and always changing, this is about how I experience myself.

The dissociative barrier is not as complete as it is when a person has “multiple personalities” and when she’s in one, she doesn’t know about the others.  “Dissociative barriers” can be big or small, complete or non-existent.  We all have “sub-personalities,” who appear when circumstances call on them, and there’s not really any dissociative barrier.  For example when I teach astronomy, no matter how depressed I may feel going toward the classroom, as soon as I’m there and start speaking, I’m able to be competent, knowledgeable, and able to engage my students.  I know I’m a good astronomy teacher, it’s a skill that I have.  But as for knowing I’m creative, or kind, or generous — words that people have used to describe me — I feel “who are they talking about?”  Which leaves me wondering if that other person can possibly be connected with me.

I have struggled with this issue, trying to understand how to change it.  One concept that has helped is the distinction between “implicit” memory and “explicit” memory.  Implicit memory is like learning to drive a car.  You may not remember exactly when you learned, but now it’s so natural that you can drive a car while thinking about something entirely different.  It’s a built-in part of you.  Explicit memory is remembering the time when you went to the beach and it was so hot you ran into the water with your clothes on.  That’s something you recall, it’s like going to a library and picking one of the books off the shelf.  A lot of what we learn in our first three years is implicit memory.  We learn how to function as a human being, how to negotiate our way through our environment.  A lot of what we learn about ourselves is from “mirroring” — the mother “mirrors” the infant by responding.  If she smiles a lot, the infant learns that she is lovable, if mother frowns a lot, or leaves the baby alone a lot, the infant learns that she is not worth attention.

I have struggled with this a lot more since Neskaya was built, and people see me as this amazing person who built this very special place, and infuses it with a spirit of joy, of acceptance, of connection with the sacred.  I wonder who she is.  I’ve been in therapy my whole life, first trying to fix myself, then trying to unlearn what I learned from alcoholic parents, then trying to heal from PTSD.  Recently I’ve been working with a therapist who specializes in attachment and trauma.  “Attachment” means the primal relationship with the mother or caregiver.  Erica works very differently from my previous therapists.  She is constantly mirroring me, giving me feedback about my actions, my tone of voice, the look on my face, what I’m doing with my hands.  I’ve never had this kind of feedback before.  At first it seemed to fill some empty place inside me, but now it’s getting harder to take in.  It’s as though some part of me is resisting this new information about myself.  That’s where I am right now in this process.

There is an earlier post with this same title.

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Words to Help me Keep on Keeping On

“If he could get to the end without having thrown in his hand he would have kept his integrity.”  Paul, thinking of Charles, The Scent of Water, p273

From Mother Teresa:
“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.”

“We may not live to see the slaves go free.  Neither did Moses reach the promised land.  Still none can be more blest than we who are an instrument in God’s hand.”  from Magpie song “Mary Brown, Abolitionist.”

Walter Benjamin: “Every line we succeed in publishing today — no matter how uncertain the future to which we entrust it — is a victory wrenched from the powers of darkness.”

“Did I win or lose?  All I know is I am full of wounds and still on my feet.”  Nikos Kazantzakis.

“There’s nothing as dark as night
But nothing so strong as light,
And here is the choice —
To let it burn out — or bright.”         Christine Kane

“Hope …  is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizon.  Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”     Vaclav Havel

“Resistance is first of all a matter of principle and a way to live, to make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.”      Rebecca Solnit.

“Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”         Martin Luther King JR.

“In the face of all the challenges we face today, is my optimism about the future of humanity idealistic? Perhaps it is. Is it unrealistic? Certainly not. To remain indifferent to the challenges we face is indefensible. If the goal is noble, whether or not it is realized within our lifetime is largely irrelevant. What we must do therefore is to strive and persevere and never give up.”          —Dalai Lama

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Hope in the Dark

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

I don’t know what turned me on to her.  I refused to order the book from Amazon, just a small protest.  They forced our wonderful local bookstore to close.  I ordered from Green Arcade in San Francisco.  I think I must have found it on her website.

She is enormously inspiring.  She points out recent history where things have happened that were totally unexpected.  The Berlin Wall goes up, the Berlin Wall comes down.  The Soviet Union falls apart.  Grassroots movements unseat dictators in South America.  And yet the US gets bogged down in Iraq.  Bad things happen too.  But it’s not a linear process.  Tremendous movements: the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, the civil rights struggle — have all taken longer than we hoped, yet looking at the sweep of history, they happened very fast, almost out of nowhere.

She also talks about the behavior of people in disaster — it’s not what’s expected, the story that people are fragile— can’t take care of themselves — or that they are violent and selfish — neither story holds true.  The reality is that people help each other.  That disaster can create a community of people who feel bonded by helping each other.  She talks about all the people in little boats who rescued people caught on rooftops during Katrina.  Meanwhile, government created a shambles.  Partly, I suppose, because of Bush’s lack of caring for poor and people of color.  But also because bureaucracy is cumbersome.  I heard that the Coast Guard ignored the rules about how long a pilot could fly, they just went in and did what they could.  It makes me think of the rescue of the British Army from the beach at Dunkirk, in WWII, by thousands of people with little boats crossing the channel.  It made me think of the book about Katrina, Heart like Water, written by someone who stayed in his apartment.  He too records many acts of sharing and help for each other.  He talks about the reports of killings and lootings, but they never saw anything in their district.  I think he talks about a grocery store whose owner gave away food to all who came.  There is also a lot of evidence coming up from science that co-operation is at least as important as competition in evolving healthy ecosystems, healthy communities.

I love what she has to say, and find it very encouraging.  Looking at history as complex and chaotic instead of linear.  At any moment, anything could happen.  There are hidden forces, changing perceptions and beliefs, that result in totally unexpected happenings.  She describes two pitfalls.  One is despair, so you lie on your couch and do nothing.  The other is thinking victory has to being total change, we have won, we can stop now, instead of seeing that it’s one success on the way to a larger goal.  Or giving up because the “victory” wasn’t complete, was imperfect, etc.  We need to acknowledge and celebrate it and use that as energy for keeping on.

That’s what happens to me.  I think I’ve won: “I’m OK now” as though I’ve “gotten there,” and then being crushed when the old stuff comes back.  At least I did something different this time.  I was excited when I found I had resources that could dissolve the terror, painfully discouraged when they didn’t work for a new round, then saw a larger context.  Now I continue to remind myself that I had 24 hours free of fear, and I savored that wonderful feeling of relaxation.  I’m not hugely upset that I lost it, or trying to get back to it, or thinking I’ll never get back to it; I’m keeping it in mind as a success in the process of working toward seeing that I’m OK just as I am.

Another example of people giving hope to each other: Circle of Hope

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Comfortable with Uncertainty

In summary:  Terror faded on Monday as I talked to Dr. Dean about the physiology of trauma.  Tuesday morning began terrified but I was able to shake and could feel it releasing.  Wednesday morning began terrified, but then I brought compassion to it and it faded.  Writing was great.  Thursday morning was when I felt so totally relaxed and then got triggered again while making breakfast.  Eased by talking to Elizabeth and Karen.

Both Elizabeth and Karen suggested that I couldn’t make fear go away, I could only do my practices and be grateful when grace comes.  Maybe it’s something about being open to grace.  Being comfortable with uncertainty.  When I first read about that idea it scared me.  I don’t want uncertainty, I want to feel safe.  What I really want is to feel that I am OK just as I am.  No amount of physical security can produce that.  Only being within a community that tells the truth and is willing to listen to the truth.

I realize that I am already comfortable with uncertainty in the realm of science.  I don’t care what is the “real story” of the creation of the universe, I only know that it is more complex, more beautiful, more interconnected than human brains can understand.  I know that the complex processes that represent the workings of nature are such that they can be modeled, but can’t be predicted.  This is known as the “butterfly effect,” or sensitive dependence on initial conditions, which basically means that we can’t control the process, can’t even make predictions, because some small thing that we hadn’t noticed can make the whole process shift in another direction.

As I write this paragraph, I realize that my life, and my healing, are also complex processes, nonlinear — which means that I don’t just gradually get better — and I am powerless over my life and my healing.  I can set a direction, make choices in line with that direction, practice doing things that manifest my values, and keep on keeping on.

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