Beyond Exhaustion

from my journal, June 4

3rd cup of tea.  Exhausted after Mocha’s morning walk.  I realize that I am totally physically, mentally, emotionally exhausted.  I think the only people who can understand are those who are living with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Looking this up, I find that CFS is very difficult to diagnose.  The primary symptom is fatigue that interferes with normal daily activities, that doesn’t go away with rest, and can be worse after exertion.  They don’t list PTSD as a cause, but Dr. Vreeland told me there’s significant evidence that there may be a connection.  Possibly there’s the same sort of resistance as there is to Developmental Trauma Disorder.  And of course people often think “It’s all in your head,” or “It’s just laziness.”

I think of the possibility that, after running on “flight or fight” my whole life, when I finally got to a place where I knew I would not be kicked out and finally felt safe, I collapsed pretty seriously.  Also, the last time I taught circle dance, which usually energizes me, or at least makes me feel better, I was so exhausted I nearly collapsed.

I reread my blog post about writing practice.  I write about my pain for all the destruction on our planet right now.  “I don’t know what to do with it.  It weighs me down.  It makes it hard to keep going.  It makes it hard to sit and do nothing because then the pain starts pushing to be felt.    It comes as difficulty taking care of myself because that requires paying attention to what I need, not to what “should” be done.  … called to bear a measure of cosmic pain.  Can I just hold it and not demand of myself that I do something about it?”  “Just hold it” like prayer or meditation.  Instead of trying to focus on my breath I could just stay with the pain.  Maybe I could try to do tong-len for the planet, for our Mother Gaia.  It would be hard work.  But I think it’s the only thing I can do to help the world I love.

Today’s Message from the Universe.  This was in a Cosmos Journal that I just happened to read today. Llewellen Vaughn-Lee from a post on Unity and the Power of Love:
Love will remind us that we are a part of life—that we belong to each other and to this living, suffering planet. Love will reconnect us to the sacred ways known to our ancestors, as well as awaken us to new ways to be with each other and the Earth. We just need to say, “Yes,” to this mystery within our own hearts, to open to the link of love that unites us all, that is woven into the web of life. And then we will uncover the love affair that is life itself and hear the song of unity as it comes alive in our hearts and the heart of the world.

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“Not up to the Magnitude of the Pain…”

Let go of any bitterness that may have come
because you were not up to the magnitude of the pain
that was entrusted to you.
Like the Mother of the world,
who carries the pain of the world in her heart,
each one of us is part of her heart,
and therefore endowed
with a certain measure of cosmic pain.
You are sharing in the totality of that pain.
You are called upon to meet it in compassion
instead of self-pity.
— Pir Vilayat Khan

These words were very helpful to me.  Especially the part about “not up to the magnitude of the pain,” because I certainly never felt that I was “up to” the intensity and degree of pain that I’ve suffered because of PTSD, severe depression, abandonment, the airplane phobia, etc.  I don’t think I spent a lot of time in self-pity, but I was angry at myself that I “couldn’t get out of a bad mood.”

Recently, as I’ve become aware of the pain of my tender heart, I realize that the pain is for all those suffering from the toxic effects of modern Western Civilization.  This is an insight that I keep coming to and then losing, that my pain is not about me at all.  Recently I really got that “Shamans know that those wounds are not their own but the world’s.” (Matthew Fox)   It’s so clear at this point that my pain is not about me.  Getting this really allows me to bear it in compassion.

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Writing Practice

From Richard Rohr’s daily meditation:  “I learned that if the quiet space, the questions themselves, and blank pages had not been put in front of me, I may never have known what was lying within me.”

It occurred to me that the times of blankness, which I find very uncomfortable, may be trying to get me to look at my inner process.  So I thought I would try writing to get in touch with a deeper part of me.  Paula was at the talk by Marcelle Martin, who wrote the book on Quaker Spirituality that we discussed in book group.

This is what I wrote on Wednesday, May 29

Rohr talks about Ira Progoff’s journal method, and how writing in certain ways can bring forth things you didn’t know you knew.  Paula said last night: “What does your tender heart say now?”

What does my tender heart say now.  Pain, so much pain.  Pain for the species lost, the languages lost, the die off of pollinators — bees and butterflies, the impoverishment of what surrounds us — including ugly buildings — the people who are hurting from trauma, abuse by greed, war, pollution…  And I don’t know what to do with it.  It weighs me down.  It makes it hard to keep going.  It makes it hard to sit and do nothing because then the pain starts pushing to be felt.  It no longer comes as depression — well actually depression was an effort to not feel the pain — it comes as push push, blankness, neo-cortex off-line.  It comes as apathy, despair, exhaustion.  It comes as difficulty taking care of myself because that requires paying attention to what I need, not to what “should” be done.  My tender heart says “I hurt, I hurt, I hurt.”  What am I supposed to do with this pain?  “Let go of bitterness that you were not up to the magnitude of the pain that was entrusted to you… called to bear a measure of cosmic pain.”  Can I just hold it and not demand of myself that I do something about it?  “offer your pain as prayer.”  The god inside me, my inner teacher, is bearing the pain with me.  That goodness beyond goodness, that I touched once, is bearing the pain too.

“neo-cortex off-line” is what some trauma experts say about what happens when PTSD is triggered.  The more recent part of the brain is shut down, and the reptilian core is running the show.

“Let go of bitterness…” is a quote from Sufi master Pir Vilayat Kahn.  The original quote says: “Overcome any bitterness..”  I changed it because I don’t think it’s possible to “overcome” bitterness.

“Offer your pain as prayer” is a concept spoken in many books by Elizabeth Goudge.  I have tried without success.  Maybe just holding it and not demanding more is prayer.

The “goodness beyond goodness” is something I experienced in Quaker meeting.  I can’t recall the “felt sense” but most of the time I feel sure that it’s real.

Friday, May 31

3rd cup of tea. Too tired to wash dishes. I got up at 6, tea & supplements, fed Mocha, took her for a walk. Then had breakfast in the café, then to the clinic for meds which weren’t there yet. Got back here feeling tired & blunt of brain.

Today’s CAC meditation was on God within. My problem with that is that the word “God” contains the “capricious, malicious, and willful” baggage of alcoholic parents. But the voice within me is defective because I am defective, not trustworthy because I can’t trust myself. But if I use the word “Spirit” everything changes. “Spirit” is like water, it can gather in oceans, fall as raindrops. Drops can coalesce and become a puddle, a puddle can overflow into a stream and run back into the ocean. Spirit can vivify the Universe, and nest in my heart. Spirit can be the voice of my guides and guardians, who I ask for help. They always answer so lovingly and sometimes I distrust them thinking they are just me trying to make myself comfortable with a lie. Then I have to believe they are separate from me, bigger and wiser, so I can trust what they say.

Well, if my head is blank and blunt, I can at least write like that. What I can’t do is practical things.

“My guides and guardians,” I started writing for guidance sometime in 1999 before I went to Findhorn for the first time. Findhorn had started with two women, Dorothy MacLean and Eileen Caddy, listening or writing for guidance.  I had read about it and started writing for guidance as well.

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To Hold Your Work Free from both Hope and Fear

Looking up the source of the story about Yitzhak Perlman, I found it came from a piece by Margaret Wheatley called “Eight Fearless Questions.”

Quoting Perlman: “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

Sometimes, it is our task to find out how much music we can make with what we have left. What is the name that is big enough to hold your fearlessness, that is big enough to call you into fearlessness? That is big enough to break your heart? To allow you to open to the suffering that is this world right now and to not become immobilized by fear and to not become immobilized by comfort? What is the way in which you can hold your work so that you do feel free from hope…. and therefore free from fear?

Before that she says:

Can we find a way to be motivated, to be energetic, to be happy; to take delight in the work that we’re doing that isn’t based on outcomes, that isn’t based on needing to see a particular result? Is that even available?

What if we could offer our work as a gift so lightly, and with so much love, that that’s really the source of fearlessness? We don’t need it to be accepted in any one way. We don’t need it to create any certain outcome. We don’t need it to be any one thing. It is in the way we offer it, that the work transforms us. It is in the way we offer our work as a gift to those we love, to those we care about, to the issues we care about. It is in the way we offer the work that we find fearlessness. Beyond hope and fear, I think, is the possibility of love.

What would it take for us to just deal with what is? To not need to be always engaged in changing the world?

“To offer our work as a gift” — this is how I teach circle dance.  It’s why I’m not concerned with how I look, or how well I teach, but only in offering something I love in a way that others can enjoy it.

“To not need to be always engaged in changing the world” — for me that means giving up the need to “prove that I deserve to live.”  By the way, when I teach dance, the question of whether I deserve to live just disappears.

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originally posted July 14, 2012

“Anaïs Nin once said: ‘We write to taste life twice.’  I agree.  I think we write to taste life twice, and we paint and dance and sing and compose and do all art to ‘taste life twice.’  This opportunity to taste life twice is an invitation to go deeper, to miss nothing, to tell others, to experience the joy a second time in the telling and in handing on the depths and mystery  of life.  When we behold, we become so struck by what is that we want to share.  We call that sharing ‘art.’  …  We tap into the work of the Creator whose power is ‘unceasingly glowing and burning with all the Divine wealth, all the Divine sweetness, all the Divine bliss.’”  (He’s quoting Eckhart) Matthew Fox, Creativity p77

I realize that a lot of my early writing was like a message to my future self so that I could taste the real depth of my life, so that I would have a chance to experience something I had dissociated the first time around.  See “Colonial Dames”, “Selective Amnesia”

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Confrontation with Aging

For three months I’ve been disabled by one thing after another.  First the bad cold that was going around, then the endless cough.  The cough put my lower back out, and I didn’t have a clear diagnosis for two weeks.  That was a little scary.  My cleaning lady said she had cracked her pelvis, and had to be still for a long time.  That really scared me.  I had never thought about having to have serious surgery, and being immobilized for a long time.  I also wondered about surgery on my spine, with the same scary future.  Fortunately, Dr. Vreeland, who I was already seeing for something else, said it was a swollen disk, pressing on nerves.  He did an adjustment, which helped a lot with the pain.  I had been taking 3 ibuprofen 4 times a day which reduced the pain, but didn’t stop it entirely.  After the adjustment, I took much less and had hardly any pain.  And he gave me some exercises which quickly improved my ability to walk.

I didn’t think about death as something that would happen to me eventually until I married, at age 38.  Our vows were “so long as we both shall live.”  Now that I was in a relationship that I thought would last, instead of focussing on feeling better and “having a life,” I started having a life — I thought.  Writing a book kept me going until I finished the book, when I fell down into depression.  After I finally got on medication and stopped being depressed, my husband, who had been staying with me because he was afraid I would commit suicide if he left me, told me he had found someone else.  I actually encouraged him to spend a weekend with her, saying that if it ended our relationship, that meant the relationship wasn’t working.  As it turned out, I wasn’t hurt by the divorce, but I was very hurt by the fact that he cut off our relationship completely.  I thought we would go on being friends.  That sent me back into working to have a life again.  I realized at one point, that if I had a “bucket list,” it was to get better so I could have a meaningful life.

On the other hand I thought about suicide a lot.  Even when I started seeing Erica, and knew we had finally got to the bottom of what’s going on with me, I had many days when I wanted to die.  This was when I was feeling the appalling pain I had suffered as a baby left alone too much, which was necessary in order to heal.  I didn’t think about practical means of killing myself, except for Plan A and Plan B.  Plan A was to walk out on a cold winter’s night, out into the woods, walk until I was tired and then lie down in the snow.  Plan B was to stop eating.

I suppose the time I was closest to actually doing something was that first winter in Portland.  I was too much alone, nothing to do, no real way of meeting people.  I did see a psychiatrist for a short time, but I found him cold and judgmental (which might well have been my projection.)  I think he prescribed something called Elavil which gave me a rash and failed to raise my mood.  I stopped the therapy pretty quickly.  It was that winter my brother said “Buddha says life is suffering,” and I hit bottom and started doing Zazen.

It has been a long slow climb out of depression, with many crashes due to the trauma being triggered.  Coming here to Kendal meant giving up activities that had fed my soul and helped keep my body in shape.  It has taken a while for the support of having people around and meals available to begin to show in terms of improvement of symptoms.  Recently I had a scare about a possible computer scam.  Every time I thought about it, I would get a quick chill of fear which would fade, until I was able to call Apple and have them tell me what to do — which was relatively easy.  In the past, such a scare would have triggered hours and possibly days of terror.  I’m also starting to feel that I have a number of friends that I hardly know, but we see each other and smile on a regular basis.

Since this struggle with my health, and my worry about serious disability, I have started thinking about what quality of life would I want to have, what is the point when I would give up trying to get better, and either be OK with what I still had, or be ready to die.  I think one thing that started me thinking this way is the story about Yitzhak Perlman and “Find out what you can do with what you have left.”  I was talking to a friend about this and she loaned me Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande.  He is a doctor who saw that continued medical efforts to cure what was wrong were actually reducing the quality of life.  He explores the whole issue and has a number of recommendations, in particular a dialogue with someone who can help you find out what is still important to you.

So this is what I’m working on now.  I’ve had to accept that Sacred Circle Dance, my major source of spiritual nourishment for over forty years, is no longer an option.  I may get back to being able to go to Neskaya once a month, but that’s really not enough.  I know that I want what my therapist calls “soul” or “wisdom” conversations.  I would like to be part of a group where such conversations are available on a regular basis.  So far, I have found a book discussion group that I enjoyed but was unable to go to half the sessions because of being sick; a writing group that lasted 6 weeks; another writing group that is happening once a month for four months.  What I would like the best is a writing group about seeing your life as a spiritual journey.  I would also like to be involved in one of the ongoing efforts to help the planetary crisis, but I acknowledge that my political and social skills are not really adequate, and my physical and emotional stamina is low.  I remember working on the phones for both Barack Obama and Annie Kuster, and being so exhausted that I had to quit.  One problem with that was that it was essentially alone.  Though I was in a room with other people, we didn’t interact.  One thing that I have learned and finally accepted, is that I can’t do things alone, I really need the moral support of working in a group.  My childhood taught me that I had to do things by myself, that asking for help annoyed people and didn’t achieve help, and most of the things I really cared about were not valued by the people around me.  So this is my current quest: to find out what it still important enough to me to live for, and what level of physical/mental/emotional fitness is needed to support it.

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“Terrified” from July, 2015

I remember reading, some years back, that the despair and terror felt by a trauma survivor are qualitatively different than that felt by normal people.  I found this comforting, but it also explains why other people can’t understand what’s happening to me.  The quote is, I believe, from Lenore Terr in Unchained Memories: True Stories of Traumatic Memories Lost and Found (Basic Books, 1995)  I loaned the book to someone, asking that it be returned, but it wasn’t.  I probably quoted it in my journal, but that was likely during the period from 1995 to 2003 when I wasn’t typing it up.  It’s important to me to be able to give references, so I’m sorry I can’t give this one.

Trying to describe what terror feels like is very difficult.  It just occurred to me that part of the difficulty is that the feeling is a flashback to infancy, when I was non-verbal.  The dynamo in the chest is familiar, also finding it very hard to do simple things.  I went through my breakfast routine – which is good because it doesn’t require me to make choices – but it was much harder than usual.  Instead of doing it automatically which is what I usually do, I had to force myself to do each thing.  I did do my supplements, a few days ago I just skipped that, but I didn’t do my stretches.  Too hard to be with my body.

I can’t think, and I can’t see.  Not seeing is odd because I do actually see things, it’s just that they seem flat, no third dimension and there’s some other way they seem unreal.  Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pp25-29) describes the experience of people who have been blind from birth and had their sight restored.  They just see “color patches,” they don’t see individual things.  Being able to see separate things is something that we learn, not something that we have automatically.  This made me think that a baby would also see “color patches” with no meaning, so that’s how it would look to a baby.  Another piece of evidence that I was traumatized as an infant.

The question of what I was afraid of intrigues me.  Often if you ask “What is my catastrophic expectation?” you find that it’s either something highly unlikely, or something that you could handle.  When I try to describe what I’m afraid of, it’s very difficult.  It’s not death, an infant has no concept of “death.”  The best I can do is it’s feeling totally helpless (a baby is truly helpless) and some nameless doom is coming down on me, I can’t stop it, and it’s going to last forever (a baby has no concept of time).  One way I have tried to describe it: imagine you are lying in the street, for some reason you are unable to move, and a big steam roller is coming down the street, aimed right at you.  The driver can’t see you, there’s no one nearby who would answer a cry for help.

From my journal
Saturday, July 11
Feeling so scared toward the end of the day, despite good talk with Erica, massage with Cory — it somehow got to beyond what I could handle by talking to younger selves. (See post for June 27)  It was that whirling dynamo in the chest, breathless, feeling.  First I took Calms (a homeopaths remedy for anxiety) which helped a little, then I took 1.0 Ativan last night.  This morning I woke OK but the terror came in pretty quickly.  Very very hard to get up.  It’s also chilly which normally I welcome but today feels hostile or indifferent.  Mocha stayed on the bed so I miss her company.
My guides said that medication was to help keep my life workable.  It is not workable now.  O gosh I just want to hide.  I wish I had someone who would come stay with me and comfort me.
Called two friends for help, but they haven’t answered.  This is very difficult for a trauma survivor from infancy whose basic trauma was being left along too long.

(I was unable to find that guidance piece in past posts.  Because my parents were alcoholics, I was very resistant to medication, and kept trying to get off it.  Every time was a disaster.  When I asked my guides about medication they said “Medication is neither good nor bad.  Your life has to be workable.  You need medication for your life to be workable.”)

Sunday, July 12
This morning there’s a lot of tightness and clenched energy in my stomach area.  I feel painfully lonely, a little scared, a little angry.  I haven’t been able to find God.  I haven’t been able to look at my broken self with compassion.  There’s sadness here too, and just a hint of headache.  O gosh I feel so cut off — from everything.
Erica has disappeared again.
Pain and fear and lostness.  I feel so alone and cut off.  I think if I could find compassion for my broken life that I wouldn’t feel so lonely.
O gosh I’m so scared I can’t think.

Erica disappearing is an infant’s experience if it’s before the age when it learns “object constancy” — that the thing is still there, even though you can’t see it.

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The Story of My Name

I wrote this recently in a writing group:

I was named Jean for my mother, but they called me “Jenny” to differentiate me from my mother who was called “Pidge.”  I was told that “Jenny” had come from a great-great grandmother named Jenny Murdoch.  She was a Scot, and my middle name “Davidson” is a clan whose territory was around Inverness.  The story is told of Jenny Murdoch, when she came over on the boat from Scotland, there was a terrible storm.  She was down in steerage, and she came up on deck saying “If I mus’ dee, let me not dee in darkness.”  I have a picture of a young woman in clothing from the 19th Century, sitting proudly.  I don’t remember being told who she was, but I have identified her with Jenny Murdoch, and I take her cry as my motto.  I have lived most of my life in severe depression.  I didn’t know, until I got on medication, that I had never had normal brain chemistry.  One of the things that kept me going through nearly 60 years was the determination that I would not die depressed.

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Positive Sense of Myself

This was initially posted on July 20, 2012.  It was named “Positive Self-Image.”  Some time ago I said something to my friend Beverly about trying to change my self-image.  She said “Self-image is like the weather,” and suggested that it was a waste of time.  I realized I had used the wrong words, that “self-image” is in some ways an intellectual construct, and I was dealing with something else.  Trying to describe it, I called it “my experience of my self,” or “who I experience myself to be,” or “my felt sense of myself.”  I have tried many times to describe to people how I don’t see myself the way they do.  Most of the time they don’t get what I’m talking about.  It’s so clear to them that I’m the person they see.  One time I tried in my journal to describe the person I experience that I am: selfish, self-centered, stingy, conceited, would do things deliberately to hurt people, and realized that that’s not me at all.  In some ways it describes my mother.  But even that didn’t change my experience of myself.  I’m still afraid that people won’t like me, will think I’m boring, will think I’m a nuisance if I ask for help.  I’m still surprised when people are happy to help me, instead of finding me a nuisance.  This is a long on-going struggle whose motivation is that if I really got that I’m the person Charlotte sees in this letter, I would relax and stop trying to “prove that I deserve to live.”  It wasn’t until I started working with Erica, that I understood that my confusion about how I impact people happened because my mother didn’t mirror me at all.  She never saw me as a person separate from herself, but only saw her shadow that she projected on to me to avoid seeing the truth about herself.

From July 2012:

In doing my project of converting old journals into a newer word processor, I have discovered many things.   One is a letter from Charlotte (the mother of my ex-husband) in response to the collection of excerpts from my journal that I sent to people as Christmas presents.  The letter says wonderful things about me, that are still hard for me to accept, though I’m beginning to become aware of the person she’s describing.  In 1993, I was completely unable to take in what she said, and it fell into oblivion almost immediately.
From Charlotte’s letter:

So many of the entries had to do with your self-questioning.  To me it was immediately obvious that you were intelligent, educated and talented – and extraordinarily so.  Besides this, however, there was something special about you – something Dana mentioned in the letter in which he first told us about you.  There is the child-like trust and openness and readiness for response to the world.  For all your sophistication, there is nothing worldly-wise or cynical about you.  And you don’t put other people down to build yourself up.  You feel the need for approval, but you have to be honest.  All this is very unusual.  I never cease to be amazed at how many intelligent, educated and talented people there are in this world.  Yet to judge by what happens in public, their gifts are squandered in a quest for success that makes them jump into the latest bandwagon and get caught up in institutionalized mis-information, exploitation and pandering.

As for being attractive, to me there’s something charismatic about you.  Even in jeans one can tell you’re a dancer – in your posture, your bearing, your movements and gestures.  When you get excited, your eyes shine like stars.

Whatever happened to you as a child, it did not break your spirit.  What Karen said is exactly right.  Accept yourself – it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand yourself.  At bottom, all things are founded in mystery – through the courage to be.  So forgive and forget.  It’s obvious you do.  There’s nothing vengeful about you and you are turning your recollections into creativity.

The real problem is not you but the world.  The more extraordinary one is, the harder it is to find response from others.  People one meets may feel threatened and turn away.  But you have made and do have friends – such as have helped to release your creativity.

From her PS:

Also, I’ve been thinking about what Jenny said in considering the possibility of publishing her journal.  My suspicion is that publishers only grab journals of celebrities (or with plenty of the scandalous).  Still, there could be a set of selections that would tell a story meaningful to others.  In any case, the journal is full of beautiful writing – simple, clear, expressive – revealing a journey toward authentic self-hood.  The little comments on the morning sky or winter night are brilliant gems.  You certainly have a right to think of yourself as an artist in the field of literature.

Disclaimer:  I’m almost feeling scared to publish this, how conceited will people think I am, isn’t this the ancient sin of “bragging”?  But it’s somebody else’s writing.  Isn’t that OK?  Please, Dear Reader, if you know me, let me know if the person Charlotte’s describing sounds like the person you know.

My dear friend Pat posted this comment:
Dear Jenny,
These gentle, loving words from Charlotte are so true! She wasn’t praising you as much as telling you the simple truth about yourself—a remarkable gift. Treasure it, internalize it, go back to it when you feel down. It is a balm. Sharing it with all of us is not bragging, it is a gift you have shared with all of us.
Your friend always,

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(Written in December 2009)
Dear Guides and Guardian Spirits, the wind is still blowing, the snow has stopped and the sun is shining through the haze.  I’ve been feeling very sad and lonely all day, and now I’m feeling scared.  Can you help me?
Dear Jenny, we suggest curling up with the baby doll and the Napier tape.  Also, email Caryn and get another appointment.  The book you are reading is very intense and painful.  Lost children, abused animals, lots of feelings are being stirred up in you, mostly fear and grief.  At a deep level you are feeling many losses.  They are not obvious like the ones in the book, so they remain nameless, unfelt, unexpressed, unhealed.  You need very specific, skilled help to get to these feelings and process them.

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