Struggle with Emptiness/Meaninglessness

This was written on October 11, which happens to be my mother’s birthday. She died fifteen years ago.

Woke feeling scared — tried asking it but nothing happened.  Tried bringing compassion to it, sitting next to it — no softening, no feeling  (I could have tried “softening around” it)  Now I’m up, fire, candle, tea — moved the dog from the bed to the couch next to me.  I’d be really lost without her to love.  The dimension of meaning is gone.  I don’t know how to live in this place.  I can feel the fear that if I don’t do something I’ll never come out of here — and at the same time there’s a curiosity: what if I just stay here?  What if I explore this place?

A dream about grade school – where I learned not to let on that I wanted something for it wouldn’t be given.  Family was that way too.  I think about babies who die because no one is there for them emotionally.  This is no foundation for a life — for living with any sense of energy or delight or vitality — for being able to go out and meet both the joys and the disasters with a sense of adventure — this is what I really value and so want to be able to do: to meet life with courage, every fiber of me engaged, fully in the present…   and this is why I’m so angry and disappointed in myself, for being so numb and dead, for shrinking from the daily tasks — as though if I would only choose to, I could go out and meet life with a gay spirit…

I felt a little better while I was writing about the dream, and I did feel some love in my heart—   yes, DAMMIT, I do love life, and that’s why it’s so painful to go out into the world, to go to the laundromat and see people isolated in their cars, the world around them all paved, vacant-eyed people going through the motions, reading the ‘want ads’ while their laundry spins in machines — instead of going with others to the banks of the river and using their bodies to get the clothes clean.  Some of this sense of isolation and hopelessness is projection of my own state, not everybody was numb.  There were the two young men wrestling and laughing, the woman who came up and helped me…

Dear Spirits, please help me!

Dear Jenny, we encourage you to stay in this place of emptiness.  There is great richness here.  Do not be afraid.  You cannot be stuck here forever, or rather this place is no different than any other place you’ve been, it’s still in the hands of god, still part of the territory of life that you are exploring.

There was another thought and I lost it!  Please tell me again!

Dear Jenny, it doesn’t matter.  It will come around again as dreams keep coming until you are able to pay attention to them.  There are infinite numbers of “second chances”, there is no way that you can make an irredeemable mistake.  Dear Jenny, do you not see your profound love of life, that makes you so angry when you see it squandered? Angry because you imagine that those others are doing it wilfully, whereas you are stuck with no choice having been inflicted with depression like a birth defect…  or else the story changes and it’s you who are wilfully refusing to enjoy a life that you know is good.  Dear, no one wilfully refuses the gift of living with energy and eagerness, unless they have been hurt.  Everybody wants to be happy, and everybody is either reacting to pain by pulling away (understandable and forgiveable) or else they are struggling, as you are, to learn how to use their hurts in the service of greater consciousness and compassion.  No matter how lost you feel, this is your intention, this is what you are doing with your life.

Posted in Depression, Guidance, Trauma | Comments Off on Struggle with Emptiness/Meaninglessness

Trying to Work with Fear

I’ve been reading my journal for 2003.  For several years I had just been typing up the guidance writings, but in 2003 I started typing up more from my life.  This was written in October 2003

Feeling so sad about the state of our planet — the enormous numbers who are suffering from war, famine, refugees, and all the animals & plants that we are destroying in our greed and ignorance.  I can feel how much I love the earth and how sad I am because of all the suffering.  I need us to be acknowledging our interdependence, and cooperating for the greater good of all of us.  I had a strong sense of oneness — how what we do do the creatures we do to ourselves.  I have a feeling of carrying the planet — our desperately wounded planet — in my heart.  I’m staying with the sadness as best I can while going on with the housework.  I feel the fear that just staying with it, and not doing anything to change it, means I’ll stay stuck in the sadness.  Bring compassion to that fear.

Feeling pretty bummed out.  Can’t tell any more if I’m sincerely staying with my pain about the world or if I’ve just got lost in my own misery.  Bring compassion to the misery, bring compassion to the sadness.  There, there, Jenny, you’ve been frightened and sad this morning, easily upset…   And the phone rang, and it was Kayla.  I told her what was going on for me and she gave me a quote from Pema Chodron: “The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself.”

Paid all the bills.  Got in trouble trying to reconcile the account in the computer — failed to check off one deposit — didn’t see how to go back and change it.  Burst into tears and I continue to feel upset.  I think I must be very angry at myself — first for making the mistake and then for letting it upset me so much.  I tried reading Pema Chodron (Things Fall Apart) but it didn’t help.  Just another assignment that I’m failing at.  She talks about seeing ourselves with both clarity and kindness — and I think I’m doing that and it’s hard work and it doesn’t make me feel any better. I want to feel better.   I want to be a different kind of person.  I want to be able to live in the moment ——

Actually, I’m not looking at myself with clarity — I’m too caught up in how awful I am and how painful it is to be me.  I feel like I’m just grinding myself down, and I don’t know how to stop it.

Dear Spirits, I’m so angry at myself for creating all this misery.  Please help me!  Please!

Dear Jenny, you are being much too hard on yourself.  This is why you really need a spiritual community — it is just too hard to do this work all by yourself, and too easy to fall into this horrible tight spiral of trying too hard and making yourself wrong.  Dear Jenny, we love you very much.  We are all around you holding out our love.  It’s OK to collapse completely, it’s OK to stop struggling to be better than you are.  You are doing just fine, stumbling around, getting the bills paid, making mistakes, being unable to get yourself up off the floor.  You need a break.  Something completely different like running downtown with the mail & then take the dog for a little walk  — a minimal walk is OK.

Did that.  Felt scared the whole walk.  I’m so sad to be unable to enjoy a beautiful day like today.  At least I was able to enjoy my two walks yesterday.

Posted in Depression, Guidance | Comments Off on Trying to Work with Fear

Working with Uncomfortable Physical Sensations

The situation: I bought a car for my friend Eleanor, because the one she was driving has bad brakes that may go anytime.  I am also in the final stages of applying to Kendal, a retirement community that will provide me with the container I need to be able to live any kind of life.   More about Kendal and the characteristics of a container that works for me.

Session with Erica.  I’m upset and cry a lot.  She asks if I can have compassion for my younger self — who bought the car a week ago, and Eleanor’s younger self — the one who wasn’t able to hold on to her knowing that she needed more time.

To buy a car and go to Kendal on the same day is too much.  But the mechanism of “I’m fine,” came into play.  I don’t see that either one of them is a big deal, much less doing them both.

Kendal was enough complexity — I didn’t need more

The one who bought the car was the child with no parents —she has to make the decision or it won’t get made.

Maybe angry at Eleanor?    That thought causes enormous pain.

Erica suggests that I’m angry about having to take care of younger children without support, which was the situation when I was a child.  Maybe 7 years old.  I’m not angry at Eleanor, but at the situation.

This is really hard.  This house is too much for me

Complex situation     I am overwhelmed — can’t tell I’m overwhelmed.  It’s false for me to take ownership of this whole thing.  “This is all my fault” that’s 12 yr old or younger Jenny

Overwhelmed and under-resourced.  Can’t ask for help.  “I’m fine” is denial of overwhelm & lack of resource.  Nobody to turn to and say “This is too much for me, I need help.”

Erica says I should answer these two questions:
“What is my responsibility in this?”
“What is true?”

I came back from the therapy session feeling upset and confused, not seeing any way to make things work out.  Slept badly, woke up early, feeling tangled pain.  Wrote about it in my journal.

I’m doing really badly.  Finding it hard to get into words.  In fact it isn’t in words.  I try to focus on my breath and feel major discomfort.  If there were words they would be “Eleanor” and “car” but it’s more of a tangle than that.  There’s a kind of ache in my chest, not just my heart, it fills my lung space.  Then there’s a kind of tension down my sides, possibly an attempt to pull my shoulders forward and down.  There’s discomfort in my jaw, not exactly tension, maybe it wants to do something? yell?  There’s a kind of tension just under my ears, in the corner of my jaw, and it runs up the sides of my face to my eyes.  There’s tension around my eyes & they feel dry and burning.  Sitting quietly, what’s most obvious is the tension in my jaw and around my ears.  Now I feel something under my tongue (distracted by thoughts of a PriusC) (distracted by thoughts of money & trouble accessing my accounts)  lump in my throat? needing to cry? or vomit?  What’s coming is I have to get something out, something inside me that’s causing me extreme discomfort.  What does it need?  lump in my throat says “someone to listen.”  Erica and Karen and Barbara are probably the only people I feel safe with to open up.  I ask “Is this about grief?” and get an affirmation.  It’s about making things difficult for the person I probably love the most, and not knowing what to do about it.  It’s worry about what’s going to happen to her when I sell my house.  It’s pain that taking care of myself means letting her down.  It’s worry that my financial situation isn’t good enough to get me into Kendal.

There are a lot of unknowns here.

What is my responsibility in this?  To take care of myself adequately so that I can function, so that I can make good decisions.  Especially about resisting pressure (from myself and others) and giving myself enough time.  To recognize how easily I go into denial about how hard things are for me to do.  To have enough self-knowledge, and grounding in myself, to be able to see when something is too much for me.  Or to say “I don’t know what to do.  I need more time.”

What is true?  That I have to move to a place where I feel contained enough because I have no “calmly abiding center,” and I don’t know how long it will take to create one, with Erica’s help — can’t do this alone — or if it’s even possible to create such a thing.  I think again how Kendal can be an ashram for me, with Erica as my guide and teacher.  What else is true?  I love Eleanor and want what’s best for her.  What’s tricky about negotiating our going different ways is what I learned from Mother: that if I don’t do what you need and want me to, then I don’t care about you.  For her they were the same.  But that’s not true of living.  You can care very much about someone, and yet taking care of yourself adequately may mean letting them down.  And there’s nothing I can do about it.  I have enough money to buy my way into Kendal, but not enough to help my friends who don’t have anything to fall back on.  And it hurts like hell.  I feel that in my heart.  And I’m angry, angry, angry that it has to be this way.  For now, and no hope on the horizon with Trump and the Republicans.  It’s a really painful situation and I just have to bear it with as much grace as possible.

Posted in Journal, Present Day, Somatic Experiencing, Spirit | Comments Off on Working with Uncomfortable Physical Sensations

Grandmother Patches

We were going to do a “Grandmother Ceremony” at Neskaya in May.  One of our dancer/teachers was going to be 70 this May, so she spent a lot of time putting together the event.  Alas, two of the four of us had to drop out at the last minute, one because of a death and the other because of a car accident.  So we had to cancel, hoping to reschedule in the fall.

Part of the preparation for the ceremony was to create a number of cloth patches of significant times in our life.  I had almost finished sewing mine when I heard about the cancellation.  Because it was possible that some people hadn’t got the message, I said I would go over to Neskaya and wait.  I didn’t want to be alone, so I asked a friend, and three other women showed up.  We ate lunch, did some dancing, and then I told the story of my patches.  Actually telling the story to witnesses made it much more real.  I then told it to other friends, and my therapists, and somehow, working with the the patches made possible a revolutionary change in my life.  For the first time I saw my life as a whole.  Not a creative life hampered by PTSD, but the creativity and the trauma were interwoven somehow.  Not something I can explain intellectually.

Here are the patches and their story.


On the righthand side, the patches start with a galaxy, then Stonehenge, then Neskaya, and the Red Woman in the center.

On the lefthand side, they start with nature, then my journal (half on the back and half on the front) followed by Journey Into Courage, also ending next to the Red Woman.

Above the Neskaya patch is one which is a drawing that shows the geometry of the building on the ground, which also matches the Sacred Calendar to some extent.  Inside the figure are eight tiny dancers (worry dolls from Guatemala) representing Sacred Circle Dance, and the eight holidays of the Sacred Calendar.

Above the Journey patch is part of a painting I did to represent words written in blood. The story I told from the stage in Journey is about myself, during my time of greatest pain, cutting myself and writing with the blood.

Between these two patches is a picture of “Little Jenny with the Dar Gorani Look.”

At the top is a picture of a tree with seven roots forming the trunk.  The seven roots refer to the seven pictures on the bottom.

Finally, on the back, joining the two lines of patches, is a picture of Maypole dancers.

The story of each patch and how they relate:

Right Side: ASTRONOMY — at age 14 I was out in a frozen field with a flashlight and a star chart, trying to figure out which was the Big Dipper.  I went on to major in Astronomy, visit Stonehenge for the first time in 1964, became interested in archeoastronomy, ancient astronomers, and observing the sky with the naked eye.

STONEHENGE — understanding that the people who built it had excellent knowledge of the motions of the sun and moon.  The “Station Stone Rectangle,” earlier than the familiar circle, is aligned with the summer solstice rising of the sun (the short sides) which is also the northernmost rising of the sun, and with the major standstill of the moon (the long sides) which is the southernmost rising of the Moon.  That these two sight lines are 90° apart is a function of the latitude.  A few miles north or south, and these lines would no longer be at a right angle.  The location of the moon’s minor standstill, which the sun passes through on its way between the solstices and equinoxes, determines the dates of the cross-quarter days, the four intermediate holidays in the sacred calendar.

NESKAYA was built as sacred space for movement disciplines that are also spiritual practices.  One of the things we do here is celebrate the holidays of the Old Nature Religion of Western Europe, which are the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days.

The GEOMETRY patch is showing these relationships more clearly.

Left side:

NATURE was my refuge growing up in an alcoholic family.  There were acres of woods behind our house, and I spent a lot of time out there.

My JOURNAL was started when I was a teenager and lost the boy I had a crush on to my best friend.  I wrote to ease my pain.  At first I didn’t write a lot, didn’t write everyday, but gradually I put in more and more.  I would also go back and read them over, learning in the process.  At one point I read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, and began to write 3 pages a day.  Later I started typing everything up, intending to use what I had written as raw material for a book.  In a talk with my ex, I saw that the real reason I was trying to produce a book was “to prove that I deserve to live, even though my parents were disappointed in me.”  I was horrified at seeing my motivation.  I immediately stopped typing up what I had written.  I thought I might stop writing, but the practice had become very important.  I started typing up the “Guidance” passages in 2000, and gradually typed up more.  Now I type up about half of what I wrote, and I use it as raw material for my blog.

In JOURNEY INTO COURAGE my opening monologue was about writing in my journal all the reasons I was deeply unhappy with myself.  Finally I became so desperate that I took a razor blade and cut myself and wrote with the blood.  During the five year period in my life when I was cutting myself I made several paintings and also wrote words.  One of the pieces I still have.  It says “Who if I cried out would hear me amid the hosts of angels.”  It is the first line of Rilke’s First Elegy.

The patch with WHO IF written in very wet red paint, is about that piece of writing.  It was only very recently that I realized that I cut myself because it was a real pain, I could see that I was in pain.  My emotional and spiritual pain was invisible, no one saw it or asked about it, so it seemed that it wasn’t real.  Cutting myself was real. “Who if I cried out would hear me amid the hosts of angels” expresses very well how I felt as a traumatized infant.   “I cry out but no one hears me.”

The Red Woman is a quite extraordinary painting I did — or maybe it’s truer to say that it painted itself through me — at Aviva Gold’s “Painting from the Source.”  The first version was a series of concentric circles, like the stumps of trees that had been cut down.  I had seen those stumps at a retreat center and been painfully moved.  But the painting of concentric rings didn’t go anywhere.  I had a body work session, and the masseuse told me that the energy was stuck in my elbows.  She said I should use my hands.  But I was using my hands.  Then I realized that actually I was asking myself “What would look good.”  So I blindfolded myself with a bandana, filled a paper plate with different colors of paint, and began to paint with my hands, not my eyes.  Of course very soon I wanted to see what was happening, but since I had learned not to ask “What looks good,” all went well.  I didn’t see the woman’s figure in the center, until I came back after a break.  I just made her hand and her feet and her face more clear.  The box on the right side happened because on the wall where my first piece of paper had been taped there was a square plate with light switches.  So I made a box.  The first thing I put in it was a small statue of Tara, next the seedpod of a sumac.  The painting hung on the east wall at Neskaya for a few months every year, so the contents of the box changed periodically.  The next item was a dried pomegranate skin, cut open, with red beads held together with black yarn to represent the seeds.  Recently, I put a big artificial Red Rose in the box.  When I started thinking about the patch, I realized that the box was an essential part of the painting, tho I couldn’t say why.  I thought about the different things I had put in it, and realized that the pomegranate is from the story of Demeter’s daughter Persephone.  There’s an earlier version from before the patriarchal version that is familiar to us.  In the early version, the maiden, Kore, goes down by her own choice, somewhat like Inanna “casting her ear to the great below.”  Like Inanna, she spends time in the dark underground world, and when she comes back up, she is now Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.  I too have spent a long time in the darkness.  I didn’t see myself as having come up, and certainly not as “Queen,” but this work with the patches has shown me that I have demonstrated some form of mastery of the underworld.  Somewhat like a PhD.  You won’t stop working on the subject, but you are now recognized as having reached an important stage.  This is what “Grandmother” means in the ceremony.  You are now an Elder.  I am now an Elder.

Above the RED WOMAN is LITTLE JENNY.  The “Dar Gorani look” is from a dance we do to Armenian music, which we think of as the prayer to the lost homeland. There is a gesture of looking off into the distance, followed by a gesture that says “but we are here.”  The copy of Little Jenny that I had been using is a copy of a copy, not a high quality image, but I had lost the original photograph.  Recently, going through all my pictures, I found an original photograph.  I have been looking at her a lot, and what I see is not just the look of seeing a better way to live but she’s not there now, I also see resolve.  She is determined to get there.

Above LITTLE JENNY is a patch of a tree.  This is the only patch whose image just came to me.  It has seven roots, one for each of the lower patches.  I actually made it in fabric, but the completed patch was much too big to fit the space, so I took a picture and made a patch from that.  I see now that this tree represents my creativity as not being cut off by trauma, like the first picture under the RED WOMAN, but instead making a strong massive trunk and branches which are putting out lush green leaves, even though they are very small.  It strikes me as I am writing, that the big trunk represents the depth and richness that the leaves can draw upon.

There were also pockets.  The one that is part of WHOIF happened because I ironed the patch too close to the selvage, and had to fold it to make it big enough.  The pocket holds the quote from Rilke, a poem I wrote called Blood and Stone, and a quote from Jacqueline Winspear about Soldiers with PTSD: “There were men who … would cause themselves injury, as if to feel, physically, the wounds that lay in their souls.”

The one that was made by the STONEHENGE patch was “accidental.”  I had somehow sewed the other patches in such a way that there wasn’t room for the whole STONEHENGE patch.  I was very upset about it, until I was showing the dress to my friend Lynelle, and she saw it as a pocket.  Of course!  That gave me a place to put the quote from my book about a solstice celebration at Stonehenge, and that quote goes with the MAYPOLE patch.  The picture is actually of dancers on the banks of the Charles River on May 1, the traditional cross-quarter day of Beltane.

The MAYPOLE patch happened because Erica, when shown the patches, wondered if I would join them where they come close together on the back of the skirt.  The quote and the picture immediately appeared together as they do in Sacred Sites.  The quote is because I had started to write a description of a celebration at Stonehenge early in its history.  As I wrote about the people my heart went out to them.  The rest of the passage wrote itself.

In the pale light before dawn, the people begin to gather.  Wearing animal skins and festive clothing, carrying drums, flutes, tambourines.  Dogs bark, children laugh.  There is a moment of solemn silence at the sun’s first flash.  Then they will sing the ancient songs, and take hands for the thousand year old dances — the people from the north and from the south, the people from the old world and from the new.   —O my people, what a sense of loss I feel that I am not there too.  Are you the past or the future?  —We are both the past and the future, we are where the circle meets itself, never fear, you too are enclosed by the circle.

Posted in Circle Dance, Healing, Present Day, Spirit, Story, Trauma | Comments Off on Grandmother Patches

Being Present to the Beauty of Nature

For a long time, because of trying to heal PTSD, and opening up all the pain I have been dissociated from, I was unable to enjoy the beauty of Nature as I had when I was younger.  Things are changing.  I wrote this in my journal on Sunday, May 7

Crazy weather.  Wind and sun and rain, flying clouds and blue sky.  I watched a cloud, with its tendrils dissolving and reforming, as it passed below another cloud.  Up on GG with Mocha, there was wind and fog, glimpses of blue sky.  Coming back from Littleton there was a huge black cloudbank across the middle of the sky, odd tendrils flowing down the mountains.  At sunset there were bars of cloud behind the tall pines.  First the alternation of pale yellow and dark grey-blue layers, then the lower one turns to gold and the upper one to pink.  Sitting here on the couch, turning my head to look out the window and watch the colors change.  I turn my head now and there’s a brilliant rainbow bisecting the space between the tree trunks.

Read something on the internet about growth through trauma.  Stories of people who had been diagnosed with cancer or lost a spouse, and when they had got through their grieving process, they were better able to appreciate “the preciousness of life.”  I so envy them.  The beauty of yesterday’s wind and clouds touched my heart, but it was also painful, like a sharp dagger in an open wound.  Life does not feel “precious” to me.  It feels alien and difficult and painful.  Elizabeth talked about feeling “joy” when dancing paneurhythmy.  When did I last feel joy?  I can’t remember.  Maybe Winter Solstice at Stanstead.  I worry that I’m somehow refusing to feel joy.  Someone talking about different responses to trauma gave the example of two holocaust survivors.  One said how can you feel happy again when such terrible things can happen.  The other one said how can you not enjoy every little bit of good since such terrible things have happened.  The thing is, I can recognize things as good, and want to enjoy them, but am not able to experience the joy.  I remember how much better I felt when Dr. Rankin told me that the chemistry of depression destroys the ability to enjoy.

Well, there is enjoying Mocha’s joy when she’s free to run.  And pain that I can’t let her do it more often.

I saw the waxing gibbous moon looking almost transparent against the blue sky.  I heard a thrush recently, and of course the daffodils are blooming.  The shadbush are in flower along the Gale, both shad and cherry along the roadsides.  It’s a moment of great tenderness, this just beginning of spring.  It’s piercing, this moment.  In a few days, the moon will wane, the blossoms fall and the trees put on their wall of solid green.  The thrush song is rarer now, as their winter habitat is destroyed.  I remember at Bickford Hill, I had planted daffodils in a place Dana wanted bulldozed for the pond.  So I moved them.  I remember them coming up the next spring and feeling that painful joy “After the war, here you are!”  I remember Agatha Christie’s “O brave monkey puzzle” to the tree that was still living, in a cramped space, in the new subdivision that had been built in the place where she grew up.

Marie Howe: “It hurts to be present.”
Krista: “I experience poetry to hurt …  If I don’t feel strong enough or don’t feel vulnerable enough I can’t read it.”
Marie: “We’re afraid of silence.”  Silence at the heart of everything
“To live in the world transparently would be a relief.”
What art does is break our hearts open so they can’t stay closed.   [from interview at On Being]

For the moment of Moon, Thrush and Daffodil

Posted in Healing, Journal, Present Day, Spirit, Trauma | Comments Off on Being Present to the Beauty of Nature

My Life is Worthwhile

Feeling pretty good this morning.  (!)  I think it’s from the realization that my life, just as it is, is worthwhile.  It’s hard, but I don’t mind hard if I’m doing something meaningful.  A job worth doing.  Before doing the work with my grandmother patches, I thought I had to get better before I could begin to help other people.  But that’s not true.  Just as I am, I help people — a number of them have said so.  My struggle, when it’s visible, helps other people.  And even when it’s not visible, I carry the energy of honesty and openness.

I was thinking yesterday that I have lived my whole life by my values: honesty, integrity, standing up for the underdog.  As I struggled with baffled pain, depression, terror, feeling worthless, I still had a deep commitment to those values.  I didn’t include love because I didn’t think I was capable of love.

It occurs to me that if I read the 4th of July Monologue in the light of what Elizabeth Goudge says of love, that it’s not some nice thing that you feel, it’s some hard thing that you do, then I can see love in action in how I took care of my parents that weekend.

I can see that kindness is something I value, although it was more motivated by just wanting to not hurt anybody.  But then, as a young child, I wrote the story of the Wonder Flower who says to the King “You are not kind.”  Certainly I knew about kindness and valued it.

I read the pieces to Erica about seeing that my life was worthwhile.  She reminded me of what Bessel Van Der Kolk said about people struggling with PTSD, that they have not been able to take ownership of their lives.

Van der Kolk “The big issue for traumatized people is they don’t own themselves any more.  Any loud sound, anybody insulting them, hurting them, saying bad things, can hijack them away from themselves.  And so what we have learned is that what makes you resilient to trauma is to own yourself fully.”  Interview with Krista Tippett, in Becoming Wise, p88.

Seeing my life as a whole, seeing that I have learned a lot of valuable things from my struggle with PTSD, has made a huge difference, seeing that just working to heal my own PTSD is worthwhile.

It reminds me of a time when my brother Jack, the recovering alcoholic who has 8 years sobriety, was talking about asking God for guidance and help every day.  I said I did it to, and usually got “You’re doing just fine,” which didn’t help, just made me feel like I’m doing something easy.  I said to Jack that I wanted a bigger challenge in my life.  And God said “PTSD isn’t challenging enough for you?”  Which made me laugh. But now I see the truth of it.  Could I have a more worthwhile life?

Posted in Healing, Present Day, Trauma | Comments Off on My Life is Worthwhile

Tough Time

Sunday, April 28

I’m going through a very difficult time.  The bad news from the outer world doesn’t help at all.  I feel like I’m living in a war zone.  I am living in a war zone, between the people whose greed threatens to destroy the planet, and the rest of us who are trying desperately to save things that matter to us.

What’s happening now is I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what I want.  I don’t know how I don’t know, there’s no response from my body.  If I ask inside “Do you want to take a shower and wash your hair?” the answer is a kind of heaviness, a deep exhaustion.  I force myself to undress and get in the shower because it has to be done.  I haven’t had a shower for a week.  Then I wash the dishes, not because I want to, but because they have to be done (I have no bowls left) and the hot water is already halfway to the kitchen because I took a shower.

I couldn’t decide what I wanted for lunch.  Didn’t want what was available.  I finally settled on blueberries with soy creamer, and toast with nut butter.  I think part of the problem is I know I have to eat, by looking at the clock, but I feel nauseous instead of hungry because I’ve waited too long.  Then I eat what little I can get down, and it’s not enough.  I think that’s why I fell.

After “lunch” I walked the dog because it had to be done.  Actually, I care about Mocha, so it’s something I want to do, and easier to force myself.  I was hoping it would help ground me.  But just as I was starting across the bridge, I tripped and fell.  At least I crumpled, instead of falling straight so I didn’t hurt myself.  Someone kindly helped me up.  I walked all the way to the second “fir gate” (my own landmark) with most of my attention on my feet.  Then I drove in to the Co-op to buy food.  Mostly for Eleanor, but some things I had forgotten the last time I went.

When I got home, I collapsed on the couch.  I had a cup of tea, and then read, typed journal, and played Solitaire, which are my default “mindless practices” when I just need a break.

Today there are all kinds of things I “should” do.  But I’m giving myself a REAL break by working on a puzzle a friend gave me, and printing out journal which I haven’t kept up with.  Alas, the ink has run out and I have to be feeling a little more together to change the ink.

That’s how it is today.

I should add that I’ve been in this state a number of times over the last couple of months.  It’s partly getting on the “ready list” at Kendal.  I’m not living here in Franconia any more, but I’m not living at Kendal yet.  The other cause is being too much alone and falling into the apathy state of an abandoned baby.

Posted in Journal, Present Day, Trauma | Comments Off on Tough Time

My Adolescent Self


I had been thinking about some words from my journal for the 60’s  “Well tranquillized for complicated return to P.A.”  I don’t remember what happened that caused me to run to my aunt & uncle in Hillsborough. but I think my words triggered something.  I started to feel activated.  When the tea-water was ready, I decided it wasn’t tea I needed but meditation.  So I set the timer and sat.  And relaxed.  Felt the fear and then realized it was one of the younger Jennys.  I saw myself walking around and around in Jane’s back yard because I couldn’t sleep.  Walking the basement corridors at Kripalu because I couldn’t sleep.  I see my adolescent self, frantic and desperate, searching for refuge.  Not even having much of a goal except to feel better so I could have a life.  Mostly I was just trying to get away from the pain.  I see myself running desperately down darkened corridors, knocking against walls, having no idea what to do to make things different, having no one to go to for help.  I did finally start going to therapists, most of whom were helpful.  Though I remember Dr. Levy, in Portland, who I experienced as disapproving and judgmental.  “You do not know what wars are going on, down there where the spirit meets the bone.”  I feel such compassion  for my desperate younger self.


I’m still struggling with the pain of my adolescent self — well I’m not sure struggling is the right word.  I feel the pain in the background, and there’s a habitual mechanism that tries to push it away, but when I notice it, I remember that it’s a part of me that I feel enormous compassion for.  Then I can hold the pain in softness.  It feels like that’s the best I can do.  If I try to talk to her, to reassure her, she can’t hear me.  So I just hold her.  She is struggling with invisible pain, pain that’s not recognized by anyone around her.  So she can’t really see and validate it for herself.  That’s why she cut herself — the blood at least was real in a world of unreality.  There was a quote from Jacqueline Winspear about veterans self-mutilating: Her heroine Maisie Dobbs remembering working with “shell-shocked” veterans of WWI — “There were men who … would cause themselves injury, as if to feel, physically, the wounds that lay in their souls.”

I read this to my therapist, who pointed out that I was able to be present to my adolescent self without trying to make her change.  She also said that I had worked hard for years, worked devotedly and unrelentingly, to be able to be there for my desperate younger self.

“You do not know what wars are going on, down there where the spirit meets the bone.”  From a song by Lucinda Williams.

The Jacqueline Winspear quote is from “Leaving Everything Most Loved,” p42

Posted in Present Day, Trauma | Comments Off on My Adolescent Self

The “Right Hand” Version

Which means more logical and rational than the previous one.

The fall happened in my house.  Paying attention to the fragments I was juggling, I failed to see my feet and tripped over the lintel.  I hit my chin and my left hand.  The fragments were the pieces I was making for the Grandmother ceremony.  Working on their placement gave me a sense of integrating the pieces of my life.  Lynelle came immediately and helped me with arnica and Traumeel.  She also told me that when this sort of thing happened to her, it meant that there was some deep part of her that was not happy.  I couldn’t imagine why a part of me would be unhappy with integration, a process toward health.  It came to me that that piece might have been afraid she wouldn’t be accepted by the others, and later that she feared they would try to make her conform.  I had resisted the pressure of the part of me that wanted me to conform to the traditional way of doing the patches.  I had an image of the safe conventional things I made because that was what my mother wanted, and then an image of the outrageous things I made when I was free to do it my own way.

It is absolutely wonderful to suddenly see myself as a very creative person.  I think I thought that I wasn’t creative because I had nothing lasting to show.  But I’ve had a tremendous outpouring of different things that only last for a while.  And of course, Neskaya is something lasting.  Sometimes I imagine that the concrete roof will still be there when all the other buildings have fallen down and decayed.

Posted in Healing, Present Day | Comments Off on The “Right Hand” Version


Friday, April 14

I wrote this this morning , trying to understand what is going on in my psyche.  It actually produced something that helped make sense of the many issues I am juggling.  “Keep the pen moving” is an instruction designed to get around the logical mind.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it just produces nonsense.

“The fall” happened on Monday, April 10, when I tripped over the lintel and fell on the tile floor in my house.  I hurt my chin and my left hand badly.  The odd word in parentheses “babadagalgara…” was as much as I could remember of James Joyce’s sound of “the fall” at the beginning of Finnegans Wake.  “Juggling pieces” was an image that came in work with my therapist Erica the next day, that I was juggling pieces of my life and not paying attention, so I tripped.  Lynelle’s suggestion was from her enormous knowledge about PTSD and how it shows in what happens.  Trying to understand what she said brings up a fear of being forced to conform.  “The huge pressure” was something I felt as I was writing to my friends about how I needed my participation in the Grandmother Ceremony to be in a way that worked for me.  One of the requirements was to make some patches representing parts of our life.  Doing this, and working with the images started a process of integration.  The “Grandmother Ceremony” will be described in a subsequent blog post.

I want to just keep the pen moving and see what happens.  The fall (bababadalgara…) juggling pieces and tripping over the door stone.  Trying to integrate process started with working on Grandmother patches.  Then Lynelle’s observation that there’s some deep part of me who’s not happy with what’s happening in my unconscious.  Not happy with integration?  I come across a fear of being forced to conform.  Actually, the huge pressure I felt about asking if I could do the patches the way I needed to, that was my introjected mother trying to force me to conform.  I resisted that, and I’m telling that part that I did resist, and I will resist, and all the pieces of me welcome her into the tribe and are interested to get to know who she really is.  Not who she thinks she’s “supposed to be.”  I see an image of all those cards I made for all the grandchildren (of whom I was one) so Gee-Gee could put one on each pile of presents at the big Christmas gathering.  A different image comes, from the glittering blue cloth we found in my studio on Wednesday.  There was the remains of one of the figures I made: stuffed bag for head on pole, hanger attached to it with duct tape to hang the robe on.  I also found a string fastened to a bone so it could be hung around her neck.  She was the Spirit of the North.  I had made Spirits for all the directions.  I made a bunch more for a Samhain celebration.  There are pictures of them all in one of the booklets at Neskaya.  I see them now as a huge outpouring of creativity.  I remember that my ex-husband was uncomfortable with what he called my “shrine making.”  I thought he meant that the things I made might draw in spirits that were negative.  Looking at it now, I see spirits drawn to my work who were outcast and unwanted, perhaps “negative” because they had been hurt and I feel my heart open to draw them in.  Come to me you tired, poor, and heavy laden, I see your goodness.  I know you have been hurt.  I welcome you into this space so you can rest and heal.  I see the enormous gap between the little girl who carried out her mother’s instructions to make nice, safe, name cards for the family Christmas, and the woman who created all sorts of flamboyant exotic things and environments to appear for a brief time in the sacred space of Neskaya.

Spirit of the North

Here is the sound of The Fall: bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!
and a link to the source.

I read this piece of writing to my therapist on our phone session which happened about 30 minutes after I wrote it.  She really liked it, but then she knows the things I am referring to.  I read it to her a second time, and some new images and material that I hadn’t seen before came up.

When I read “I welcome you into this space so you can rest and heal,” I saw Neskaya.  The building has been called a “healing sanctuary,” and many people have told me they feel at home, completely accepted for who they are.  I saw the Red Woman as the healing spirit of Neskaya.  And I remembered when we were building it, the roof and walls were built around/on a structure of steel I-beams.  The beams can be seen holding the roof from inside and outside.  The steel structure was a little like a crystal form, three-dimensional with facets.  It was unusual enough that we were only able to find one contractor who was willing to try it.  The first time they put the beams together, the last ones didn’t fit.  So they had to go back and modify the junctions so they would fit.  I remember very well how I felt when the steel structure came together, I could feel it in my heart, a crystalline shape, very strong, holding energy.

Neskaya steel structure

Posted in Healing, Journal, Present Day | Comments Off on Bababadalgharagh…..denenthurnuk!