Tag Archive | mindfulness

Sit, Black Dog, Sit

My, I have been silent a long time, haven’t I?

St_Johns_dog

The image of depression as a black dog is usually that of a Baskerville-like hound, running at the heels, biting and snapping. And yet that seems terribly active for the depressed state, one where the sufferer is more likely to simply wait to be devoured than to run away.

My black dog seems more likely to settle in at my side, head dropped on paws, unmoving and unmovable. He just sits. Is he waiting for me to make the first move so he can then spring up to block my way, stopping any forward progress I might try to make? No, I don’t think so. He knows I’m not going anywhere; he knows I don’t have the mental energy. He’s really quite content to hang with me, to be my wing man (if that’s not too confusing a metaphor for a dog). When he nestles beside me, my black dog of depression seems almost calm and friendly rather than threatening and ravening.

He sits. I sit. I do what has to be done. And when I return from those chores, he’s there, waiting and sitting. If I stumble into a burst of activity, he isn’t threatened. My black dog knows I’ll be back, that I’ll always return to him. And sit with him. And he will sit with me. Calm. Strong. Stronger than I. Lowered head, sad eyes, knowing eyes. How could I ever leave him?

Villanelle For The Black Dog (First Draft)

weepingbuddha

 

You will go through each motion, one by one,

As gentle night gives up to brutal day.

And repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

 

Pull the cord of the blinds, turn your back to the sun,

Step into the shower, dissolve in the spray.

You will go through each motion, one by one.

 

“Get over yourself; go have some fun.

Can’t be depressed with a smile!” silly optimists say.

Just repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

 

It’s not like you’re out buying pills or a gun.

You’ve never been one to make a display.

You still go through each motion, one by one.

 

You’ve been here before, and at least you’ve begun,

Studied the lines, know the acts of the play:

Just repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

 

Yes, you’ll go through each motion, one by one

And repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

Kuan Yin: Beyond Human

The Subject As A Younger Boy

The Subject As A Younger Boy

He’s lying in the sun, breath heavy and fast, sides shrunken, bones of the chest and neck showing through the skin, backs of the ears and the toes almost hairless now. Just an old cat suffering from age and pain and a host of ailments. “Just put him down,” people tell me especially after they hear I have to clean up his feces several times a day and live with puppy training pads on my bedroom floor because that’s the only way to keep him from urinating on the carpet.

Only one room still has carpet, in fact. He ruined all the rest so we’ve replaced it with hardwood, an oddly beautiful gift he’s given me through his feline dementia. And he still climbs onto my lap while I write, sleeps by my side at night, meets me at the door with his companion cat, who doesn’t understand why there are no wrestling matches every day.

My husband would be relieved to see him go–as I would be much of the time–but has come to understand and accept why we go on with him: not because I can’t bear to part with him but because he still has a pure enjoyment in much of life. I feel I need to respect and support that in an old cat no less than I would in any person.

Yesterday, I bought a new scratch pad laced with cat nip (which I’ve been referring to as “medical cat nip”) and he scratched and rolled and rubbed his cheek on it, then plowed through a bowl of cat food to satisfy the “munchies.” And as we ate dinner, this old arthritic boy came barreling down the hall top speed, startling his companion, and stretching his paws up onto the cat perch. This is not a cat ready to “go gently.” And I feel I need to respect that as well.

We don’t go to extraordinary measures to keep him alive. He’s off almost all medication because the drugs for one illness just make another worse. And he gets to eat the cheap grocery store cat food he loves rather than the “special diet” that is supposed to make him feel better. He’s in hospice with us. We just want to give him comfort.

I will respect his right to die when his quality of life degrades or he is in pain. But I will also respect and show compassion for his delight in life until then, this old, skinny, balding orange tiger. Even as I clean up his latest gift.

Re-Versing Time

20111229-224052.jpgWe did a lot of “Om”-ing back in the ’70s. Meditation was practically a competitive sport. We’d sit Lotus position, eyes only half closed so we could sneak looks at those around us. “How does she get her foot that high on her damn thigh?” “Oh, c’mon, look at the math geek–half lotus, how sad.” Not only did we not empty our minds, we practically hoarded, adding as many random thoughts as we could cram in. Forget about “gently bringing the puppy back”; we might as well have been at a dog park.

I was a Lit major then. But we all were, weren’t we? Literature or Philosophy:  two perfect majors for those who believed a decent salary was a tool of the Devil. I prefer to think I naively believed I could make a living wage teaching Jane Austen under an oak tree–but that life is truly another story and this story rolled together in that most basic of beliefs: Everything Changes.

What struck me recently is that I might have had some sense of the value meditation would bring as I aged, even as I played it like a varsity sport, when I read a collection of Louis MacNeice poems. I loved MacNeice in college, especially “BagPipe Music.” And when I reread it, I thought: “Yes, maybe I wasn’t totally clueless about the depth meditation can bring to life.”

“Bagpipe Music”: The title says nothing about the content but everything about the lope of the poem from line to line, the bouncing repetition whose gentle lilt hides the darkness of the lines caught in opening couplet:

‘It’s no go the merrygoround, it’s no go the rickshaw,

All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.’

And in the last two lines, after much ill omen and ill will and images of young urbanites trying to outrun their fate, I might have first wrapped my brain–as a young urbanite trying to outrun my fate–around the importance of the “now.”

‘The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,

But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.’

Yup, Everything Changes and you can’t stop it so…

Which led me to my other favorite poem from college and one that I chose as a reading at my third wedding–when I was older, hopefully wiser, and had finally ditched the Philosophy majors: Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.”

Put two of its most resonant lines with that last couplet of MacNeice and there it is: Mindfulness; Everything changes; Be Here Now.

‘The grave’s a fine and private place

But none, I think, do there embrace.’

My Lotus position was never that great anyway.

The Parable Series: Where Are My Damn Keys?

Public Domain Sketch

Public Domain Sketch

And so the parable goes:

There was a very wealthy man who kept all his money, jewels and gold locked inside a box inside his mansion. One late night, he wanted to go count his loot but couldn’t remember where he left the keys. “I know I had them in my house last I looked but I can’t remember where I put them. Now where could they be?” (Note that he did remember what a key was just not where it was–not a dementia tale here.) The house was quite dark, the fires already having been drawn down for the night, but outside the street lamp was still lit. So the man went outside and began searching and searching under the street light becoming more and more agitated as he looked. A friend saw him and came up, saying “What are you doing, old friend?” And the wealthy man answered “Looking for the keys to my treasure box. I can’t find them anywhere.” The friend began to search with him, both looking everywhere under the street light but finding nothing. At last the friend said, “I can’t see them anywhere! Do you remember exactly where you last saw them?” And the wealthy but keyless–and clueless–man replied, “Oh, yes, they were in my house. But it’s so much easier to look out here where there is such bright light!”

And so the parable ends.

Easy one, right? When I first read this parable, I felt slightly insulted to be presented such a simple puzzle. Well, of course, it means that we shouldn’t be looking for answers in the outside world just because that is easier. We must look only within for the key to the meanings and treasures of life.

Or should we? If that’s all the parable means, I think I have just cause to cry foul, because can all answers really come from within? Of course, many times I find myself reaching for the easy solution or quick fix that the latest diet guru or purple pill might provide when I know that this probably isn’t going to  mean I’ll become rich and skinny–or poor but enlightened. And introspection and meditation certainly have given me far more insight (by definition!) than self-help books.

But what about that friend? I keep coming back to him, the man willing to help our buddy under the street light. Didn’t he play an important role as well? Wasn’t his willingness to stop and take time ultimately likely to help the wealthy man “see the light”? I can imagine the next scene of the parable being the friend saying, “well, then, let’s not waste time out here. C’mon, I’ll grab a flashlight and we’ll go inside and look for the keys where you think you saw them last in the house, old buddy.”

Of course, looking for the easy answer outside won’t lead me to my deep treasures. But I’ll be better off with a friend with a torch than alone in the darkness looking only inward.

Back Away From The Keyboard

As other introverts will understand immediately, after I’ve charged into the world with some public face on, blogging faithfully for a week, for example, I’m left both exhausted and terrified and I slink back into my den, wrap my tail around my face and try to hibernate off the contact. I use to try to justify this in various ways: I really don’t like people; I’m no good at anything, anyway; why bother when there’s so much else to do.

But that’s all bull and I know it. Truth is: I’m an introvert and while I might love listening to and engaging with others, it’s just really tiring after a time. Like writing, being part of the world is just hard for me.

Given the careers I’ve had so far–and I don’t count out there being even more despite having used up more than my allotted quota in just 60 years–people don’t get it when I express this. “You’ve taught university classes; you’ve owned a business; you’re a teacher of Qi Gong and a personal trainer now. How much more extrovert can you get than that?” But those aren’t extrovert jobs are they? When I’ve done those things, I can fill a very specific role, much like a shy actor can still dominate the stage.

When I stopped blogging a week or so ago, while I was curled up in my den being damned impressed with all the blogs I was reading, I started wondering about how or whether I was odd at all. Are others out there posting because they are wild party extroverts? Or is blogging, whether as brilliantly done as livelysceptic or as minimalistic blather as I, really a safe haven for the introverts of the world? When I read others blogs, I feel “part of the world” in a way I never can standing stupidly at a cocktail party, drink in hand, wishing I still smoked just for something to do with the other hand, trying to think of those pithy questions you are supposed to be asking to draw others out so you can just listen.

Having crawled out of my safe warm fur-lined hole for a moment to ask the question “Are you an introvert or extrovert?” I think it’s time to go back to sleep.