Category Archives: Creativity and Vision

steering my boat

This is as complete of a story as I can make of some things that I have either done or have had happen to me in the last couple of months since I last posted my rant about psychiatrists, medications, and mental health in America.  Since that post, it’s pretty easy to break time down into three main chunks: that last post until 7/11, 7/11-22, and 7/22 to now, 8/23.

Between my last post and 7/11, I basically ranted and raved on Twitter about the various mental health-related injustices of the world and researched that and related topics until I had circled back to The Icarus Project, the first serious alternative mental healthcare website I ever ran across.  They’re often classified as anti-psychiatry, but they’re just highly critical of psychiatry.  As am I now.  I need meds: I’m not stupid and I’m aware enough of my mental and emotional processes to understand that I need chemical help from time to time.  But not to the extent that Western psychiatry insists I do.  Nor should many of the thoughts and thought processes I have be dismissed as pathological.

Around the same time, a terrible old feeling set in, the sensation that “every day is exactly the same” that I had for at least four years, if not more.  I had been taking an antipsychotic fairly regularly for about 3 weeks, at first for sleep problems, then for anxiety, then just for basic mood maintenance.  That sucker kicked in and life ground to a halt, just like it had been the year before when I was taking meds I didn’t need.  After three days of joyless existence, I said, “Oh hell no, we’re not doing this shit again,” and I threw two meds in the trash after making sure I wasn’t taking a dose high enough to require tapering (I wasn’t).  Luckily I was using a mood tracker by then, so it was easy to quickly identify what was wrong.  I also shot off an email to my old acupuncturist in the hopes she could help.

Serendipitously, pretty much at the same time I decided to take a different approach to treating my mental illness, my oldest and best friend sent me a link on 7/11 to a regrettably now-deceased gentleman who had had a very similar experience to mine.  A couple of clicks later and I found myself at the ACISTE website: the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences.  That pretty much kicked a door wide open and I spent the next few days reading about things like spiritual crisis, spiritual emergence, spiritual awakening, kundalini awakening, and several related topics.  I looked at the list of bipolar/mania symptoms and compared it to the list of typical “awakening” symptoms, and there was no comparison.  A skeptical psychiatrist would accuse me of seeing what I want to see, obscured by faulty mental processes, but I’ve got a really strong reality check in the form of a well-rounded and intelligent yet open-minded husband who has no problem telling me if I’ve got a really wacky idea, and that’s not the feedback I was getting.

7/17 began like most days, but it was pretty clear by mid-morning that my mind had taken off on a journey of its own, though not like the one it went on in May.  I took note of it with more than a bit of alarm, but I felt pretty good and fairly grounded.  I sent an email to X letting him know what was going on upstairs with the admonition DO NOT CALL MY SHRINK.  I DO NOT NEED HIS HELP YET.  I did ask him to call the pharmacy and refill one of my scrips, though, just in case.

The details of the next five days are important, but I’m still sorting them out, and they’re very personal, so I’m not willing to share much from all that, except to say that I had a divine encounter, and no one can tell me otherwise.  Anyone who wants to argue with me needs to watch Contact and then we can talk.  Just be prepared for a lengthy discussion about Occam’s Razor.

I will say this, though: you know that scene in The Matrix where Tank plugs Neo in for the first time and teaches him ju-jitsu in five seconds?  That pained face followed by “holy shit I’ll have some more of that please”?  It was a lot like that.  While surfing.  Now I’m on shore emptying my head as fast as I can, and learning to accept that I will never, ever be able to chase every ball that my brain spits out.  As such, I’m learning to be selective about which balls to chase, knowing that if I let one go, if it’s really important I’ll circle back to it, or it to me.  It also means I’m glued to my phone most of the time, because at the moment I need access to one of my apps to record my thoughts, pictures, photos, etc., or just to listen to music or something else audio: my ambient environment has become exceedingly important to me after ignoring it for…I don’t know how long.

My little trip was over by 7/23, and I pretty much took the week off.  I didn’t tweet, I didn’t blog, and at the time I had not yet resumed the practice of keeping a daily document, something I began in June and promptly dropped around the same time as my last blog post, though I was tweeting madly at the time so there’s a record of my thoughts until 7/17.  I was reading, though, mostly topics I was once familiar with but had abandoned long ago: magick, witchcraft, and astrology, mostly, with a heaping helping of Hinduism and a dash of Buddhism, largely set in a Jungian structure that I shaped to my own purposes.  My spiritual framework is, um, eclectic and syncretic, to say the least.  There’s something to offend and/or please everyone in my world, depending on their viewpoint.  Monotheists?  Well, we need to talk about dualism, but sure.  Polytheists?  Ah, my people!  Agnostics? Would love to chat.  Atheists?  If you’re one of those dickhead atheists that is basically a fundamentalist without belief, then no, not unless you’re willing to talk about how you missed the point and wound up right back at dogma.  Good work.  Witches?  I’ll see you folks in October, it’s been too long.  Magicians?  See the witches, but if one of you can talk chaos, we need to sit down.  Did I miss anyone?

By the end of that week, I was back to “okay, I must write some of this stuff down before I forget it” and resumed daily writing on August 1, Lughnasadh.  I’ve managed to write something, sometimes a lot, almost every day since then.  I have a lot of mental energy in the morning, so I get up, usually with X around 7am, make coffee, listen to music and fiddle with my phone while I wait for it, sit outside and smoke and either think or fiddle with my phone some more, and until this past Monday, then I went back upstairs and sat in bed and worked all morning until lunch, ate, then did less mentally strenuous stuff in the afternoon unless my brain was on a roll I couldn’t stop, a common situation I’m working to address.  I also try not to “work” in the evenings, again, unless my brain just will not shut up, in which case I’ve gotten used to watching/not-watching a movie or show while I take notes and do stuff on my phone.

I had already undertaken the task of creating a timeline using Facebook, Twitter, emails, and blog posts to reconstruct, as best as I could, my mental state since October of last year, which was when I first posted after months of silence, but before I had stopped taking the most offending meds.  I had also begun the daunting but fascinating task of looking at the astrological transits for certain important dates.  That would turn out to be a very eye-opening exercise.  Let’s just say I no longer doubt the validity of astrology, though I’m willing to bet I don’t use it the way most astrologers do, not entirely.  That’s another post, though.

After a few days of sorting, collating, collecting, and condensing data from various sources, I had enough information to spit out a bullet list of important points.  I showed it to X and he was like, “hmmm, that needs fleshing out”.  Right.  I kept at it, being slightly desperate to share my experience with someone, as I had been fairly tight-lipped about the inner goings-on of my head.  At the same time, I was anticipating my next shrink appointment and wondering what in the hell to tell him.  I couldn’t figure that out until I ran it all by X, so one day I did my best to give him the Reader’s Digest version of the previous 2.5 months: seven pages came out.  I waited for his response with a bit of trepidation, really hoping I didn’t get, “honey, we need to talk about your medication”.

I didn’t.  I got, basically, “that’s really beautiful and wonderful and I hope you chase as many balls as you can because that’s great stuff, and you shouldn’t tell ANY of it to your shrink, because he doesn’t care about that and he’ll take it the wrong way”.  Ah, validation two ways.  With that, I was able to silence the ongoing anticipatory argument I kept having in my head with my shrink.

Everything has just kind of shifted and clicked into place since then, and shifts and clicks again every time I get a new tool, or make a new connection, or rediscover something old I left behind for whatever reason.  I sort of feel like part of me has been keeping an eye on myself for a really long time, and whenever I dropped something important, it would pick it back up and tuck it into my subconscious for safekeeping, knowing I’d need it one day.  When I need something, I don’t have to look too hard for it, if at all (with the exception of my truck title, but that’s another story).  Typically I’ve already encountered it and just need to remember it, or it’s something I’m already using and need to look at in a different way.  Sometimes it’s a book.  Sometimes it’s a movie.

Sometimes it’s a person.

At some point during the last couple of weeks and doing my best to record the not-always-predictable stream of thoughts in my head, I was like, “okay, I have to find someone to talk to about this stuff”.  I started wondering about local therapists that wouldn’t immediately throw me out of their office and send me back to my shrink, and one of my old therapists from when I went to the local sliding scale clinic popped into my head, and not for the first time since I stopped seeing him five years ago.  “THAT GUY” I said.  Okay.  So I sent an email with the hopes that he would remember me, and he did.  He also had biweekly appointments available on Wednesday mornings.  Perfect.  I’ll save my first visit for a separate post, but I feel fairly confident in saying that I have found the right person to be my guide for the time being, something that just about every awakening forum on the internet says you should do.  He seems to speak all my languages, and that’s a really tall order right now.

At the moment, I’m trying not to get lost in the details or burden myself with too many tools.  “Keep it simple” really is my motto right now, and if I’m trying to organize something and it’s in groups of more than four, I know I need to scale it back.  I try to start with two.  Too much?  Fine, just use one.  Once I can handle two of something, I move onto three.  Then four.  Those are pretty much my instructions from the Universe, for lack of a better term, for the foreseeable future, which really grates against a couple of parts of me, but there’s that whole “trust the process” thing, so I’m just going with it.  Most of my anxiety and impatience comes from a practical perspective.  X has been the main breadwinner for a damn long time, and since I began slowly checking out one psyche aspect at a time beginning ???, he has slowly done his best to take over the running of the house and caring of the family.  It’s high time he had some help, especially if we have any hope of having a decent retirement and not working ourselves into the grave.  But that’s way, way in the future and I’m not supposed to think that far ahead, so I just have to pull back sometimes and go back to contemplating things and putting them together.  My head is working on something.  I don’t know what it is yet, but I know what it’s made of, so I’m pretty sure the result will be pretty interesting, and it will come along at the right time.  Somewhere down the line, maybe sooner than I need but probably longer than I want, everything unfolds.

Until then, I start each day with either passive or active excitement for what the day might bring.  Sometimes I have a plan and wake up all ready to go, or even before I’m ready to go, like yesterday when I woke up at 2:30am for no good reason despite being dog-tired.  Other days I’m just open to whatever comes.

At the moment, I see my internal thoughtstream like a river flowing through a forested mountain range.  Each day I get up and hop into my mental boat and push off.  Some days I have an idea of where I’d like to go, but I don’t always wind up there.  Rarely, in fact.  So often that I have largely abandoned that mindset and just start paddling.  I make notes and observations as I go.  Some days the trip is fairly placid and occasionally even boring, but not usually.  Sometimes the river is merely a passive vehicle and my job is to observe the scenery.  Other days the river is turbulent and I have to pay more attention to it than what’s around me if I don’t want to capsize.  Some days are like today: the river is very slow and wide with a lot of eddies along the banks to get stuck in: those are frustrating days.  Sometimes I’m in unfamiliar territory I don’t recognize.  And sometimes I can’t find a safe place on the shore to park my boat for the night so I can get some sleep, so I stay there.  I don’t like sitting still so I usually just keep paddling.  Those are the nights I wake up early, if I ever went to sleep, and just think, surf, read, take notes, watch YouTube, and generally follow my desires.  A potentially bad time is when the river is flowing so swiftly I can’t reach the bank, and I just have to ride it until the current slows and hope the rapids aren’t too bad and the rocks are few.  And it always does eventually.  If it doesn’t, I have “dams” up and downstream to control the waterflow, with meditation and other tools, and block it if utterly necessary with drugs.  Most of the time, though, I am happy to hop into my mental boat, even excited on occasion.

Every now and then I’m like, “Fuck it, I’m not getting on the river today,” and that is totally fine.  I may be under the guidance of divine influences, but I’m the one in control of this ride (mostly), and if I don’t want to ride that day, most of the time I don’t have to.  Sometimes, though, my psyche is like, “Ok, come on, let’s go, we’re going on a trip. Nope, not telling you where we’re going, just sit down, shut up, and hang on.  And pay attention, there’ll be a quiz.”  I just sigh internally, reach down and tighten the laces on the combat boots my inner self is still wearing from 1995, and get in.

Working on myself is fun, but it’s hard.  There’s a lot of locks to pick in here.  And secret passageways.  And the occasional booby trap, though since I’m the one that made them, they can’t really hurt me.  All they do is slam the door shut and send me back to where I was.  It just means I’m not ready to look there yet.  It’s all good, everything circles back around eventually.  For now, my psyche has a torch, a key, and a dog, and that’s pretty much all I need.  She wanders, I observe and take notes, and at some point we get together and see what we have.  Right now I’ve got an assload of really interesting data that doesn’t pull together to really go anywhere solid, but I have total faith that a pattern will emerge.  Scientists laughed at pilots for two decades before admitting the existence of the jet stream.  Just because I see something others don’t doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

I leave you with my favorite quote for the week from Matrix: Reloaded

We can never see past the choices we don’t understand. – The Oracle

When the Windows Darken and the Doors Close

Anthony Bourdain Dead at 61 read so many headlines on June 8 and the days following. Not to be indelicate, but the general sentiment that seemed to be felt by people probably would have been voiced by Anthony as, “What in the ever loving fuck?” No one understood. No one ever understands when a famous person, that pinnacle of the American dream, could possibly kill themselves when by our standards, they had “everything”.
I myself was still in the grips of a pretty fierce manic episode that had begun a few weeks before, spiraled up into a genuine psychotic break, and then settled back into a pretty standard orbit, albeit a rather high one. So when I heard Mr. Bourdain had committed suicide, it registered, but it wasn’t something I wanted to read about, not just yet. As a person who has had three family members and one good friend kill themselves, that was a little too close to home, and his death struck me between the eyes much like Robin Williams’ had, yet another famous death that nearly no one understood until it was revealed he had been suffering from Lewy-Body dementia, an unfortunate brain disorder that can’t be diagnosed until after death.
Then I “crashed”, much in the same way I suspect Anthony did, but I’ll get to that. I had been through a really transformative experience that was still unfolding, yet from the outside perspective of my doctor, and likely my husband, it seemed immediately apparent that I needed some sort of medication, ostensibly to keep my mind from sailing away again as it had a week or so before. So he stuck me on some new-fangled drug that was supposed to be very mild and not hit me like a hammer like so many other antipsychotics can. And so I spent the next couple of weeks really enjoying my life, my husband, my child, and regular everyday activities as I had not in, well, DECADES.
Just like Anthony had, as detailed in the article linked above. He was really looking forward to a trip to Hong Kong where he would be doing some filming. According to those closest to him, they had never seen him so excited, and he was doing things he didn’t usually do, like constantly emailing and texting about publicity and other things that needed to be done towards realizing what he was calling a serious pinnacle of his work. However, after he died, other friends reported that he was in a “dark mood”, which was presumed to be a result of his grueling work and travel schedule.
Reading those words in the article, I understood precisely what had happened to Anthony Bourdain. He “crashed”. He went from whatever speed his incredible mind usually sped along at, to zero, slowly enough for people to notice his “dark mood” but too quickly for anyone to realize what had really happened to him and stop the inevitable trajectory of his path.
Strange things happen when you crash, and crashing happens at different speeds for different people. I wasn’t around Mr. Bourdain, of course, but it seems like his crash took at least a few days, and no one will ever know what triggered his deceleration. It could have been anything, but whatever it did eventually made his mind focus too hard on the negative potentials of what he was doing, most directly his Hong Kong project, until the excitement, adventure, and hope of the project was thrown into doubt by his own mind. I’m willing to bet he struggled mightily with himself for some unknown period of time in an effort to reassure himself he was on the right track, but if your mind has betrayed you, it does not respond to logic. It gets stuck on bad things, like an anchor dragging the bottom of a rocky ocean, until eventually you grind to a halt or go in circles.
My crash happened very quickly, within the space of hours. For example, Sunday afternoon was a wonderful time spent with my husband. Eight hours later, at midnight or so, all those good feelings were gone. *snap* Just like that. It was like being hit in the face with a board. The whole next day, I could palpably feel every good feeling I had recovered since my break slowly sliding away one by one, hour by hour. By the time dinner rolled around and my husband and I went to Jim’s Diner for the first time in the few weeks since my break, I had gone from a wide open spacious world full of possibility to a tiny, dark room with blackened windows, pinpricks for light, and every single door nailed shut save the one that Mr. Bourdain decided to walk through, very likely in a snap judgment.
I had at least two things it doesn’t appear Mr. Bourdain had. One: I wasn’t alone. I’d really rather not entertain what might have happened had I been alone. Which makes me wonder what might have happened with Mr. Bourdain had someone bothered to check and see why he didn’t come down for dinner the previous evening, which was extremely unusual. Anthony Bourdain miss an exquisite French meal? That should have been a major warning bell and while I’m sure those people are already kicking themselves for not checking on him, that may have been a crucial missed opportunity. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for those circling the drain, as it were, so assure others they are fine, for a variety of reasons, and so it may not have mattered if anyone checked to see why he did not come down for dinner.
The other thing I have that maybe Anthony didn’t was an inner guiding “voice”, although I can tell you that no matter how loud that voice may usually be, when the windows darken, the walls close in, and the only exit left is marked DEATH, that voice becomes subaural and the only way it works is if you believe it’s still there. I also had the personal knowledge of knowing four people who found themselves in that tiny, dark room and went ahead and took that exit, and I know what happened to the rest of us when they made that choice. My inner voice said “nuh uh, we’re not doing that”, and after I was done crying into my eggs and hash browns, my husband took me home where I crawled into bed and stayed there, where I knew I’d be safe.
Maybe Anthony did have a voice, but it grew too dim for him to hear anymore, AND he no longer believed it was there. That’s when the normal laws of emotional logic fail to meet the standards of the average happy person and the person in the dark room begins operating by illogical standards and faulty assumptions that seem like perfectly reasonable explanations for whatever conundrum they are faced with. There has been more than one instance in my life where I was absolutely convinced that I had been born cursed, due to some repeating circumstance or inability to wrench myself out of some bit of bad luck that was too reminiscent of past situations. When life shoves you back into the same shitpile you’ve tried so hard to get out of so many times, it can be hard not to think that the Universe wants you to stay there. Maybe Anthony found himself in front of one of those shitpiles and instead of deciding to go around it or try cleaning it up, he just said, “fuck it.” Only an individual knows when they reach the “fuck it” point, and so that will likely just have to remain one of the mysteries that surrounds Anthony’s death.
There’s a third element at play here, something that I believe both Anthony I possessed, and I still do, seeing as how I’m alive, and that’s something I can only call gumption. Gumption says “fuck that noise” when faced with an obstacle, and will help you find any way around it, over it, through it, or will hand you a weapon so you can smash that fucker to bits. Anthony had goddamned buckets of gumption, and I loved watching him use it when I watched his Travel Channel show “No Reservations”.
This is a man who, when presented with a not-so-carefully prepared and barely cooked rectum of some African animal and told it was a delicacy, you could almost see him put that gumption hat on and say “okay, fuck it, I’m eating asshole today”, a decision that would ultimately send him wretchedly sick to the doctor. But that was Anthony: irreverent, bold, adventurous, and always ready for a drink and a cigarette, when he still smoked, along with whatever audacious food would keep him and his eating and travelling companions going until they passed out from food, fun, and booze.
I had a child in the years following “No Reservations” and so I was too busy to keep up with his new shows, but from what I did see, it seemed that he actually did have some reservations now. He’d had a child of his own, quit drinking and smoking, got married, and seemed to be a pretty happy guy. Something was missing from his shows, though. He’d lost some of his gumption, for whatever reason. And I can only assume that he kept losing it over the years, or else he might not have found himself in a French hotel on June 7 / 8, in a dark room with only one even darker exit that has only one lock: your own will not to go through it.
It’s been determined by French authorities that Anthony had no drugs or alcohol in his system, so those very normal indicators of suicide were not present. And sadly, even if there had been something like antidepressants or antipsychotics in his system, it might not have helped. That drug my doctor put me on? I’m pretty sure it CAUSED my crash, and so is my husband, and so we’re going to have to have a long talk about being careful with what drugs we use to treat me, because they’re supposed to prevent finding yourself in that dark room, and now I’ve found myself there twice in the darkest place I’ve ever experienced in my life, and believe me, there have been plenty of times I have found myself in very dark places indeed.
I’ve still got my gumption, though. It may dissolve into puddles of tears as it did this morning, as I sat smoking and drinking my coffee, much like Anthony did so many years ago before he cleaned up his act, so to speak, yearning for the happiness that had been given to me a few weeks ago, and then snatched away so quickly I barely had time to notice it was gone until I went to access it and found that it was missing. It was like someone had brought my long-dead cat YinYang back to life for a few weeks and then murdered him in front of me.
But yes, I’ve still got my gumption, and I still have my Voice, and by the Goddess it doesn’t matter if that room shrinks to the size of a closet and that big black door looms so wide and tall I may fear I’ll fall into it, I will NOT go through that door.
While I had my psychotic break, I went walking with the Goddess to many places, and I even became different people so I could properly experience what she was showing me. At one point I noticed someone was accompanying us as we walked, and I looked over and it was DEATH. I wondered why he was there, and she said it was because we were in his world now, but I was safe. He wasn’t there to take me, he was there to show me around, and also to remind me that he’s always there, a lot like that door to Crazytown I swear I woke up in on May 21.
I’m not afraid of DEATH. I’m afraid of that tiny room with the blackened windows and shrinking walls that only has pinpricks of light that go out one by one if you can’t manage to push the walls back to a manageable distance. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear a lack of choices. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear the after effects it has on those who are left behind who are often left with unanswerable questions unless the person was premeditated enough to leave a cogent suicide note, which is very often not present.
And that’s probably something more important than most other things that have kept me away from that door: knowing what suicide does to other people, even if they do know why, like Robin Williams’ family. So I hope that dark room never shrinks so small that the pinpricks of light that represent the people that love me disappear, like they did for Anthony.
I’m sorry your world shrank, Anthony, a person for whom the world was truly a majestic, giant place full of excitement and opportunity which you always seemed so eager to pursue. There was always one more place to go, one more new noodle to try, one more exotic drink, one more club, one more person to show you something you hadn’t experienced before. I don’t know what happened to you that made those big wide walls start to close in, but something tells me it took a long time, until finally, in that French hotel room, after you had crashed for whatever reason, the walls finally became so close and so dark that all glimmers of hope disappeared, and you walked through that door. I, along with everyone else I imagine, will probably always wonder why you didn’t say “hey, the world doesn’t seem as big and as hopeful as it used to, is something wrong with me?” Maybe it frightened you so much you couldn’t say anything, which is so often the case for people whose walls begin to close. Even I, a person who has walked alongside DEATH my whole life and stared at that door a few times myself, will not understand what happened to you until I myself pass through that door, very hopefully not by my own hands, and get to ask you “hey man, what happened?” It’s the question all of us who are left behind by the suicidal ask ourselves, and it haunts us our whole lives.
Anthony Bourdain. Robin Williams. Spalding Gray. Chris Cornell. Layne Staley. Kurt Cobain. Jim Morrison. The list goes on of those shining souls we admire and are inspired by, and are then kicked in the gut when they leave so suddenly. I was listening to Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway”, one of Chris Cornell’s bands, and it occurred to me he may have left a message for us in his lyrics
I’ve put millions of miles under my heels
And still too close to you, I feel
I’ll leave you with some words from one of my favorite movies, “A River Runs Through It”. In it, Tom Skerritt’s character, a Presbyterian minister, is giving a sermon in which it is plain to his remaining son, played by Craig Sheffer, that he is talking about the death of his younger brother, Paul, a charming young man played by Brad Pitt who found himself in trouble with gamblers, with a predictable result. And he says the following:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
Later he narrator ends the movie with this:
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

I’ll listen for you at the rivers, Anthony, along with everyone else we, and I, have lost over the years. And hopefully at the end of a very long, fulfilling life, I will meet you at the appropriate time at that river, and you’ll answer the question we all have, and then we’ll sit at a great table and eat and drink to our heart’s content. I’ll even eat durian fruit with you and maybe you can introduce me to a noodle I actually like. But I’m not eating asshole. Fuck that noise. 🙂

Stuck Again

When we last left our intrepid spiritual traveler, her altars had just reassembled themselves. Since then, I’ve just been letting them occupy their space and sink their energy tendrils into the house. I’ve also continued to work on my spiritual scrapbook like a madwoman. I don’t know what it is about that particular project that I find so appealing, but I really like it. My first scrapbook is over 75% full already: about 60 pages. I have another designated exclusively for a set of Buddhist and Hindu greeting cards I bought at Half Price Books a few years ago but have never used. I’ve sliced them in half for easy gluing and saved the backs for their descriptions.

There’s still a table full of altar-y stuff in the yoga room. It’s everything that hasn’t yet found a home elsewhere in the house. I’m leaving it there so my husband can pick through it and find things for his own altar space. I also wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it all. I can identify a few things that I don’t want any more, but most of it I like and want to keep. Most of it will go into a big plastic bin except for a few things that just really want to be out.

As usual, I’ve gotten stuck on another bit of the Spiritual Nomad instructions. Since the first week, I’m supposed to have been doing breathing exercises/meditations for a few minutes each day in front of my altar spaces, whether empty or full. I haven’t done any yet. I think it’s because the word “meditation” or the phrase “breathing exercise” instills anxiety in me as I remember past attempts to do these things and how frustrating it was. I’m bipolar. It’s a daily effort to keep the inner dialogue quiet enough so that I can function in the rest of my life. Sitting down to do nothing but listen to my breath is akin to putting a megaphone from that dialogue’s mouth to the rest of my mind: it’s deafening.

So I’m trying to abandon the whole “listen to my breath” thing since that clearly doesn’t work for me. I’m going for a quiet conversation, instead, since shutting everyone up isn’t really an option. Not for now, anyway (I can see how it could be possible after a very long time of increasingly quiet mental conversations, though). Seeing the exercise in that way lessens the meditative anxiety, but not completely. There’s still that whole sitting still thing. I’m currently a bit of a large girl: sitting still for a long time isn’t very comfortable for me. I guess I could always sit in a chair instead of on the floor, or arrange myself differently on the floor. Laying down is always nice.

These are all excuses flung up by some even farther corner of my mind that really does NOT want me to do anything even remotely resembling meditation. It gets really angry when I try to come up with ways to get around these excuses, essentially poisoning my meditation practice with a lot of inwardly directed hostility. After a few sessions of that, I give up. Seriously, who the fuck wants to sit down with themselves and end up feeling like they’ve just had a horrible fight with someone? Which in essence, you did?

Little wonder, then, that I don’t think too highly of meditation. Monkey mind, my ass. More like an 800-pound gorilla running amok in my head. Plus my authority-driven mind is yammering at me that I’ve ruined the whole thing by skipping parts or doing them out of order. “You idiot, you’ve reassembled the altars before meditating in front of them for exactly seven days while standing on one foot and bleeding out a chicken! You’ve got the mixture all WRONG! The fabric of life itself is torn asunder!”

*sighs at self*

If I get nothing else out of Spiritual Nomad, it’s to lighten the fuck up and be more accepting of my particular bizarre flavor of Otherness Acknowledgement, which doesn’t like words and in general regards them to be flimsy human constructs that always fall short of truly describing their subject, as though they were mere shadows projected upon a wall, a la Plato. Which is an odd perspective to have as a writer. As such, it is the rare mantra that doesn’t feel completely forced (Sheila Chandra‘s “Om Namaha Shiva” is just such a mantra) and it’s difficult for me to come up with words to go along with a spiritual activity that don’t sound completely silly to me.

I know I’m just trying too hard. All of the non-verbal exercises have been extraordinarily helpful: I should give the others more of a chance instead of subverting them before I even try. All I have to do is sit down and light a candle and some incense, for heaven’s sake. Those are things I *like* doing! I should stop trying to ruin them with a lot of overanalysis. Then maybe it wouldn’t make part of me so angry to try to meditate or pray.

Fear, Doubt, Letting Go

I’ve been keeping to myself lately, from a virtual blogging aspect anyway.  Almost a month ago, I became gripped by a deep doubt about almost everything.  In particular, my writings here as well as my semi-private journal.  It was akin to suddenly feeling like the Emperor in his new clothes, as though I had been engaged in a massive and very public overshare.

I only barely managed to keep myself from outright deleting a number of posts, thanks to the urging of friends.  I still made several of them private, though.  I still can’t say exactly why, though I imagine it’s the same mindset that grips anyone who creates as a major part of their life.  Like a painter who suddenly decides something looks terrible and paints over the canvas.

I’m willing to bet it’s related to my still-faltering self-confidence and self-esteem, both of which took a major nose dive around the same time I decided that everything I had written for the last two months was utter and complete crap. When combined with the sense of nakedness and subsequent embarrassment at my self-perceived overshare, it’s unsurprising that I was so suddenly taken with the desire to virtually set my writing on fire.

However, the horses, as they say, have long ago left the barn.  While I shouldn’t really care what other people think of me in the first place, I should be comforted rather than fearful of the fact that, with a single exception, not a single person has removed themselves from my life nor have they said anything disparaging about my writing.  In fact, I’ve gotten a lot of very positive feedback and encouragement.  If a massive display of TMI was really something I had to worry about, I would have learned of it weeks ago.

Still, the feeling hasn’t gone away yet.  I wish I knew how to dispel these notions, because they’re keeping me from completing other major projects that have the potential to lift me out of the overall sense of uselessness I feel about my life.  Which is yet another attitude that should be filed under “patently absurd”, but I’ve yet to figure out how to truly convince myself of more positive things.

Part of the problem is having bipolar illness.  I’m still cycling, in the vernacular, and often whatever mental gains I make when I’m feeling up are completely undone while I’m feeling down, which is unfortunately the greater percentage of the two.  At least when I’m up, the most annoying things I have to deal with are insomnia and a greater than normal enthusiasm.  I’ll spare you the list of things I deal with when I’m down.

I’m trying hard to be patient, though I often feel that I’m failing at it.  It can take months or more than a year for someone to truly stabilize and achieve some sense of emotional equilibrium, and sometimes I just don’t feel that I’m up to the task.  At nearly 40 years of age, I feel a bit like Bilbo at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring: “….thin, like butter scraped over too much toast.”  A great part of me is like, “Really? *sigh* After everything else, do I really have to deal with this too?”

A great part of me is also very angry about the “everything else”, and it’s entitled.  Regrettably, there’s no one left to be angry at, and so in a very real sense I’m suffering the ill effects of a Buddhist parable – being angry at someone is like holding a hot coal with the intention of hurting them: you’re the one who gets burned.  Along with being patient, I’m also trying to cultivate “letting go”, even though it isn’t fair and I still bristle at some of the injustices in my life, mostly because I was never really given an opportunity to have my feelings be known.

I’ve never been someone who prayed, mostly because I didn’t feel I had anything to pray to, but that’s changing as I get a bit older.  Even if my prayers aren’t TO anyone or anything in particular, that doesn’t mean that sending out that energy and thought out into the Universe doesn’t do some good, even if it’s only inside me.  So my prayers of late have been that I might be better at letting go, better at acknowledging the good things that others see in me, and better at forgiveness.  I also pray for inner peace and an accepting, quiet mind.  Please, just a mind that will STFU every now and then.

the things that we’re concealing
will never let us grow
time will do its healing
you’ve got to let it go

Rush – Open Secrets on “Hold Your Fire”

Rites of Passage

Damn it’s a cold day in Central Texas today.  We have a saying around here: if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.  Two nights ago, it was 39F.  Last night it was 51F.  Tonight it will be 24F: right now it’s 39F at 1:30pm while yesterday it was in the 60s.  Yay Texas!  O_o  As I sat here in shorts, a t-shirt, fingerless gloves, socks, and a scarf (later I’ll add sandals to complete the true Austin look) bemoaning my house’s lack of decent insulation (houses here are built to shed heat, not hold onto it), for some unfathomable reason my long-standing desire for a tattoo came to mind.

I think it’s very important for people to mark the important events of their lives, whether they were positive or negative.  Those events are the kinks that make us into multi-faceted personalities.  Otherwise we’d be straight, boring lines of people who never did anything interesting.  Some people mark those events with yet another event, like a party or a really fancy evening out on the town.  Some people buy something special for themselves, as a reward or possibly a salve (who hasn’t gone shopping to alleviate some sort of personal distress?).  Others decide to mark their physical bodies in the form of tattoos, piercings, branding, or other forms of body modification.  I live in a city extremely accepting of the latter form of passage marking, so I see a lot of body modification.  Some of it really extreme (The Enigma lives here, or someone who looks a lot like him: I’ve shopped at the grocery store next to him and seen him in the park with his dogs, he’s a pretty nice guy).

My own parents had tattoos.  I remember going to the tattoo studio with my mom and stepdad when she got one of the two butterflies she had on each of her hips.  The artist gave me my own “tattoo” by putting a stencil on me.  My biological father also had a tattoo: he was a Marine and proudly displayed his forearm tattoo.  Then I got older and most of my friends had tattoos, including my husband.  Some of them were incredibly astonishing pieces of artwork and I admired them greatly.  I’ve wanted to get one of my own for some time but an early experience with nose piercing made me puncture shy.  I realize a nose piercing isn’t quite the same as a tattoo, but the psychological damage was done (damn thing never healed: I gave up after almost a year).

Not only that, I could never come up with a design that I really liked and felt like I would want on my body, forever.  Being a mehndi artist was helpful in this endeavour because it showed me that oftentimes, even if I absolutely adored a design I had done, I was sick of it after two or three weeks.  To be fair, mehndi is not tattooing.  A piece of mehndi art will look very different after a couple of weeks than it does after a couple of days, usually being much less attractive.  Nevertheless, I took that as a warning signal about my own potential fickleness regarding body art.  I relented somewhat when I did develop a few pieces of art that I found myself repeatedly applying, or redrawing to keep fresh.  I couldn’t help but notice that they were all bits of spiritual imagery: a yin-yang, an OM, and images of the Buddha or other deities.

One day I was recalling an old design I had kicked around of something phoenix-like.  I’m quite enamored with the imagery of the phoenix, a mythical bird that dies and then rises again from its own ashes.  I really couldn’t think of a more appropriate image to go with the course of my life, which has tried to kill me more than once, if not physically, then certainly emotionally.  Each time, albeit slowly sometimes, I would come back, usually stronger (Nietszche was right about that anyway!).  I was suddenly struck Muse-like by the image of what I wanted.

Wings.  Big ones.  Big, flaming phoenix wings with green, blue, and purple metallic scaly highlights.  A pile of ash beneath them, still glowing with fire.  I can visualize my own back in just the way I want it all to look.

Fantasies aside, that’s a shitload of ink to load into the skin and would probably take many, many hours (not to mention dollars) to fulfill.  Pieces like that are done in several sessions. While I will have my wings someday, I would like to have something to mark my growth over the last year or so a little sooner.  I still want a phoenix though.  Something like one of the following:

Just, smaller so it will fit on an arm or a leg.  I think it’s a remarkable accomplishment that I have made it to the age of not-quite-40 and bear very little resemblance to the highly disturbed people I had to grow up around.  My only major addiction was cigarettes (emphasis on the *was*), I still have all of my own teeth and of those have very few cavities, I have an amazing circle of friends without which I would surely have shuffled myself off the coil long ago, I have a husband who adores me and without whom I would have suffered a fate similar to having no friends, I have a daughter who tells me just about every day how awesome I am and how much she loves me, I have a home that I have been in for over twelve years (astonishing after moving an average of once for every year of my life until the age of 27), I have a small herd of cats that I have nurtured into old age and who provide me with a lot of joy and company, and I seem to have the ability to examine myself closely in the proverbial mirror and not only identify my flaws, but actually work on them.  I have a well-functioning bullshit meter, I know when someone’s trying to screw me over, I know where my boundaries are and aren’t afraid to point them out when others fail to notice (as politely as possible), and I am in general so different from my parents that I feel I give myself short shrift by not appropriately acknowledging those things.  By all psychological and hereditary indicators I should be a complete basketcase, and I’m not.  I really feel I ought to mark that.  I deserve that ackowledgement.

So that’s one of my goals this year.  To give myself an indelible reminder of how far I have come and how truly remarkable it is that I’m not dead, crazy, or suffering an extremely dysfunctional life of some form.

Now, my Texan fingers are cold.  I bid you adieu for the day.

The Death of a Passion

I’ve been going through a lot of changes this year, many of which I’m quite sure I’m not even aware of yet and won’t be until I can look back on 2010 with some context and perspective.  Astrologically speaking, this was the end of my Pluto Square, which is one of the top three major life-changing transits that people go through in their lives and correlates to what we refer to as the Midlife Crisis (TM).  I’ve spent a great deal of time for the last two years feeling like I have utterly wasted the first thirty-odd years of my life, mostly because where I am now has absolutely NOT met the expectations that I and others set up for me when I was growing up.  Looking back I realize I was shoehorned into the unenviable position of being that first family member who’s supposed to go to college and make something of themselves and redeem the rest of the family.

*great guffaws of laughter ensue*

Firstly, that’s a cruel thing to do to your children.  Secondly, given the people I grew up around, there’s no way I would ever do anything to make them look better than they were, either purposefully or unconsciously.  So I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to extricate myself from those expectations, and believe me, it was the self-imposed ones that gave me the most trouble.  They had their hooks in good.

During that process, I went through a lot of ruminating about what it is that makes me happy, what it is that I feel is supposed to make me happy, the difference between the two, and how to go about setting my path up properly so that I actually AM happy.  Or at the very least, content.  I often wonder if true happiness isn’t a pipe dream and that the most any of us can hope for is contentment.  But that’s another post.

Oddly, I wound up ditching one of the things that had made me extremely happy for several years: mehndi, the art of applying henna paste to the skin in decorative patterns.  I learned how to do mehndi back in 2000 when a friend of mine had a workshop in which she prepared a massive bowl of henna and then gave everyone little plastic cups, paintbrushes, and toothpicks to draw on themselves with.  I sat down with my cup and my brush and drew a spiral on my left palm.  I carefully left the paste to dry for a few hours, then flaked it off and stared with utter wonder at the entrancing orange stain the green mud had left upon my hand.  That was only the beginning.

Through the magic of chemistry, the dye molecule in henna, lawsone, oxidizes with the air, slowly turning darker and changing color from orange to red to brown over the next 48-72 hours.  Indeed, a mehndi pattern is a living piece of art, for it is different from day to day, sometimes hour to hour.  I spent those two to three days utterly entranced by my hand.  I would find myself just staring at it, marveling at the color and the small details of the palm of my hand that I had heretofore never seen.  Mehndi drew my attention to details of my own body and as such was extremely grounding.  Something I have always needed.

The next Monday after the campout we were all attending, I went to an Indian grocery store as soon as it was open and bought my first box of henna.  Reshma brand, $1.99 for an 8 oz. box.  Possibly some of the crappiest henna available, though I didn’t know it yet.  I also went to BookPeople, Austin’s finest bookstore, to look for books.  I found a copy of Loretta Roome’s “Mehndi”, which to this day is one of the most beautiful books about henna ever published, and is regrettably now out of print.  With that box of powder and that book, a passionate obsession was born.  I spent the next two years deeply engaged in exploring this strange form of body art that almost no one in the West understood beyond knowing that Madonna had some on her hands in her “Frozen” video.

I took a break from mehndi when I got pregnant with my daughter.  The last piece I did before she was born was in honor of her impending arrival.

Obviously since my hands were constantly busy for the next two to three years after Zoe was born, there was zero opportunity to do mehndi.  I doubt I would have wanted to even if I had the time, for I was utterly exhausted and depressed for those first years.  As she got older, though, I slowly had the opportunity to rekindle my art.

In 2006, I found an online community of mehndi artists at The Henna Page, a website run by a woman who probably knows more about henna and mehndi than any other living soul on the planet.  In fact, she has a PhD in henna and its history, which extends back for many thousands of years and predates virtually any other form of body adornment.  Through that community I was exposed to more patterns and techniques, not to mention finally having a group of people with whom I could talk about my art.

The following year, I had the opportunity to attend the Sin City Henna Conference in Las Vegas, which will remain a singularly beautiful week in my memory for as long as I live.  For the first time, I got to watch other people do mehndi.  Up to that point, it had just been me for the previous seven years.  I had been learning and practicing in a vacuum, the bell jar to which was lifted and thrown away when I went to Vegas.  I did very little art that week, but I watched, and it sunk in.  I returned home to find that my abilities as an artist had easily tripled.

I finally felt worthy to do what my friends had been encouraging me to do since I had started seven years before: start a business.

Enter Laksmi Skin Art, later to be Bodhi Body Art.  Laksmi is the Hindu goddess of prosperity, fertility, and abundance.  She is said to live within the designs themselves, which is why Hindu brides and grooms are always decorated with mehndi, so that the blessings of Laksmi will be bestowed upon the newly married couple.  The tradition of wedding mehndi is deep and rich.  Some traditions call for the husband’s name to be hidden in the bride’s designs for him to find on their first night together: he can do nothing more with her until he finds his name (that sounds so fun! and can you get more romantic?).  Mehndi had always been a meditative practice for me as well as an artistic one.  I felt it would be rude to attempt to turn something so sacred into a business without properly honoring Laksmi.

Regrettably, my business never did very well.  I live in a city where mehndi is fairly accepted and there were already several well-entrenched artists here with whom I had to compete.  I also soon discovered that competition is fierce and unfriendly, with a couple of exceptions.  I suffered through being outright ignored by other artists as well as having my art stolen from my website by yet another, who didn’t seem to understand that just because she found it on Google image search didn’t mean it was free for her to take.

Not to mention that I was increasingly battling the growing trend of “black henna”, which isn’t henna at all: it’s concentrated black hair dye (paraphenyldiethylamine, PPD) made into a paste and drawn on the skin in the same sorts of patterns.  It stains almost instantly, lasts for weeks, and happens to be a potent toxin that renders many people highly allergic to just about anything made of certain kinds of plastic.  It also leaves scars in the shape of the original design.  And the unknowing public LOVES it, because it’s fast, easy, cheap, and long-lasting.  Reactions to it happen sometimes weeks after the initial application, and may also happen after using it for a long time without incident.

I also had another mark against me: I’m not Indian.  Now, before someone gets all upset and accuses me of being racist, please understand that’s not where I’m coming from.  The tradition of mehndi as associated with weddings is deeply entrenched in family as well as religion, and I cannot say that if I were an Indian that I would not also want another Indian, preferably a family member, to do mine or my daughter’s wedding mehndi.  That is their sacred tradition, and I am not disparaging that.  I was simply not what that demographic in my city wanted, and the other areas of business were fairly monopolized by the other artists.

Nevertheless, it was a contributor in a whole melange of factors that eventually led to my abandoning my business this year.  The sacred thread that I tried to keep within it was constantly violated by the general selfishness of American capitalism.  People didn’t care one whit about the energy and time that I had put into my art, nor that it was something sacred to me.  They wanted their art done, they wanted it done their way, and they wanted it done cheaply and quickly.  After being repeatedly disrespected, not to mention stolen from on more than one occasion (who steals a Buddha? talk about bad karma!), I abandoned my venture.  The passion had been sucked right out of my art.  I simply did not care about it anymore.  It was too difficult to compete for business, which was increasingly scarce due to the tanking economy, and too difficult to maintain the positivity necessary to keep my chin up.  I was also sick of doing business alongside and competing with the “black henna” artists along with hacks who had no business putting art on people and charging money for it in the first place.

I was glad not to have to worry about the business things anymore.  It was a serious pain in the ass, and I was getting so little return in exchange for what I was putting into it.  Regrettably, I should have killed my business much sooner, because it killed my passion for my art.  And I miss it.  I miss the exciting pull of a bag of freshly made henna cones, just waiting to freshly stain skin with something beautiful.  Part of the problem was (is) that I completely lost perspective of my own art.  Everyone around me oohed and aahed over my designs, positively gushing over how beautiful they were, but I couldn’t see it anymore.  Everything I did looked like ass to my eyes, no matter how much people praised it.  And perhaps most importantly for that reason, I stopped doing mehndi this year.  I was no longer compelled to sit for hours as I once had, just lost in the trancelike mindset I would achieve bent over a hand or a foot.

Ironically, getting really fucking good at my art is part of what changed that dynamic.  When I wasn’t very good, I had to spend hours doing it, and because I wasn’t living up to anyone’s expectations except my own, I was able to enjoy the discipline for what it was without judging the outcome.  By telling myself that I needed to be better and faster in order to run a business, I took that away from myself, and if I had realized at the time that’s what I was doing, I never would have started a business.

I haven’t done any mehndi on myself in months.  The last time I did, I was utterly UNcaptivated by my own skin as I had been in the past.  The process of applying the mehndi did not fill me with peace as it once had.  Rather than lovingly caring for the designs as they slowly faded from my skin, I found myself wishing they would hurry up and fade so I wouldn’t have to look at them anymore.

I still wish I knew precisely what happened, and whether or not the passion for my art will ever return.  I do miss it, though I think I miss the state of mind more than anything else.  I didn’t just lose a passion, I lost something sacred.  And I am still looking for it.