Biodegradable Anger, Compostable Pain

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I once wrote a short poem:

“my heart is a trampoline.

you can jump up and down on it

and I will bounce right back.”

Perhaps that’s not always true.

In fact, it’s just a thing I say to carry on.  The real truth is that my heart also contains a little landfill,

where the buried anger has not quite broken down all the way.  The polymer residue of events and conversations that challenge my tolerance and patience, that cover up the kindness, are like the plastic in the real landfil;

here to stay, it seems.

And somehow I think it’s my job to clean things up. You know, to be healthy and happy.  Just for the sake of relief and enjoyment.  Maybe this is the job of every person, not just mothers tending home and babies. We’re used to cleaning up messes.  Especially the kinds of messes that return every day, like dirty socks to wash and crusty pots to scour, and cat pee— (give that one up!  Only fire works.  And maybe rainwater, but I’m still testing that experiment.  Perhaps acid rain is the main ingredient in Nature’s Miracle.)

Like plastic and animal urine, or war and violence, pain and anger are going to be with me, likely until near the time of my death, when the only thing I can do is give up the exercise of living.  Wouldn’t it have been better for me to give those things up long before that moment?  Maybe it could happen.  That I could achieve a state of enlightenment so brilliant that all of my suffering was disintegrated by luminescent love and gratitude.

I secretly wish for that, but let’s be real for a second: has anyone like that ever existed?  Even Jesus was throwing around tables in the synagogue.  If only I had a table to throw.  That  would be such a relief.

I used to be a ruminating smoker. Here are two of the most unhealthy means of processing anger:  to ruminate brings severe depression, as thoughts circle until there is no way out of the labyrinth, bringing an acute sense of hopelessness, desperation and dependency. To smoke brings loss of life.

Somewhere along the way I was able to put down the cigarettes.   I remember how I did it.  First I started taking a pill that masked the nicotine receptors in my brain, and second, I took up sewing.  Hopeless, empty hands needed a new set of motions.

Over time, I began to feel significant relief from the hopelessness.  What I learned and what I can say with confidence is that anger is biodegradable, even when it regenerates afresh.  But first, it needs to go through processing.  It belongs in the compost bin, not the landfil.  Once processed in this way, the packaging is much more convenient to life.  The processing and composting of my pain involves five specific themes:

The first is a focus on something totally unrelated to the current pain.  Distraction works on toddlers, and apparently also on me.

The second involves a physical activity that accompanies the focus.

The third is a challenging and tedious mental activity that is enmeshed in the focused task.  It’s going to need to be something that takes time—stress chemicals will remain and operate under the surface of everything I do, and leak into conversations and relationships.  An activity that allows for some healthy solitude can be incredibly healing.

The fourth is a clearly defined purpose (example: I’m starting with this pile of scraps to make x.)  Working on creative, artistic activities provides a way to temporarily transform the stain, the black spot in my heart.  It also helps to fill the hollow emptiness of loss.  The results of my efforts are kind of like compost: useful for growth.  Fertile elements from darkness.  Incubators for seeds of future projects.

The fifth involves attention to spirit.  Prayer.  Meditation.  Surrender.  If this attention is also accompanied by time in nature, the result is more lasting and uplifting.  I love to be refreshed in nature.

If you want to skip all five steps and get immediate relief in a short amount of time, hard running also has a similar affect.

If only I were at the point in my skill of composting pain to be able to let all things pass straight through.  To let the anger and the pain burn with their toxic chemicals, to be set free of the negative downward pull on my psyche without the physical, material component.

Perhaps that state of being involves the recognition of something I fail to see in the blurry smear of being upset.  Have I, like a stubborn mule, been led to some refreshing peaceful clean water to drink, but refuse to touch my lips to the surface? How have I missed the message? To simply accept a gift of peace; a thing perhaps undeserved but given, the renewable resource like water for the fire.  The message floats up to me now: release.  Do not attempt escape.

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Editing Selfies and Those Pesky Internal Blemishes

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Facing illness, I’m discovering more habits I have the power to change.  In the process of noticing my compulsive habits, I found that they’re not unmanageable.  I stopped drinking coffee.  And this helped me relax more.  I no longer feel those surges to multi task and force my will into maintaining everything.  In my new herbal tea mindset, things get done, just in a more calm and deliberate manner.  Eating tiny meals has actually eased some stress; I’m saving funds at the grocery store and my jeans now feel comfortable.  I have excellent control with portions now, which means no more isolating hours in the bathroom or expansive bloating.  While I’m not cured, I’m learning how to live my new reality with a positive outlook.

Since recognizing the factor of stress and my bold confrontation with issues, relationships that were complicated are suddenly eased.  In letting go of my hyper expectations for myself, I am better able to let go of my high expectations of others.  Last night after days of feeling resistance and discomfort with a woman I am working with for a pet adoption, I realized that sometimes I’m just too hard on people.  I don’t mean that I’m outright argumentative, pushy or manipulative.  On the outside, I try to be as pleasant and agreeable as possible so not to spark conflict. Instead of impulsively speaking out my feelings I internalize the dialogue that I so want to say. I’m hard on person in the privacy of my own mind.   And struggling with them there changes nothing. It only wastes my energy and joy for living.  But once that loop of cycling dialogue kicks in, it’s hard to break the pattern. Sometimes a long nap or a night’s rest helps me to forget what I was so mad about.  If I have a good creative project, this sometimes helps me work things out and make the peace I long to reclaim.

So just before bed last night, I tried to find a perspective that would allow me to be kinder in my own mind toward this person.  I wondered if they had come in my life to teach me something.

I took a long look at my internal selfie and decided it needed some editing.

Usually when people are rude or unkind, I bolt for fastest route out of the situation and make plans to never have to deal with them again.  Because I don’t like to be uncomfortable and mask my true feelings, which may or may not be based in logic or reason.  Keeping my cool is easier done on the outside, but the furnace inside me wants to blow.

Being kind on the inside matters more than simply acting kind.  I want to genuinely care about people despite their behavior.   And I cannot make this happen without continual work and exposure to the flow of life outside of these four walls. I’d like for the cocoon I’ve created to be burst so that the wings I’ve been developing can be free to take me out and lift me up.

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Heart

Some emotions are too complex and deeply felt to be written.  The layering of feeling over feeling blots out expression and I implode with the encounter, the recognition of what love is doing.  It converts my heart, obliterating my carefully constructed logic.  It bends my rigid stance.  It swallows my vanity, pride and ambition.  Love takes down the armor.

I have a brother who lives near our small hometown in Michigan.  He was the valedictorian of his high school class, and went on to higher education with an undergrad degree in Electrical Engineering and an MBA in finance.  He’s lived the exciting and stressful trajectory of career oriented bachelorhood, only to reach near mid life feeling empty handed and searching for the elusive ideal family.  Yet his serious and often disappointed outlook changes in the presence of his niece and nephew; my daughter and son.  With them he lights up; something in his heart turns toward the sun. It is bittersweet to witness their bond.

It’s a tender image because we live so far away that we only see each other twice a year.  When we have to say goodbye, it hurts.

I’m still reeling from the last goodbye, when my son Elliot hugged and hugged my brother, trying to drag him into our vehicle.  I watched my brother’s face melt like a candle at having to pull those ten year old arms away from his middle.  Then just as Elliot was tucked into the back seat, he reached out his hand to play one last game, calling out the words as he shaped his fists into “rock, paper, scissors….HEART” (What made him think of this?  He said it just came to him at the last minute.)

As we backed out of the driveway, there stood my brother with a small smile, making a heart shape with his hands.

I knew it was for Elliot, and I failed to return the symbol.

Why did I not also make a heart shape in response?  Could he see Elliot returning the sign from the back seat?

I’m left with that image, still floating in my memory while I resist acclimation on my return home.  I’m afraid of losing that feeling of love and loss in the resuming busy-ness of social encounters and home management.  I just want to lay on the couch and mourn.

That there isn’t a way to reverse all the years we’ve lived apart because of my past choices to be free of repression. I’ve used physical distance and mountain ranges to block my accessiblity. Angry and resentful, I needed SPACE to develop my individual pursuit of freedom.  For the last twenty years I’ve been fighting to be free of overbearing  influence and judgement.

It is hard to come home to my beloved exile.  For the first time I experienced an opening.  The possiblity that I could once again live close to the people who are more dear and precious than I realized.

Then there is my daughter.  A twenty year old with more love in her heart than rebellion but grounded in her own purpose that doesn’t include living in the south with me.

Some say that when we travel, it takes time for our souls to catch up.  This week my heart is still in Michigan, a place that I’ve avoided and yet longed for.  Why did gaining my identity have to come with so much loss?  And will I now be more open to ways that I may draw closer, with less resistance, to the ones I left behind?

Here I stand, my hands in the shape of a heart, an image that my brother cannot see because I’m returning it too late.