Though I continue to be committed to moving only as fast as my slowest part feels safe to go, these past nine weeks have been so full I haven’t (till now) found the space to step out of the flow long enough to write my reflections about this remarkable time.
So many nights, as I floated in my hot tub under the stars, I would write fragments in my head. Alas, when morning came there was so much else on my plate, I’d never get to put them in writing. Now there’s enough of a lull, during my monthly sort-of-unplugged week, to sit down and share some of what’s been unfolding. It’s even been quite a while since I’ve had a fully unplugged week. These past three months have involved repeatedly breaking into my silent-times to talk with Barbara (my amazing collaborator-in-charge-of-everything) about the endless things there’ve been to attend to around our getting the new book (Tenderly Embracing All the Ways that I Feel and Am: Journaling to Kindle Gentleness and Compassion for Our Precious Selves) ready to go to press. Mostly, I haven’t minded that the book-prep required me to drop out of my dropping-out weeks, but at moments I’ve so yearned for and missed the days of being off in unbroken solitude for at least one week a month.
The collaboration with Barbara and the book’s emergence are being a totally magical adventure, filled with the Grandmothers’ inspiring and facilitating presence every step of the way. The 8 1/2 by 11 book is absolutely gorgeous, its open-space pages seasoned with seed-thoughts and images that can inspire diving deeply inside oneself. We’re in the last stages of pre-production now and, absent any unforeseen glitches, we might actually go to print by the end of November. It’s all been exciting, absorbing and so time-consuming!
Then, last week, my poor being-in-a-body had a major (and painful) reaction to all the expanding-out-in-the-world of these past two months. (More about this later.) It’s not been just the journaling book moving toward publication.
The interview conversation I had with my friend Justine in July for New Dimensions was broadcast on NPRs worldwide the first week of September. With that came an upsurge in book orders and many emails from as far away as Australia.
On Labor Day, just two days before the broadcast went out, I ventured into doing my first in-person book reading/talk at The Oaks Spa in Ojai. I usually give an hour-long evening talk for their women guests once a year. It seemed like a good first place to do a reading: a small group of not-local women who might or might not engage in a talk/sharing once I’d read the brief chapter called Eating My Way Home. It was a way to put a toe in the water of being out-in-the-world with the book. (Till then all the publicity had been online, social media or radio interviews.) It went delightfully: eighteen women showed up (more than usual) and all stayed for the whole hour (ordinarily, there’s some attrition as women go off for their evening facial or massage appointments). I digressed from the text several times to add other bits of story that came to mind. There was a lively discussion afterward in which a surprising number of the women participated (often not the case there, where the women are strangers to each other). I felt completely comfortable, thoroughly enjoyed my self in the free-wheeling conversation and even sold a few books and decks of the Rememberings and Celebrations Cards. (I always have the women at these talks pick a card for themselves from a basket of cards that I bring to share. This often works to stir meaningful conversation.)
In mid-October I made my annual trek to the east coast to co-facilitate the semi-annual Advanced Overcoming Overeating Weekend Workshop in NYC (with my friend Carol Munter) and to visit (and do an all family-women’s Spa Day) with my stepmom and cousins in Maryland and Virginia. Late this spring, my cousin Joan had raised with me the possibility of having her book club read my book (Go Only as Fast as Your Slowest Part Feels Safe to Go; Tales to Kindle Gentleness and Compassion for Our Exhausted Selves) and then having me be a guest at their October meeting while I was in Virginia. Again, as with the Ojai Spa, it seemed like a safe way to further explore being out in the world with the book and still not with local Ojai people. Seven of the ten members of the club were there along with the other three of my women cousins, the son (who describes himself as the Robyn of his generation: an outlier on a spiritual journey) and the daughter of one of my cousins as well as the daughter of the cousin (Joan) who hosted the event. We were fourteen in all for a catered dinner and the book discussion afterward. Joan had asked if I wanted to do a talk but I demurred. Instead, I suggested that they do whatever they usually do when discussing a book and that I be available for questions and to put my two cents into the dialog if I had anything to add along the way.
It was a delicious experience. The women (and my male cousin) who’d bought paperbacks rather than ebooks had brought them, many stuffed with papers and marked up. The group was quite an eclectic mix and the questions/reflections from the club members and my family members were thoughtful and stimulating. As had been so with the Ojai Spa group, I was comfortable in my own skin – just showing up and being the me I now am everywhere in my life: open, available to receive and respond even to challenging comments/questions or quite different points of view without any shred of defensiveness. None of it felt like a stretch or in any way difficult. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it, both during the meeting itself and afterward in several intimate conversations both with some of the book club members and with my cousin’s two grown children. That I am at peace with and compassionately accepting of all of the ways that I am (warts, foibles, OCD-ness, weirdness, whatever) and the rightness of my way for me, is the source of my ease and my openness in each of these gatherings (and in the radio conversation/interviews as well).
From my experiences in both forays out in public with the book, I see that I’m ready to do more of this if and as the Grandmothers ask it of me. It surprises me to see that. I’m still a little edgy, though, about doing a reading/talk in any of the local Ojai bookselling venues. And, there’s context to this edginess.
People long to be truly heard when they share stories of their struggles. But, so often these days, their listeners are merely marking time till it’s their turn to speak or else trying to offer fixing suggestions to end the problems being talked about so it can be their turn sooner (or even checking incoming texts on their smart phones while someone is talking with them). As a consequence, it’s rare that people feel satisfyingly, compassionately witnessed. Those (and, I know a few of us) who really listen and relate warmly to others with whom we may do business, seem to have some shimmer around us that attracts people to reveal their stories to us. They sense that we can and will listen. It took a lot of work over the years to figure out how to shield my self, while out and about in town doing errands, from being grabbed by people on the street or in stores who’d then begin revealing very personal stuff to me. It’s what I do for a living and what I share mutually with my small circle of close friends, not something I want to be available for at random. Yet, once someone started down such a path, I’d be like a deer in the headlights – unable to break into their flow to free my self from so much unsolicited intimacy.
For a while, I tried simply to keep moving as they said hello. Alas, they’d keep walking alongside me, revealing information about their lives to which I had no business (or interest) in being privy. It made it challenging to go out in the world until I hit upon a way to protect my self. I never left home without imagining that I was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “What makes you think I give a f—k!” It turned out to be a most effective, though invisible, shield. It really worked!
My uneasiness about doing a public reading in Ojai has to do with not wanting to stir things up after all this time of not having to deal with being accosted (how it felt all those times). As I’ve seen with a couple of women I know who also publish very self-revealing books, people who read them feel like they know you intimately and want to share back at that level. (As one of the women from the book club remarked, “I now know more intimate details about your life than I even know about my husband’s, my sister’s or my closest friend’s!”) I remember to remind my self that instances of the too intimate, unsolicited sharing didn’t proliferate during the three years that I hosted women’s circles at my cottage. So, perhaps it will be okay to take the risk if and when the Grandmothers may nudge me out in Ojai. I’ll see.
Other than this concern, all of the expanding and going more public during the past two months has felt easy and juicy. Without the old, undermining commentary of the now transformed Hatchet Lady (my formerly virulent inner critic) there was no emotional backlash to my enjoying the me I am out-in-the world. What I forgot, in my delight with all of this, is that our bodies are slower than our psyches in letting go of old, deeply ingrained patterns of response to situations that once provoked terror and protective constriction.
So, last week I was taken by surprise, suddenly beset with a terribly painful spasm along my right rib cage and down into the top of my hip. It was on a Friday when my chiropractor/angel doesn’t have office hours. Though she’s given me permission to call on a weekend if ever I needed her, I had the sense that I needed to stay with just my own ministrations till Monday and her regular office hours. I grew more and more irritable over the weekend, erupting in rages over every miniscule frustration, cursing and “f- -k, f- -king” almost constantly, often at inanimate objects like hangers or water hoses. I raved and ranted that I couldn’t take it any more, couldn’t stand what was happening in my body, how the spasm/constriction was making everything so difficult to do. Then, I’d repeatedly dissolve into frustrated tears. All the while, some part of me knew all this emotional purging was exactly what I needed to go through right now. That part was a consistent, loving and compassionate mommy to the upset and unraveling self that was having such a hard time. She reminded that self that we were together and we would at some point get through to the other side of this, that the pain would be released.
I hung in there with my erupting self till Monday morning when I went to my chiropractor’s during her drop-in clinic time. She was astonished, as soon as she looked at me, by the shape my whole body was in. It had never in our history together had either these particular twists or this many of them: everything was off-kilter. As always, my body received and responded to her gentle, no-impact/drop-table ministrations though it did take three days in row of return visits (a first for us), a lot of Bach Rescue Remedy, my herbalist’s Spasm-Free tincture and time on a heating pad to finish unraveling all the constriction and spasms. Each day, my raging and tears dwindled and then, they evaporated. I felt lighter and freed.
As my body unwound, I remembered the massive constriction and clenching that was how my body would respond to the emotional abuse/ murderous feelings my mother focused on me each time I succeeded in moving to the next level of anything I was accomplishing out in the world. Most often it had to do with academic milestones but often, through high school, it might have to do with roles I played in stage performances of the drama society. Though my mother’s been dead for forty-two years and the Hatchet Lady (the malevolent version of her that lived in me as my inner critic) retired her fangs almost twenty years ago, the damaged little one in my body-memory is still learning that it really is safe, finally, to feel and be so full with the joy of being our self.
This time as we’re approaching publication, my body-being is – though they’re much less intense this cycle – having many of the experiences I had last year at this time as the first book began moving toward publication. There are moments that I dissolve into tears, intense grief and a sense of great loss. All this without discernable content or any recognizable trigger. The wave comes and I yield to its moving through me. It passes. There are days when, even though I’m eating the very same thing I’ve eaten without any problem the day before, my belly rebels with such sharp pain that the only relief is to heave out whatever is in there. Some days the problem is so persistent, I cannot take any food in. It leaves me feeling battered and bereft.
All there is for any of it seems to be to sit as two with my disturbed and upset little self-in-my-body, to be a tenderly loving mommy reminding her that we’re in this together and that the mean mommy outside us is long gone. That it’s safe for us to be expanding out into the world, sharing what we’ve learned, being and enjoying all of our self without having to fear that mean mommy’s retribution.
And, then there are the moments and days when the excitement about all of this newness in my life fills me with such joy I can barely encompass it all. It feels like I’m at the threshold of a whole new season of my life and learning to trust collaboration is a part of opening into this new chapter whose design I can’t yet see. The journey continues even though the destination is unclear. I trust the process even through the disruptive times.
In the middle of all of this, the garden is arrayed in its most spilling-over magnificence as it readies to slow down into our such-as-it-is winter. Roses and zinnias abound in flagrant color. Lantana, sage and the last of the lavender add light purple touches while nasturtiums bring accents of vibrant red and orange. Everywhere the intense greens and bronzes of lettuces, oregano, mint and arugula overflow their pots even as many of the still-burgeoning varieties of kales are succumbing to the annual influx of grey aphids (that I’m too lazy to hose or rub off every morning). Another round of Sweet 100s cherry tomatoes is ripening along with some half dozen baby Persian cucumbers. A few remaining yellow blossoms are offering promise that some more beefsteak tomatoes may yet appear. The persimmons are ripening in shades of neon orange, providing as always, holiday decorations for Halloween now and surely on through Christmas. The Meyer lemon is filled with tiny green lemons-to-be and also covered over in fragrant lemon blossoms.
On a single day last month a very young, so-ugly-it-was-cute possum was wandering around the patio at dusk; then, a great horned owl was hoo-hooing in the pine tree just above my hot tub as I floated there and finally, the local coyotes launched into one of their hilarious across-the-Valley joke fests that made me giggle. Just yesterday, as I was unloading refilled jugs of good water to use for my hummingbird feeders, a hawk flew right above my head into the palm tree under which my car was parked (at the fence edging my meadow). Magical!
Trees here are turning lovely colors though surely in very small measure compared to those in more strongly seasonal climates. And, the dazzling blue skies of Ojai fall are filled with enormous puffy cumulous clouds that are a joy to watch as they move and transform throughout the day. Orion is now just overhead in the evenings when I go to float for a while in my hot tub
I spent the better part of a week in late September leveling an extended pad in the meadow for a new, larger tent than I’ve ever used. Lots of digging up, raking and leveling gopher mounds, laying/spreading upward of 750 pounds of play sand (to prevent ground mold under the tent) then, covering that with tarps before finally raising the tent on my own (much easier than some of the smaller tents I’ve put together in past years). This tent is one that allows me to enter and move about in it standing up rather than crouching into it (I decided it was time to be kinder to my aging body). It’s an eight-person tent (necessary size to get the height I wanted) so it looks like a pavilion, big enough to have guests in or to add a desk and couch – not that I’d consider any of that! I could have had help to do all of it but chose to do it alone so I could move as slowly as felt comfortable for me, taking many breaks along the way. I loved every bit of the process, feeling the Grandmothers helping here and there. Sadly, the gophers have taken to tunneling under the tent. Now, a growing and crisscrossing maze of runnels of subsidence has developed under its floor, sigh! As yet, there’s still an area big enough for my double-bed size foam pad to rest on level ground. Maybe not for long, though. I’m considering putting a sheet of plywood under the bed pad when their tunnels undermine this last patch of uncompromised ground. Needless to say I walk around in there upright but very carefully.
There are other tales to tell from these nine weeks, but I’m going to try to write them in some shorter pieces over the next little while. (Barbara keeps encouraging shorter more frequent Blog-entries…I’m trying to move in that direction, obviously not always succeeding, sigh.)