The Finger and The Moon

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Coming back today after a swift dip into the Dark Side.  This time I was triggered by an encounter.  I knew I was being triggered, felt the color bleed out and a numbness spread into my limbs.  Under the fear and vulnerability, a part of my brain murmured, “Huh. This is different.”  There is almost never a direct cause and effect to my flavor of bipolar disorder.  Watching something specific set me off was a new experience (I think.  My memory is Swiss cheese, after all).

At the time, I was horrified that I’d gotten myself in a position to be triggered, hated that I got sucked into opening up to someone I wanted to trust.  But, I also sent out an SOS to my Posse, and started Doing the Work, as my friend, Lily, says.

Part of The Work was to separate the event from the subsequent bipolar episode.  It’s like remembering that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.  If you stare at the finger, that’s all you see.  Moonlight glints off the nail bed. It can be hypnotizing.  I dealt with the finger and was required to turn and face the moon.  The moon is familiar.  I know how to look at it—I have tools to deal with lunacy.  And I know that patience and acceptance is the only way to get through the night.

Another part of the Work was to hold in my mind that I was successful in turning away from the finger.  My sad and flagellating brain berated me for looking at it in the first place, but I had plenty of other voices telling me otherwise.  My posse told me I was brave to take a chance and compassionate as I gazed at it.  I needed lots of help to keep turning away and remembering that the moon was the proper focus of my attention.

I went through some white-knuckle days, but kept reaching out to the people who love me.  That act alone can be so hard when your brain tells you it’s weak, wrong, bothersome.  Oh, the crap our brains can tell us!

Today, I am so grateful for my friends and family.  And I’m even grateful for the luminous moon.

If you’re familiar with the Buddhist teaching about the finger and the moon, forgive me for bastardizing it.  I needed a way to separate the event from the symptoms that followed.  This worked for me.

The Weekly Penny Positive


As I work with less Making and more Space to allow whatever arises, I find the
art that calls me rich with meaning and joy. I’m holding a tentative idea about making little boxed sets of tiny (1 1/2 X 2 inches) Penny Positives—like this sweet thing that sprouted this morning.

Another Conversation

“There’s so much space here,” she said.

His eyes smiled. You’re not afraid anymore.

“Is that weird? It happened so fast.”

It’s happened before.

“I thought there was something really wrong.”

You thought there was something missing.

“I always think there’s something missing.”

Always? No.

“I feel calm here… content.”

There’s nothing to do, nothing to want, nothing to change…

“I don’t want to leave. Not yet. If I leave now, it makes what brought me here not real—not serious.”

It was real then. Doesn’t have to be real now.  His head tilted like a crow. Does it feel time to leave?

“Maybe. I don’t want to rush. I don’t want to rush anything.”

Like the art.

“Yes.  I’m letting it in—the pieces that call me. Not the stuff that feels like work. Some of it smells bad.”

He smiled. Anxiety-stink.

“Yes. Exactly.”

If you go, you can always come back. You could come sit with us. Anytime.

“That feels right. I’d like that.”

Stay or leave or do both. We’ll be here.

The Weekly Penny Positive

Even though I’m not arting right now (and sitting very uncomfortably in that Void), I’ve made almost 120 larger Penny Positives.  Since this is #67, I can keep posting them for a while.

This blank space is very weird.  My mind scrambles to pick something up.  Anxiety burns my gut and my sleep.  Breathing helps.  Listening to my old collection of “sound healing” music helps (Steven Halpern, Jonathan Goldman, Carlos Nakai), paying attention to the discomfort helps.  I have to believe this is an incubation period.  I have to trust that this is a process.  Otherwise, I’m just left with delusion and distorted thinking.  What is truth and what is insanity?  I never know.

So, I wait.

Void

Slowly, over the past several months, the desire to make dribbled out of me until yesterday I couldn’t stand to snip one more little piece of paper.  After an SOS to my art friends, they reassured me that this happens to them, too.  They suggested changing mediums, lying fallow for a time, or taking up something radically different.

I started a drawing class at our local art guild, hoping for social contact and a reconnect of some kind with an old skill that I used to love.  Neither wish has been granted so far, despite sweaty effort to clear a path through my mental minefields.

I’m frightened.  Arting is my last, best safety net, the place I can always go when the bipolar demons scream the loudest.  It’s gone for now, and I can’t imagine what to do with this void or how I’ll manage.

I’m bone and brain tired, so I know enough not to make more of this than it is.  Something will present itself.  There’s plenty of room for it to wander in.  Until then, I guess I wait with empty hands.

Gratitude Snapshot

Sitting at my desk, mellow and comfortably in the middle of my bipolar spectrum, Emmett’s tail touches my leg in a whisper.  Rhythmic, gentle, it asks for attention.  But his little bowl holds fresh food, so I wait, knowing my non-answer will send him to investigate.

Our communication is easier without Henry.  While I still miss my Companion, I give thanks for this time with Emmett—to offer him more and to open to his lessons.

There is only Today, this Moment—the quiet of a Sunday morning, the rumble of a train, a clock ticking, the faintest whiff of vinegar from my cleaning lady’s efforts.

The air conditioner kicks on.  Time to settle into a project for the day.

Choosing to be Vulnerable…or Not


“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are
when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved
and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed
and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time…
Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world
but to unglove ourselves so that the door knob feels cold
and the car handle feels wet
and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being
soft and unrepeatable.”

 

~ Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Over the past several weeks, the concept of vulnerability and its importance to intimacy has followed me like a stalker.  At the same time, I heard from a friend about how sad and hurt she is over my silence and disconnect; I swore at my sister (via text) for the first time in my life; and I annoyed another close friend with my narcissism (my words, not hers).

I believe without a doubt that I’ve lost the ability to listen deeply to others.  Compassion and caring used to be important to me.  They were qualities I purposefully cultivated and practiced.  I believed in the power of kindness to change the world around me.  I have also felt that belief dribbling out of me over the past decade.  I’m easily annoyed and impatient with other people’s problems. I avoid social settings and leave when I feel my tolerance unraveling. Mental illness has made me guarded, judgmental and mean.

There’s a reason therapists caution against isolation—not just because human connection is vital to all forms of health, but because the mentally ill are already vulnerable, and making real connections with others requires us to risk being more vulnerable.  It’s too hard, too painful.  So much easier to barricade behind thicker and thicker walls, then complain about being lonely.

I can see the path I’m on leading to life as a hermitic sociopath.  Maybe I’ve binge-watched too much Dexter, but I can identify with his lack of empathy and complete self-absorption.

Then, Tara Brach, or my therapist, or an article in a magazine suggests an alternative path—to “unglove” as Mark Nepo puts it.  It’s painful and terrifying.  It seems like too much work that requires more courage, more bad-assery, more, more, more.  To be fair, Tara suggests gentleness and tiny acts of willingness.  I’m not being asked to tear down the walls, just look at them.  Or sit with my back against them and feel their warmth and strength.  Still, I don’t know that it’s worth it.

And I don’t know if I have a choice.

 

 

 

 

 

A Year in Oklahoma

I try to follow a couple of rules with this blog—tell the truth and wait for the gift before posting.  When those are in conflict (the “truth” can be darn ugly when my bipolarness is in the Black), I tend to keep quiet.  As Dr. Phil’s dad told him once, “Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut.”  A dear friend reminded me that I’ve been quiet a long time, so I’m here today with my truth and my gifts, such as they are.

It’s a perfect day in Oklahoma—sunny, 72 degrees bound for 81, a gentle breeze.  I will have been here a year this week— my willingness to accept and adapt, my participation in the world around me, and the focus of my life have gone through as many rollercoaster rides as my moods.  Today I am content and grateful for the gentle weather, the Work, and the projects that put art in the center of my life.  Here’s what I’m working on now.

I bought a $2 book at my favorite antique mall for the quotes, then tore the rest of the pages out to make background papers for cards and whatever else might need funky paper.  This is my kitchen counter this morning.

Right now, my studio table is putting together three new Libra cards.  I’ve loved the beading work on this one.  And I can look out the window at my “Rock Garden” and the first doo-dad planted there—a peace pole that says “Be a Steward of the Earth” (a reminder for me to get out and pick up trash).

 

In my bedroom, I’m thrilled with the utility cart I got from Dick Blick.  Everything within reach when I camp out on the bed with Emmett and the latest Netflix binge.  Rolling the cart around still freaks Emmett out, but he freaks easily (A moth got inside recently, which sent him into a frenzy).

Right now I’m working on my spread in our Art Journal Round Robin.  Our group decided to do another round, and the theme for the journal I have now is “Make Me a Garden.”  I had a bunch of tiny portraits, so I’m happily crafting flower hats for them—lilies, Japanese poppies (it tickles me to have Japanese TV characters for these), roses, a bunch of pansies (all men with glasses, though that was not a conscious connection.  It’s weird how my brain works sometimes), a clutch of hydrangea girls and a few oddballs.  I can’t wait to place them in a garden.

I’m also in the process of making my new series of Month cards.  They are more involved and layered with tons of collage elements.  Starting next week, the Civic Center will be hosting an arts/crafts event every first Saturday of the month through October.  I’ll be part of the Muskogee Art Guild’s booth, and I wanted something new mixed in with the other cards I make.  It will be fun to keep a month ahead, adding these cards to my inventory.

I’m also getting my last deck of playing cards ready to become bases for new Penny Positives.  It’s grunt work—covering them with gesso, adding paint, maybe a little design, and a sort of “trademark” to the back.  But, I like how they turn out, so it’s all worth it.

As I mentioned, arting is the center of my life now.  It keeps me from thinking.  I never would have believed that thinking might be something to avoid.  My intelligence was valued and praised as I was growing up, so I strived to be smart.  I discovered this year that thinking can lead me down a dark path where I focus and ruminate on feelings until they turn into truth.  This is the year I learned to get out of my head whenever I could and let my hands do my thinking for me.  I’ve learned that makes for a much more peaceful existence.

I’m 61 and still discovering on this Adventure.  Thank goodness.

 

 

Walk-About

Last Sunday, I took my first neighborhood walk.  I’ve wanted to get out there ever since summer went away, but the excuses… oh the excuses.  Somehow, last Sunday, the bright sun and mild temperatures snuck past all the barriers.  I laced up my purple tennies, stuffed a collection bag in my pocket and went.

My creaky knee complained, but it always complains, so I kept a slow pace.  I sorta had to—my exercise regimen since moving to Muskogee boils down to Old Lady Yoga once a week and maybe a few pool laps once or twice a month.  My old rhythm is gone and a new one hasn’t presented itself, so I’m pushing when I can.  I want to enjoy this place, and getting outside this winter will move my pendulum in that direction.

Leaving Edmond Street, I took Kimberlea Drive.  Traveling east from my duplex toward the country club, the neighborhood perked up—larger homes, sturdier fences, dogs with holiday attire.  I wondered if I’d find enough refuse and biologicals to revive my Walk-About Journal. Is street trash in moderately upscale Muskogee different from a park in Des Moines or the woods near Toledo? This was my mission.

The neighborhood felt familiar—with a few exceptions.  I get this a lot—a sort of Twilight Zone slippage of the space-time continuum—Braums instead of Dairy Queen, Sooners instead of Hawkeyes.  I wonder what cultural cues I’m missing.  My cousin in Tulsa kindly informed me of the real meaning of “bless your heart” (which conveys nothing beatific).  The part of my brain that wrestled with Russian and Vietnamese keeps lighting up.  No wonder I’m so tired.

Once I made it to the golf course, I hobbled to a bench, stretched my grumbling back, and turned my face to the sun.  A whiff of breeze on the waterway, a rustle of fallen leaves. Oh, yeah.  This was the Reason for the Season—to be in a quiet place smelling of sky.  This would be worth the body moans to come.

On my way back, I reminded myself to be present, to notice more detail—the wheat color of the grass, the young couple walking toward me in shorts and tee-shirts, the beauty of a lost Christmas ornament.

And then home again, to be greeted by my Gateway Guardians—Fu Dog, who came with me from Minnesota, and Guillermo the Goat, a recent hire.  I love the entrance to my home, tucked in the back corner of the complex.  My Guardians and a glass bowl full of crystals and stones I’ve managed to keep over the years welcome me with color and meaning.

Inside, I unloaded my foraging finds into soapy water and dug out the appropriate journals.  Some of the biologicals would make nice additions to my little Zen of Mental Illness journal.  The other refuse waited until after Christmas.

As always, Christmas triggered my bipolarness.  It is one thing about this unpredictable condition that I can count on.

I cared for myself the best I could, then tried not to take the whole weepy/distorted thinking/exhaustion personally.  Distraction is key, so before I visited my therapist on Wednesday, I camped at my favorite coffee shop and made trash art gleaned from my walk.  It tickled me, and that’s always the first step back.  One foot after the other, continuing on The Adventure.

Countdown to Muskogee. . . 17

As a liberal Northerner, I have some preconceived beliefs about the South.  When I started looking at them, I realized I needed to bring all of the ugliness into the Light if I was to be happy there.  It was uncomfortable work.  I know enough about belief and selective perception that this work will be ongoing—to be mindful of looking for evidence that supports what I already believe and ignoring evidence to the contrary.  I want to be open to the beauty, the charm, the kindness and good manners of Oklahoma.  I want to love it there.

So, the Work begins.

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