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Archive for the ‘Centering’ Category

 

This is part 3 of a series.

 

3

 

 

As I walked, panic-stricken, out of the dentist’s Park Slope office that cold, grey Wednesday, the temporary filling in fractured molar # 14 drilled out and packed with cotton, I thought: This goddamn dentist doesn’t know what she’s doing.  She’s a quack.  After all, she hadn’t told me in the first place how much Ibuprofen I could take.  And why hadn’t she written me a ‘script for antibiotics and Percoset and started the procedure that Friday?  I believed that this woman — this young, serious Russian woman — whom I’d been seeing for almost five years, was a quack, good with the fillings and cleanings but sub-par on the more complex issues.  But that all-too-familiar cold, growing fear rose up again, and my thoughts started spiraling: my health was in terrible danger, and that by instructing me to keep my drilled-out infected tooth packed with cotton she was leaving me vulnerable to a worse infection.  I imagined that when I’d have my mouth open to change the cotton some rogue germ or virus floating around my not-so-immaculate bathroom would somehow alight in the tooth pulp and flutter its way into my system, eventually causing all sorts of dreaded symptoms.  Yes, she’d given me stronger, more broad-spectrum antibiotics, but they would no doubt disastrously compromise my immune system, compounding side effects upon symptoms.  And what toxic ingredients (tested on animals, no doubt) were in the mouthwash she’d also prescribed, and how would they further tax my body? I had absolutely no doubt that I’d be sitting for hours in some crowded, gun-shot-wound emergency room, the harried, uncaring nurses ignoring me as infection spread and I finally had a heart attack.  Or, if not that scenario, then having to run from doctor to doctor for weeks and weeks as one after another tried to “cure” me of the side effects of all the medications I’d tried and then jettisoned.  I’d be so emotionally screwed-up I’d never write again.  Forget writing — I’d never be able to live again.  I’d end up like my clinically depressed brother-in-law, so crippled by anxiety I’d never be able to leave the house.  And then, eventually, I’d be homeless, like my sister.

Overwhelmed by worry, doubts and that cold, pure fear I rushed into another dentist’s office on the way home to get a second opinion.  He seemed non-plussed, like what she’d said was absolutely correct.  Walking out, I wasn’t reassured.  I scanned all possibilities: What if I hadn’t described the problem correctly?  What if I’d been too nonchalant, and in trying to cover my panic glossed over some important detail?  I kept scanning, trying to reconstruct the scene in my mind as I walked toward my apartment, but my thoughts were spiraling too fast.

For the rest of the day and into the evening I paced back and forth through the apartment, alternately crying then trying to meditate and talk myself down.  I obsessively checked my face and the root canal site every couple of minutes in different mirrors, in different lights and from different angles, for signs of worsening infection, for any changes to the swelling, for even miniscule anomalies.  At one point I thought the infection had spread to the other side of my face, and so I called the dentist in a panic just as she was leaving for the day.

“Sharon, please go to the emergency room,” was her response.  “Or take some Benadryl.  It might just be an allergic reaction to the antibiotic.”

I was absolutely certain then that she’d put me in danger.  I was so immobilized by fear that I just sat down in the rocking chair and rocked back and forth, shaking and crying.  When David came home from work I was pacing the apartment, crying, hyperventilating, and calling every friend who’d ever had a dental procedure.  I even called my childhood best friend Georgie Kowalski, a registered nurse, to ask her if the information I’d gotten from my insurance’s 24-hour helpline (which I’d called twice, to compare the advice) made sense to her.  She couldn’t fathom why I was so upset, and at one point she even laughed at me when I told her the pain I’d felt over the weekend made me feel like I was experiencing the suffering of all beings.  She thought I was being funny.  When David saw me examining my face in different mirrors for the millionth time he decided to call in sick the next day because he didn’t want me to be home by myself.  And when it was time to change the cotton before bed and rinse with the mouthwash I felt it imperative to disinfect every bathroom surface that my hands, the mouthwash bottle, and the plastic bag I kept the cotton in would touch; it took about an hour.  Before I went near my teeth I washed my hands, wrists, and arms thoroughly with very hot water, as if I were scrubbing up for surgery. Even after all that I set a paper towel down under the bag, and made sure the hand with which I opened the bag was not the hand with which I touched the cotton, in case any germ that had managed to escape the disinfecting surface spray might’ve attached itself to the bag.  It took four tries to get the tiny piece of cotton inside the tooth because my hand was shaking so much, and after every failure I had to scrub up again.  I went to bed exhausted, and fell asleep right, but then woke up from a vivid nightmare a few hours later: I was about to travel back in time, to the past, to heal my tooth.  But I wouldn’t be able to come back to my present life, and the decision couldn’t be reversed.  I shot up so violently in bed that I woke David up.

“What?  What’s going on?” he asked.

“I don’t want to have to travel back to the past to heal my tooth!” I screamed.

“You’re just having a bad dream,” he said, reaching out to hold me.

I shook him off.  “No!  I have to leave in four hours!  What time is it?  How can I get out of this?  I won’t be able to come back!”

“You’re having a nightmare!” he repeated, and I realized he was right.  I got up and took a Xanax, fell back asleep and had another nightmare: I was back in my old neighborhood, visiting the house of my former bully Lori Kruliszewski.  It was after midnight, and I had to walk back home along Racine Avenue, now a dark river of tall, thick prairie grass under a brilliant Big Dipper.  I turned around to go back to the house I’d just left, but a pair of hands grabbed me from behind, under my arms, and lifted me off the ground.  I knew the person who’d grabbed me was Pluto himself, abductor of Persephone, and I was going to end up in the Underworld.  I bolted upright in bed again, and this time stayed awake, pacing and checking my face, until the scalding morning light came blazing through the kitchen window.  I couldn’t bear the light, and so locked myself in the bathroom and sat on the floor.  Next to the toilet was a book I’d been reading (years ago, it seemed) called Pluto: the Evolutionary Journey of the Soul.  Just then I remembered something: my astrologer friend Brant had told me I was going to have something called a “Pluto transit.”  What was that? I tried to remember, but couldn’t quite recall its meaning.  And he’d said something about a Jupiter-trine-something-or-other on March 23.  What was all that?  I knew I’d researched it when he told me, but it was just a foggy memory that I couldn’t wrap my mind around.

By the following week the infection had cleared up (along with my tongue, which had turned black from the mouthwash — an additional source of panic and constant checking, and occasion for more calls to my insurance’s helpline), and the root canal proceeded normally, twice a week for a month.  But the anxiety continued, and worsened, until I could only leave the house for the dental appointments.  Walking to the dentist along Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, I was wishing that our landlord would decide to sell the building — an idea that had been floating around since he’d given up his private accounting business the previous winter.  The look of Fifth Avenue between Degraw Street and 9th Street, where the dentist’s office was, kept reminding me of my whirling-mind trek between those two points on March 23.  Plus, I could no longer function normally in the apartment: instead of waking up in the morning as I normally did — slowly, reluctantly, begrudgingly — a rush of adrenaline would pop me up like a puppet.  The sight of approaching daylight through the kitchen window heightened that feeling of cold dread, whereas it had once brought ideas for poems and stories: mornings had always been my writing time.  If I didn’t want to be reminded of March 23, I really didn’t want to be reminded that I’d lived a “normal” life (as normal as life can be for a poet) before that.  I had loved the look of the afternoon light through the bay windows in the living room, through the sheer green curtains, but now I kept the dark blue shades pulled down, and avoided as much as I could the bright kitchen.  I had loved that kitchen window so much, with its view of unobstructed sky, low Brooklyn rooftops and the Williamsburgh Bank clock tower, referenced by Patti Smith in her song “Gloria” — I always got a kick out of living so close to “the big tower clock.”  Now, though, I couldn’t even bring that song to mind.  I couldn’t bear music, and I couldn’t even look at a newspaper or magazine.   And forget books.  It hurt just to have them in the same room.  I remained curled up in bed, ate packaged soups and slices of bread, watched old TV shows on a rerun channel all day long and kept the magnifying mirror close by, to check for unexpected changes to the root canal site: if the swelling had returned, if my skin was turning yellow (I’d read on the patient insert that jaundice was one of the side effects of the stronger antibiotic); if the blackness on my tongue had come back.  I called Georgie almost every day and ran “what if” scenarios past her as they occurred.  I called my friend with the psycho-pharmacologist + therapist + internist for advice (which made the panic worse; I soon stopped doing that).  I began picturing myself watching Lawrence Welk reruns with my brother- and mother-in-law.  My mother-in-law asked nothing of Tom, never even suggested he make an attempt to get out of his own head, and in my fantasy she also asked nothing of me, and I’d spend the rest of my days in a void of comforting changelessness, my limited travels conveniently, comfortingly demarcated by goat paths.  Nothing unexpected or threatening could possibly happen, ever again.

 

Sharon Mesmer’s most recent poetry collections are The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose 2008) and Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books 2008). Fiction collections are In Ordinary Time and The Empty Quarter (Hanging Loose 2005 and 2000) and Ma Vie à Yonago (Hachette, in French translation 2005). Other poetry collections include Vertigo Seeks Affinities (Belladonna 2006), Half Angel, Half Lunch (Hard Press 1998) and Crossing Second Avenue (ABJ Press, Tokyo 1997). Four poems appear in the newly released Postmodern American Poetry—A Norton Anthology (second edition) Her work has also appeared in Poetry, The Wall Street Journal, New American Writing, The Brooklyn Rail, Women’s Studies Quarterly, West Wind Review, Abraham Lincoln, esque, Poets for Living Waters, and The Scream. An excerpt of her story, “Revenge,” appears in I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women (Les Figues). She teaches at NYU, the New School, and online for the Chicago School of Poetics.

 

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Imagine mornings are boats.

 

Sleeping boats.

 

Morning startles and is gentle. Saturday, there is no noise from construction, only passing cars. Now a ball bouncing and the sound of a father’s voice. Animal and human beings support the world. And plants and dishes. The physical world sleep and buttress.

 

All the revolutions that enter into a single decision. The world is near.

 

Intuition and the physical world: important distinctions. Distinctions are not separations. The world is not separate from itself. All different modes of knowledge work together.

 

 

The Body

 

The body is in the body.

 

What is held in the body—

 

There is some deciphering and then also creating a whole of language in which to listen to the body —

 

What are we afraid of in the body?

 

 

Music

 

I lived with a man who played guitar and our house was always filled with music, even when it was quiet. His music ran more deeply than mine, as in the end, I chose poetry, but the grief and home of music never left me. I haven’t sung for a long time. The other day, I sang (and I use the word generously) along with a Songs: Ohia song and my heart just broke. Sometimes the ache for music is so deep. My friend and I once said, talking about poetry, that melody is everyone’s downfall. It is also a rising that gathers everything around it. I want this music in my home again.

 

 

Saturday

 

I am wondering what to do with my day.

 

It is half-overcast but the autumn sun is still bright.

 

Proof, evidence and truth are not all the same thing when you’re trying to make a decision. When you make a decision based on gut, you sometimes have to wait to see if it was the right decision, leading you in the direction of growth and health and right action. You can’t make decisions based on the future. Trust your intuition but also allow space for the unknown. This is a constant juggle.

 

Becoming stuck in assumed preordained patterns is not intuition. It’s stories. There are helpful stories that give us ground and hope and tradition and cosmic consciousness and there are stories that limit us. Open to the mythic and archetypal, look for passion and heroism in the stories of life — these hero journeys are powerful and all of us are on our own journey. But the stories that we repeat over and over, on auto-pilot, that reinforce the disappointments and hurts in our lives are just broken records — these do not move us forward, they hold us back out of fear and an inaccurate self-image. We can work to see through to our core of heroism and courage.

 

It’s also a way of honoring the present and being where we are.

 

When we don’t feel the need to walk super fast and get somewhere quickly, we slow down and stop rushing. We enjoy what we’re doing instead of having a flight or fight stress response.

 

Life doesn’t stop. It goes on gloriously. So we’re not stopping. We’re letting life rush through us instead of rushing through life. We are open to being changed by experience. New synapses form.

 

 

A Surveyor Comes to the Outskirts of —–

 

We navigate by our stories — but we also need to let them go to let life be what it really is.

 

Freedom: what comes unbidden.

 

Listen for messages. They’re in everything. Look for what comes up not automatically, but naturally, out of an unbidden place. Not habitual thoughts and perceptions, but thoughts, ideas, sensations, images that seem to come out of nowhere.

 

Tarot and journeying, all kinds of divination practices, are ways into that receptive, intuitive place. A way of setting aside time and space to enter the dreamworld with an anchor in the physical world. Setting lines and boundaries around sacred space, delineating areas of being in a continuum, a continuous circle of being.

 

 

Absorption

 

In this case, the emotional follows the physical. The laws of physics, of absorption rates, apply to the emotional space of letting events and experiences sink in. Just as water doesn’t absorb into a paper towel immediately, experience is not absorbed into the psyche right away. We need time to absorb and integrate our experiences.

 

 

The Sewing of Time

 

The healing art of Mending.

 

Mending implies that the garment exists and is still whole. We just need to mend some tears in it.

 

There are folds in time where important events have happened and you can go back there. They are continuous, a seamless dreamtime, ceremonial and sacred. Time doesn’t exist in these places the way we think of time. These are dimensions that are created by our sacred attention to the vibrations of our experience and their resonances.

 

We all have Guides – maps, spirit guides, human and animal guides. Most of all, we have our inner compass. In the quiet, we enter the dreamtime and give birth to our new stories, the ones that will deepen our lives and bring us to love.

 

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Language finds a place in the world. Language finds a place in the body.

 

One of the best things about working for myself is that sometimes almost everything just stops. There are lulls in the workflow, where regular work comes in but it’s not crazy. The daily to-do list is manageable. There are spaces in the rush of New York. I love being busy and working on a huge project and kicking ass on it and being inspired and energized by deadlines and the great teams I work with. And I also love when it slows down and I wake up to quiet mornings and slowly drinking coffee and reading and answering emails without the pressure of fifteen deadlines ticking through my brain.

 

I have been working on getting more honest, with myself, in the words that I speak to others, in what I write. I’ve been working with observing what I’m feeling and thinking and asking myself, are these honest thoughts? What am I really feeling? This bareness of observing and awareness to come to a place of truth is a solid path. Awareness itself becomes the stability, is the stability. When the pace of life and work slow down, there is room for this inquiry. And for noticing and listening without agenda or goal. Giving up of goals is difficult in an accomplishment-driven era. But that is the only way to really see your basic nature, hear your heart, allow your soul to express itself in unbidden and unpredictable ways.

 

So, lately, work has been slow. I finished up two big projects that took up much of my time and energy and mental space about two weeks ago. The silence and slowness have allowed me to get back into the imaginary worlds of my poetry manuscript and novel and spend lengths of solid time there. These are the stories and lines and paragraphs I write and live inside that are distinct imagination and creativity.

 

Then there are the other stories, the psychological constructs and emotionally driven patterns that are created. The slow pace of days and nights has also allowed me to separate my emotional reactions to events and see where the raw emotion is and where the story that accompanies the emotion starts. We all have memories and past hurts and past joys that connect to present events and we have overarching stories about who we are, what our lives are, what they’re going to be. These stories are based in fear and reaction, not the true presence of what is actually going on in our lives. It’s easier sometimes to create scenarios and outcomes in our minds than to face an uncertain array of futures, the fact that the future and even some things in the present are uncertain.  So we build stories, attributing opinions and actions to the people in our lives that we don’t know are real, but they comfort us, in their known-ness. When we allow ourselves the time to look at these stories honestly, and really break out which of the storylines are ones we have clung to so that our lives make sense, it becomes clear that most of what we think we know is not actually known to us. Then we are left with the honesty of that: that we don’t know what other people think and feel, we don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t know the outcome of the path we are taking. When we face this, it is easier to stay grounded and make good decisions and choices, based on where we are right now, rather than reacting to a scenario in our heads.

 

Our concern then is: what can we do now that is true to ourselves and honest? What can we do now that feels right in a grounded way? This is a beautiful thing, this awareness and slowness and quiet. From this aware, slow, and quiet place, we make decisions based not on fear but on that quiet, still space inside of us that is connected to our root, our heart, our soul. Right action for the sole purpose of itself. Not to get anything or get anywhere but simply to be in the right place doing the right thing. The attunement to what feels right becomes steadier and is easier to gauge. This affects every action, from answering an email, to making a salad for lunch, to whether or not to move or take that job or sign that contract.

 

From this place, we naturally do what is most beneficial in a wholesome sense for ourselves and those around us. Beneficial in promoting peace and understanding and growth.

 

From this place, writing becomes a measure of silence, of the spaces between lives, where the dead speak and the unknown reaches of time and universal space inhabit themselves. Life, the way it moves, is an uncertain paradox. My connection to the words and the space that words represent becomes deeper and more intimate. Language finds a place in this quiet and quiets me. Quiets my breathing and my mind and my heart. This allows the stretch of language, of writing, to go deeper, to awaken musculature that has been sleeping, to open up the prime numbers of the mathematical equations that underlie grammar. I love the quiet intensity of these times of writing where I feel closer to language itself because it becomes a code through which the world is deciphered, for a minute, then the code breaks in another direction and is as soluble as so many substances in water.

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In this season of so many of us going home and visiting with our families, many of our emotional triggers get engaged. It helps to pause and go inward, checking in with yourself to maintain your boundaries and center. The holidays are filled with expectations and needs. Are you expecting anything from others that you do not expect from yourself? What do you find yourself wanting from others? In what situations are you angry or disappointed? Think and meditate on what your needs are in your relationships. Fully be with them, acknowledging them, giving them as much room as they need to be seen and heard. Then ask yourself, how am I unskillful and unsuccessful in meeting these needs for myself and giving to myself? How am I skillful and successful in meeting my own needs? In what specific ways do I do this? Then widen the awareness and ask, how can I give to myself, to my loved ones, to others in my community, to the world?

Have a wonderful, love-filled, joy-filled, peace-filled holiday!

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Washing Dishes at Occupy Wall St., Oct. 20, 2011, cut-out by Molly McIntyre, text by Arielle Dym Guy – for Re:Occupation, a group show organized by Ketch Wehr at Green Line Cafe Powelton in Philly, November and December.

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First snow – before Halloween!

I stayed inside, at home, today, worked on photographs and writing. Washed dishes, swept the floor, didn’t make the bed. Cooked pasta and broccoli for dinner. Meditated. Grateful for every minute of this beautiful, mellow day. After a hectic week, this snow day hit the spot!

Resting, doing nothing, doing whatever you feel like doing for a day, an hour, even five minutes can expand your life in a miraculous way. Knowing you can rest in whatever you want to do in that moment can bring you immeasurable peace, in heart and mind. So rest. Make a choice, know that you have a choice to rest, give this peaceful and relaxing time to yourself. When is the last time you felt completely relaxed?

How do you take time out?

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