“I want to live each day for itself like a string of colored beads, and not kill the present by cutting it up in cruel little snippets to fit some desperate architectural draft for a Taj Mahal in the future.”
-Sylvia Plath, from The Journals of Sylvia Plath
I love this line because it captures perfectly the trap I often fall into. I can worry with the best of them, to the point of making myself sick, and if I don’t keep the anxiety in check, the disease can spread. It’s a common affliction among depressives and this story illustrates the problem well.
I’ve talked about this before, but travel always makes me anxious. I’m excited to plan adventures, and I love getting there, but the lead up is always a major challenge for me.
This past weekend was devoted to getting ready for a trip to Tokyo with the girls, to meet Dave for his first show there, a trip we’ve all been excited about for months.
In an effort to keep myself focused I made long to do lists, which were supposed to help me avoid spinning out. But as I obsessively checked off each completed task I was adding more items to the bottom. I packed our bags early so we could spend the day before departure at the park, relaxing with friends in the shade at a birthday party, and avoiding the anxiety.
I don’t have any trouble repressing my stress and ignoring the lists as long as I’m away from them, and the house with its incessant piles of dishes, bills and laundry. But when we got home after the party, the girls and I, the anxiety resumed full force. My sense of humor and ease vanished as I glanced at the clock and counted the hours I had left. My kids are used to the way I am before a trip and were good about taking care of themselves as I ran next door to use my neighbor’s fax machine and struggled to check us in online. I reserved a taxi for the airport and gave the wrong departure time. I called back to fix it and got it wrong again. It took three calls for me to get the taxi reserved for the right time; an obvious indication I was losing my cool.
Our flight wasn’t leaving until the afternoon but I was determined to have everything done before I went to bed the night before. Bags packed except for toothbrushes. Travel documents printed and stapled. Bills paid. Notes to cat sitters written.
Still spinning like a top after the kids were in bed, I decided they needed little journals to write in for the trip. I grabbed paper, folded it in half and stared at the crease, trying to figure out how to bind it. It was midnight as I struggled, kneeling on the floor of the closet with a knitting needle, poking through the stack of paper and binding it with yarn.
In the morning, my twelve year old told me tearfully that she didn’t feel well. She was shivering under her blanket and turned out to have a fever. She was in tears, afraid the trip would have to be cancelled and I too had a moment where I thought the same thing.
Luckily everything was done and I could devote the morning to her. This is the upside of being fanatically organized. I called the on-call nurse associated with our health plan (which could be another post entirely-a saga right out of Blade Runner) and called my husband in Tokyo. We decided not to change our plans and just see what happened. If she was really sick and they wouldn’t let us fly, perhaps they would let us postpone the flight.
Then I did what I’d been planning to do all along which was to breathe. I didn’t blame myself entirely, but I felt there was a correlation between my stress and my daughter’s illness. Like me, she is sensitive and vulnerable, anxious in her own ways, and I knew that if I calmed down it would help her. “Breathe” was the final line on my to do list.
As soon as I lay down to do my breathing meditation I started to release all the struggle. I focused on the earth beneath me. As I began some sadness came out and the next thing I knew I was shaking out all the anxiety and stress, into the floor. I felt the carpet, the cement and the dirt under me like arms gently wrapped around me and I thanked the earth for absorbing my toxic energy. As I deepened into the gratitude I felt for the earth an enormous wave of energy pulsed up through me, like a burst of manna, and I let it rise up into my body and shake me loose, like rocks in a gravel pit. After a whole lot of shaking the energy calmed down and I breathed normally, lay still and listened. Jays were calling outside and the oak leaves were trembling, sharp and brittle in the dry wind.
My meditation practice never fails me. I got up feeling full of love and completely relaxed. I touched the four stones I have situated on our property to give thanks and praise to the elements and to ask for protection on our trip. As I touched the south-facing stone, I heard a scuffle of wings nearby and saw a beautiful band-tailed pigeon a few feet away. (This is a west-coast bird, similar to the rock pigeon that populates every city and town world wide, but different.) It was staring at me and I thought of the dove as a messenger of peace. I thanked him or her for the message and continued my rounds of the property. At the north stone, eyes closed, I felt the near silent cutting of air near my head and turned to see a crow had almost clipped me. A gaggle of them landed on the wires above me, raising their wings and griping at each other.
The earth with all of its expression in the plants and animals offers an instant renewal of faith that I’m safe, that life is good, that the earth that has always supported me will continue to do so as long as I appreciate, honor, and respect her. She responds quickly and forcefully to admiration and gratitude, awe and praise.
I like the word “praise,” and I use it as in “Praise God,” but I praise the earth-God. She is the most benevolent of them all. In Greek mythology the heroes must make offerings and give praise to appease their Gods, who are vain and angry most of the time. Earth is much more benevolent than Zeus or Poseidon ever were. She recycles my sadness (the root of my anxiety), letting me cry into the arms of a tree or on my meditation floor and always returning it with a sense of peace and wonder and love. Never ending love.
We are over the Pacific now and Grace sits beside me, peacefully watching a movie, her fever gone, her sense of excitement for this trip reborn.