The F Word

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It’s there, but not in the four lettered iteration you think. It’s actually uttered and thrown from mouth to mouth, scattered like autumn leaves and placed on bright pillows in deep hopes of actualization. It’s deemed necessary and often seen as an end point, the end to our anger and suffering. Nirvana awaits within this simple word.

The need is immediate, and we leap over all mud puddles to place our bare feet in that green silken grass, and fling our boots to the side, desiring to forget our blackened soles.

But do we really know what we are asking for?

Do we know who we are asking?

 

I can share with you what I asked for.  I asked for forgiveness.

All relationships are a two way street and even though mine felt horribly short and road-blocked, I knew I had hammered that block with my own nails. In seeing the depth of the nails, now splintering the wood of my marriage, I pulled one out and laid it at my husband’s feet, laying claim and offering as a promise I wanted to repair.

But he turned away from the nail, from my hands open wide, and would not give me what I wanted.

Even more, he kept his nails firmly embedded, his block growing into a stockade before my eyes. He sanded the surface, and swept any sawdust from the site. He packed away his toolbox and locked it tightly.

How could I forgive that which wasn’t even acknowledged?

I turned back around and saw my toolbox busted wide open, the hammer strewn to the side, vice grips laying twisted on the road, and my ruler snapped in half. The metal clasps that once held the top so fast, now lay bent and deformed, unable to hold anything together.

I picked up whatever remains there were, and threw them in the trash.

I put on my highest rain boots, staring at the raging ocean before me in my heartbreak. I couldn’t even utter the word, as all I would feel was a black wall, and a thick fog that would roll in with tremendous force.

I had an intention to survive, and an intention to understand, and that had to be my guide for a long time.

 

At first it was the wall next to me. Then, as the fog cleared, I could see the bricks piled high to my right. Slowly, with each healing day, and being held by my community, I was able to reach up and take down one block at a time. The mortar would crumble on my meditation cushion, and small bits would drop into my hair, the black of the brick passing through my fiery mane.

Sometimes a brick would stick so strong and no amount of coaxing or pulling would bring it loose. Weeks would pass with no movement, just dust slowly forming in the spaces created; rectangles of emptiness oddly positioned, with no real pattern, except a slow opening.

How I wanted to feel relief. How I wanted the wall to disappear.

That was the end goal, wasn’t it?

 

I recently spent a cold March Saturday on a retreat around the F word.  The phenomena brought out quite a crowd, all of us sitting upright, and feeling very similar confusion.  Our teacher began by laying a groundwork of relationships and what is present and supports a loving connection.  Of all the terms he used, two resonated with me:

Trust

Communication

I knew these existed in abundance and were the cornerstones for many happy years of my marriage, but when I stood before the towering stockade in my divorce, they were completely out of my grasp.

On the heels of these definitions, our teacher then asked us,
“What are you asking for in forgiveness?”

As neither of these have existed between us for two years, I began to ask the next question, which was,
Who am I asking to give me these things?

Could it be that my communication of laying the nail at his feet was all I could do, and was enough?

I did pull the nail, and threw away the broken ruler.  This was the beginning of self forgiveness and self trust.  As I sat next to the crumbling wall, bricks were immobile when I sought answers from the past, from the turned back and locked toolbox.  But the truth was, what I was asking for from him, I was cultivating in myself.

Maybe the wall wasn’t meant to just disappear, but instead be dismantled with care.  The bricks were brightening from a darkened black to vibrant red, and I could see through them now, a wide window opening.

I didn’t buy a new box to lock my tools up tightly, but instead found new alternatives to the vice grip and heavy hammer.  Now I had before me a supportive community, a bowl of ash to catch fragrant incense, connection to my breath, love of the crashing waves, and an open journal, ink looping on every page.

And as I turned the paper to present a blank canvas, I picked up my pen and wrote out in sweeping cursive the words I have wanted to hear.

I Forgive You

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Entry Point

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I sit on the subway, tired. Grateful to be off my feet, I close my eyes and let my head rest against the vibrating wall behind me. Something catches in my throat and I start to cough, again and again. It’s not stopping and soon my eyes are watering and my forehead starts to perspire. I try to drink from my water bottle, but I can’t catch my breath between the coughs. I wipe my eyes, and try to blow my nose, but it’s a relentless constriction, contracting every exhale. I feel fear at my throat, will I be able to stop? Heat emanates off me in embarrassment, as people move away from me in the car. I hold the tissue over my mouth through shaking hands, as the cycle continues on, and just keep repeating in my mind:
“Breathe. You’re ok.”

And then, it slowly lessens.  I look down at the black streaks across my white tissues, soaked now with my episode. The plastic container that held them earlier lies crumpled and empty, I’ve used up all I had in my pocket.  As the subway doors open and a new group of women sit in the  seats around me, they watch the subway stops go by, energetically checking in with their group leader for when they need to exit the car for their day’s tourism. I keep my head down, coughing intermittently, until my stop arrives and I rise bundled for Fifth Avenue.

Leaving my home earlier, I had zipped up my down puffy coat for the first time this season. My head encased in a fur-lined hood, I stepped out into the cold November sunshine, witnessing breath clouds around every commuter’s head, like locomotive trails.

After a weekend of phlegm, swollen glands, and post nasal drip, I was still feeling tired and congested. Even deeper, I was feeling disheartened.

This is the second time I’ve been sick this Fall.

October came roaring in with one of the worst head colds I have had in years.  It wasn’t just the sinus pressure, it was the cough.  The cough that lingered for weeks after, and garnered endless inquiries of, “are you ok?”  The cough that would get me in dance class, wake me in the morning, and be there, so dry and non-productive.  The cough that ended about two weeks before it all started up again this past weekend.

 

I was sick a lot as a child.  I had diet-related migraines when I was eight, and my sophomore year of high school, I was sick for a week out of almost every month with horrible headaches, strange rashes, and fevers.  It was never diagnosed, but my parents always believed I had viral meningitis.  I went for countless blood tests and tried many medications, all to no avail.

While I never enjoyed being sick, I have so many memories of laying on the couch, with a cold cloth on my head, and an endless array of love from my mother.  She never shied away from illness, and would wipe my brow, bring me cool jello, and make her rich homemade chicken soup.  I would watch a movie, and then roll over and sleep off the fevers until it was time to go back to my bed.

I was taken care of, no matter how I felt.

In my married home, I enjoyed a lot of the same care from my partner, as I experienced the seasonal cold and sinus infection.  This care continued for many years, and then started to wane and be replaced with evasion and annoyance.  I began to feel isolation in my illness for the first time.

Then, the coughing began.  It began with my heartbreak, a psychosomatic reaction to the stress of divorce and losing control, and it was accompanied by weight loss.  I went to see a doctor just to make sure everything was alright, and he ordered an x-ray of my lungs.  The technician took my film and asked if I wanted to see it.  Worried he was about to point out something horrible, I came around the corner to see the most beautiful and healthy pair of lungs in front of me.  The technician looked at me and said, “You’ve got great looking lungs!  You could survive underwater for a long time.”

Considering I felt like I was drowning at the time, my eyes widened in response.  I actually walked out of the clinic feeling my feet under me.  Maybe I could survive this after all.

The cough continued for four months, and disappeared within a week of moving out of my old apartment and into a close friend’s place.  I didn’t feel oppressed by my surroundings anymore or deeply saddened by every physical piece of furniture or clothing that remained despite the reality it was no longer communal.  The separation line had come crashing down, and I needed a new environment to heal.

I was provided for by the community of family, friends, and teachers, and the cough that felt like it would accompany me for the rest of my days, stopped.

 

My Zen teacher, using ancient poetry, spoke recently about the Entry Point of our practice, the actual reality of where we are at, instead of where we want to be or where we were.

Examine and appreciate a single thread.  When you face what you have excluded and see how it appears, you must quickly gather it together and integrate with it.  Make it work within your house, then establish stable sitting.  Let your eye suitably meet the world and its changes. – Master Hongzhi

As I sat listening, tissues stuffed in my pockets, I knew this message was for me. Could I view the cough and the cold as an opportunity to learn how I dealt with illness, and could I sit in the present moment of frustration and chapped skin?

In my efforts to never feel that vulnerability again, was I missing a chance to heal?

For a long time, there was a warm hand to brush the hair out of my eyes as I lay struggling on the couch, and in that physical absence I doubted my ability to hold myself. Maybe making peace with this need was what my body was crying out for.

 

I sit, wrapped in my warm fleece blanket, holding a warm mug of Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut Yogi Tea.  The steam rises as I inhale the sweet smell, and my hands cup the multi-colored ceramic, my fingertips and palms attracted to the delicious warmth. Incense burns to ash, forming wisps of white trails around my living space, traveling in arcing and rounded shapes. I look down at my email, at the messages I’ve received from the community of friends and family, checking in to say, “how are you feeling?” and I slowly wipe my hair from my brow, carefully, and with love.

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