Four years ago on this day, I woke up to find myself a widow.
Four years ago on this day, my life careened into uncharted waters.
Four years ago on this day, I stepped out of one life and into another.
I lost quite a bit on that day, and in the days, months and years to follow: first my sanity, then my ability to think, work, and perform simple tasks, and now, still, any tolerance for intolerance, unkindness, and drama (figurative and literal — most Hollywood entertainment is off limits to me — too many triggers).
How most movies make me feel. (Urban garden, Whidbey Island)
I lost my ability to nurture. Now, I really can’t even take care of a cat. In fact, I started to resent that my cats needed me. I’m sorry about this, but I can’t control my unconscious, just like I can’t help it when she steals the blankets in her sleep.
Not at all needy.
I lost relationships with people who gave me too much space, or not enough, or who wanted me to take care of their own grief. (Not possible — see above note on cats.)
To survive, and then thrive, I had to start to appreciate what I’d gained — an opportunity to reshape my life, new friendships and relationships, the deepening of others, profound insight into my own psyche.
And I gained a growing appreciation for quiet.
It didn’t start out as an appreciation. Nope, I was pretty pissed. Living in a vaccuum after losing a companion of almost 25 years is, well, sucks.
I tried to fill this hollow space with noise (Travel! Eat! Drink! Start a blog! Buy several cameras!). But in the end, I still had to contend with the void.
And then, I started to see quiet as a blessing. Not just when I was in a place of pain or stress — grieving, or just harried — but in my everyday life. Even when I was alone, quiet became a place for my mind to rest.
I started to be okay with the quiet. I started to accept it, and then I started to seek it out. Noise was telling me things I didn’t want to hear (People are living happy lives! Football is still happening! Music is joyful!).
But then I started to enjoy the quiet for what it gave me. And instead of filling up my alone time with more noise, I filled it up with more quiet.
I started a simple meditation practice — 10 minutes of breathing in the morning, increasing to 15, then 20 (when the kitties would let me).
I can haz scratcheez now pls?
I started doing yoga, the Savasana that concludes every practice pulling me into an astral trance that had the quiet of infinity.
The Yoga Lodge on Whidbey Island
I sought out yoga retreats (no, wait, they found me) and had healing weekends in Ojai and on Whidbey Island.
Prayer flags, The Yoga Lodge on Whidbey Island
I found perfect morning stillness floating over Sedona’s cathedrals of red rocks in a balloon.
The quiet gave me a place of sanity. It helped me to focus, and soon I was able to complete tasks, and even sentences.
And like those people who learn to live with one kidney or lung or half a brain, I started to knit my frayed ends back together into something resembling mental health.
My life started to fill up again, with more quiet, less noise.
My solo trips up and down the coast as I was making the move to Washington were glorious spaces of solitude. Much of the time, I turned off the radio to let my thoughts play their own music. Of course, there was also the occasional pretty scenery.
Cathedral of trees, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
People ask me about the culture shock of moving from Los Angeles to a lost corner of Washington. It’s quiet here.
I tried to keep up on my meditation practice, but meditation looks a lot like doing nothing — which is hard when you have a lot to do, and are surrounded by industrious people. So I started to incorporate my morning meditation into my morning exercise.
I walk (and sometimes even jog) for miles on this beach….
But I leave my earphones at home. Yes, I know I could be learning about the history of Rome, how Twitter is going to make money, or listening to that new band from Morocco. But, for me, it’s an opportunity to heal frizzled neurons — to tell them it’s okay to not be zapping all the time.
I did my first “walking” meditation with my goddess/mother/guru Cosetta Romani during fall yoga retreats on Whidbey Island (exactly one and two years ago today).
As a group, we walked for miles through the trees, around a lake, through fields of green, paying attention only to our breath, the air, the smells and colors of nature.
The Yoga Lodge on Whidbey Island
And then, one morning on my beach walk, I realized that, in addition to building my body’s strength and stamina, I was doing a walking meditation.
I started to think about the spaces of grace and prayer I’d seen on my travels.
Mission San Jose, San Antonio, TX
While their primary purpose is a place in which to worship a deity, in truth, these are spaces for quiet devotion.
My peeks into other cultures showed me that we are all seeking a place to find that stillness. It might be a mosque…
Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi, India
Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, AZ
Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand
My place of devotion? The church of nature.
To paraphrase a beer ad — you have to find your church — even if it’s a beach.
Find a place of stillness — even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day.
Maybe it’s your bathroom. Lock the door and run a bath, even if you don’t need one (re-use the water, of course). Just sit in there and close your eyes for fifteen minutes.
Sit under a tree.
Old growth tree, Whidbey Island.
Pick some oysters.
Oysterman, Willapa Bay
Walk in a garden.
My darling yoga girl, Julie, in the garden at The Yoga Lodge on Whidbey Island.
Or go to church.
Church of St. Anthony of Padua, Istanbul
I breathe, the sand glitters, and I am only grateful.
Find your church. And go there often.