Thoreau-ing Comfort Aside - Healing In A Tar Paper Shack
The wanderings of thought drifted into my consciousness earlier than usual this morning. I was going back and forth between listening to the neighborhood rise to the day and thinking about how grief affects us physically.
Fatigue, insomnia, (rain tapping on the windows), weight issues from not eating properly, (a door opens down the hall), lowered immunities, (waking birds, a car engine), unexplained physical aches, (a siren). For me it was the ache that was the most dominate and difficult to deal with. It showed up as what is referred to as a "broken heart...a caving in of the chest." I actually physically felt pain in my heart. Although researched, there is no actual medical explanation as to why some people experience grief here.
"Sadness can be felt in many areas and I think that's an area we hold to be
close to our soul."
- Dr. Vance Harris
Maybe thats it, the soul, the essence, the energy, the pulse of who we each are channels the state of well being through the heart. My broken one was about to converge with a vulnerable state of mind serving to throw me quite squarely on my ass. I could have had no way of knowing the impact it would have on life.
The first time I realized how deep grief could dive, was in the presence of death. It was like exhaling and not being able to stop. The alarm would go off in my head that I needed air but my lungs would not respond. Panic set in. There was a disconnect. Reality became unpredictable. I had to focus hard on keeping steady and in awareness of my body, thoughts and emotions.
Time turned into this unfamiliar element with which I struggled to conform my life to. There was little to no synchronization between my inner and outer worlds. Feeling overwhelmed and disoriented, I stepped back from the only thing that would allow me to...the outside world.
From early spring through late fall, I lived in a small one room structure. No water, no heat. The only power was from a long extension cord running from the main house on the property. Enough for a radio, a light bulb and a toaster oven. I was keeping life outside my head uncomplicated. Conventional living did not seem to fit my state of being.
My abode was on the edge of a long rectangular field flanked by the woods on one side, wetlands just behind and a road along the length. Outside was an old picnic table, a fire pit and a rocking chair suitable for a sunset read. At night a symphony of swamp beasts bellowed, screeched and howled messages left for me to interpret. There was no escaping them, nowhere to hide. All I could do was set my terms and hold fast to my boundaries.
During the day, die hard religious enthusiasts came around doing their best to save my lost soul. I thought I had gained my peace from them once, after I delivered a convincing sermon on how the garden served as my church and how I had no room for priests, gurus or religions. A few days later I found they had left a basket of seed packets, a box of tea and some jam. Even I was impressed.
I began to build, what turned out to be a very large garden. One pitchfork turn after another of cold, rich, wet soil and stones, stones, stones and more stones as the warming earth pushed them towards the sun. Such is growing in New England. It became a meditation, turning the earth, enriching the soil, building mounds, planting. The physical labor alone depleted me of any unspent, wound up, off balance energy I was adept at harboring.
Putting seeds in the raw earth and tending the growth of the life that springs forth was a direct reminder of that which I was unable to do within my own reality. I could not bring back what I had lost, not in the way I wanted to. The heavy dirt felt as cold as death in my hands, but truth was that it also held the elements to nurture life. That same coldness plagued my heart and I wondered if, like the earth, it still had the elements to nurture life...my life.
As summer called upon the seeds to sprout and flourish, different plants took on different personas. They sheltered me in the shade of their leaves, nourished me with food, toned my body thru their needs, captivated me as they glowed in the evening light anticipating their tomorrow's unfolding.
As with all things, the garden was cycling into it's decline. A cool fall settled in and the weight of morning frosts began to take their hold. Growth halted, stems weakened, buds dropped, leaves wilted and furled, bending toward the ground. It was a time of gratitude, pride, and sadness as we parted our ways.
This was not the first garden that showed me the earth will freeze, thaw and once again bring forth life. It helped me to focus on ways to open those same channels up in my heart for I was in the midst of a deeply moving inner process through which I needed tending. I was unsure of my strengths, unsure of my vulnerabilities, unsure of the duration or amount of of seasons to my experience....unsure of which parts of me had died and which will be reborn.
Knowing that I would never grow on that land again, I decided to save the seeds from some of my harvest. They were carefully dried and tucked into envelopes with notes scrawled upon them reminding me of their idiosyncrasies. I kept them with a hand drawn map of the garden layout in a old cardboard box. Winter gave me time to reflect as I waited for spring thaw.