Friday, July 22, 2011

Staying With the Itch

The leaves of memory seemed to make
A mournful rustling in the dark.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I've always enjoyed a good Longfellow quote from time to time. This one felt as though he reached into the shadows of my heart, deciphered their complex code and penned it in a few simple words.

In the last few days, coming back down from the heights of my trip and attempting to plant my feet in the soil again, I've been thinking about many things, one of which has been memories. Clearly, we all have them. Some of them hurt, some of them cast wispy smiles on our faces, some, a flickering ghost of a tear. But we all have them. I've written poems and talked to friends about this phenomenon that tends to happen to me, and others I know, went the sun goes down and the skies darken around us. For me personally, I have this love/hate relationship with the night. As Scott Fitzgerald says: "In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day."

There's something about nighttime, especially the mid-hours of night, that seems to strip down all layers of armor, inhibitions and distractions, leaving me in a very raw and vulnerable place. But it's more than just that. It's as though whatever I'm feeling during that time -- whatever memory has decided to visit or emotion has overtaken -- is magnified to the point where every fine detail of it is exposed all around me. Obviously, this could be an amazing feeling, depending on the emotion or memory, but if fear or anxiety is involved, it can sometimes be crippling, causing a sleepless night.

Well, I've also been doing a lot more Yoga lately. One of the guidelines of the Yoga philosophy is embracing the concept that we own nothing. Everything tangible in our lives is something we are only borrowing for a certain amount of time ... our money, our cars, our houses, clothes, electronics. Sure, we "buy" these things, but they could be stolen tomorrow. The idea is that we decide what value we place on those things. If we realize they aren't truly our possessions, things to be attached to, but are gifts to enjoy for the time we have them, then when a time comes that they are gone -- whether stolen, discarded, destroyed or simply lost -- we can more easily let go, remembering they were never really ours to begin with.

But memories, those are different. Those are the intangible pieces of us that we'll always have. Those are the gifts or, in some cases, curses that we cannot discard, try as we might. Another aspect of Yoga is breathing, often through discomfort. So, when night falls and I find myself in that place of shadowy memories, I've decided to apply that physical discipline mentally and "breathe" through the discomfort, not to change the song that's playing or the channel on the TV or cast away whatever has triggered the memory. Instead, I'm learning to become intimate with it, embrace it despite the hurt or discomfort. Because, just like during Yoga exercise, if I avoid the hard poses, I'll never gain more flexibility or be ready for anything more. But if I breathe through the displeasure, eventually the ache ebbs, the muscles and tendons ease ...

And, just like that, I'm ready for what's next.

"Learning to stay is a description of meditation. Learning to stay is also a description of staying with the itch and not scratching." ~ Pema Chodron.

~ C ~

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