The Blogger posting screen is blank and white and taunting me. I’ve been procrastinating starting this post for the last two hours because I’m not sure what shape it should have or how to begin. So I’ll just dive in and see where the words lead. Maybe by the time you read this, I’ll have deleted these introductory sentences altogether. Or maybe not.
This week, I started letting go of some things. Monday, I uninstalled the Microsoft games from my computers. No more killing time playing Freecell or Spider Solitaire. No more distracting myself while waiting for files to upload or programs to backup. No more splitting my attention with reruns of “House” playing in one corner of my screen and a game of Freecell going in another. I’m letting in a little empty space, and it sucks.
Tuesday, I used up the very last of my fairtrade organic coffee from Peaberry’s, washed out my new porcelain coffee cone as well as Organic Needle’s organic cotton filter, and stored them on the top shelf of the cupboard. No more charging my battery chemically because I stayed up all night, once again, and have to find the energy to go to work. Don’t worry. I’m not a masochist. I’m weening off the caffeine by switching to black tea for a few days and then maybe green, for the antioxidants, of course!
Also, on Tuesday, as I was emptying my backpack of non-essentials in preparation for a long nature walk, I decided to remove the case of prescription drugs I carry around every day for insurance. I’m referring to the big V’s: Valium and its friend Vicodin. I’ve had ongoing prescriptions for these drugs for many years for valid medical reasons, although I lost my Vicodin Rx at the same time I lost my uterus, the painful reason for the prescription in the first place. Still, I had some saved up, and while I rarely felt the need to actually take these drugs, just having them with me made me feel calm and prepared. Like I couldn’t be hurt, either emotionally or physically.
After putting the bottles in the kitchen cabinet, I sat at the table and wept.
I sobbed, actually, for about a half an hour. Even though all I’d done was put the bottles away (as opposed to discarding the contents altogether), I felt like I’d removed a limb. And a piece of identity I didn’t even know I’d been carrying. Breakable. Fragile. Patient. The drugs didn’t take up much room in my backpack, but the knowledge that they were there apparently filled a huge space in my psyche. Now I’ve created more emptiness and nothing to fill it with but tears.
Confession: I’ve been drinking my household cleaner for the last few months. That’s because I like to clean with vodka instead of vinegar. I bought the cheapest stuff I could find in a glass bottle because I hadn’t planned on consuming it. But that’s what happens at 2am when I’m anxious and agitated and want to wind down. And you know the saying that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over hoping for a different result each time? Alcohol NEVER puts me to sleep. It keeps me up. Yet every night, I expect it to do what it’s never done before.
So okay, last night I finished the bottle of household cleaner. Tonight, I have no alcohol in the house and have mentally stored that crutch away in the cupboard along with the coffee and pills. Wow. I sound like a total fiend. I was about to qualify all this with a statement about how little I actually drink, but screw that. It’s a problem. It’s been blocking me from finding out how powerful I could actually be without it, so it has to go. More space. More emptiness. More silence.
I’m giving up these heavy, heavy crutches in preparation for a 24-hour fasting vision quest I’ll be undertaking as part of the Integral Life Practice group I recently joined. And all these distractions are just weighing me down. Perhaps I feel such a connection to photos of dead birds full of plastic because I myself feel so heavy I can barely move.
But how can I take care of the planet when I am barely taking care of myself?
These are the thoughts I pondered during my 3-hour walk Tuesday, climbing the Berkeley hills, looking and listening for signs. I envisioned myself as both sculptor and clay, my job to cut out whatever is not me. And then I imagined a candle inside and light pouring through the openings I’d created. The spaces where I could shine a little, and maybe breathe.
The hill I climbed was steep (literally) and shadeless, and the weight on my back and in my brain, discouraging. Suddenly, I heard a familiar sound and looked up to catch sight of two hummingbirds, way up there in the hills, soar straight up into the sky and then dive bomb back down. Over and over they did this together, and once again that day I broke down and sobbed. “I want to fly,” I cried out to the wind, “How come I can’t fly? Why?”
I’m not making this up. I really did cry out in the “wilderness” of the Berkeley Hills. And of course, I knew the answer. I’m too heavy. All this extra stuff I carry. All the strategies I have for killing time, holding myself back, keeping myself in check. I want to find out who I’d be without those things. I’m really, really ready. And pretty terrified.
Yes, I go to meditation retreats twice a year and sit in silence and practice mindfulness. But the stillness is punctuated by the ring of the bell. The sessions structured and interspersed with meals and a waiting bed. I nap a lot. During my vision quest, I won’t be eating food or taking naps or ringing bells. And there won’t be anyone to tell me when to open my eyes. It’ll just be me and the woods and my bottle of water.
In discussing how hard it is to give up coping mechanisms and routines that we’ve come to depend on, my wise friend Axelle had this to say:
I didn’t answer your question about unpunctuated emptiness. Here it is: If I don’t have the structure of seeking food, whether at home or out, and eating it, at regular times, I don’t know what to do with the extra time. It’s too much space, too much freedom. What I missed when I quit smoking was the structure it gave me, of having to do something (smoke) at certain times. When I no longer had to smoke at certain times, I couldn’t handle the freedom, the space.
Why are some of us so afraid to be free? There’s a question to ponder on Independence Day while many are compulsively shopping or eating or drinking, accumulating more and more stuff to plug up the emptiness in their lives. Sitting quietly should be the simplest thing in the world. So why’s it so freakin’ hard?