Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

Making Honey May 11, 2018

Filed under: Chronic Illness,Healing,Transitions,Writing and Healing — saratbaker @ 10:35 pm

A few mornings ago, my husband with great excitement pointed out all the bees covering one of my rose bushes. It seems as if last spring and summer was one long, sad vigil for honeybees, which we spotted only rarely. Four summers ago I had weathered a difficult passage in my life by getting up early to work every day in the garden, and what I most remember about that time was the background hum of buzzing–a happy, companionable sound. The silence of the garden last year seemed—was–eerily unnatural. Why the bees are back I don’t know, nor do I know how long they will stay. But their presence feels like palpable hope.

I’ve been in need of hope recently. My illness waxes and wanes, but it has been waxing quite a bit lately. I’ve not been able to do as much as I’ve wanted, especially the writing I want to do, which has made me both despondent and angry. It feels I’m in for another adjustment of my expectations. And I don’t want that. Haven’t I adjusted enough, given up enough, curtailed my life enough already?

To feel better, I took my dog Bella on an evening walk. I stopped by one friend’s house to see if she wanted to walk, but she wasn’t home. I decided to take the short route home—a route I don’t usually take—and who should I bump into but a friend I haven’t seen for probably a year. He said he had just been thinking of me. He was walking my way and we ended up walking quite a ways. He too has a chronic illness and so is someone I can be honest with, but more than that he has a wry sense of humor and tells great stories. I ended up feeling considerably cheered.

Both of these experiences spoke to me of abundance. I had almost given up on the honeybees, but there they were. I had thought I would have a lonely walk, but instead I had an enjoyable companion. I thought I had a clear picture of the world: the honeybees are dying and I’m not in such good shape myself. But maybe my picture of the world is skewed. Maybe it doesn’t allow for enough possibility, enough healing of the world and of me. I was put in mind of Antonio Machado’s magnificent poem, “Last Night as I Lay Sleeping”. Here is a stanza from that poem:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

(See the entire poem here:https://allpoetry.com/Last-Night-As-I-Was-Sleeping)

I love it that Machado doesn’t dream the bees are erasing his failures, but that out of them they are making sweet honey and white combs. Both are true, the bitter and the sweet. But grace prevails. Marvelous error indeed!

 

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Restoring Balance September 19, 2014

Filed under: Healing — saratbaker @ 4:56 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Recently, my daily routine has been thrown off by the usual exigencies of life:  illness, weddings, fleas.

Instead of getting an early start, walking the dog and meditating in the cool of the morning, I seem to be rushing out of the house, leaving things undone—laundry, bills, insurance claims—myriad small things that add up to a crushing sense of playing catch up all the time.  I make lists:  get labs done, make vet appointment, pack Adam’s clothes, Jiffy Lube.  On the car radio, I hear of war and rumors of war, of conflicts whose intricacies I cannot hope to understand, and I have the sinking feeling of a widening disaster to which I’m somehow unwittingly a party. So much information to take in, to process.  My email is an overflowing disaster, as are the notices falling to the floor from my desk.  I seem to work unceasingly, yet have little to show for it.

I want more than anything to create order, simplicity and meaning.  I long to lose myself in the garden, where I can drop down into a river of being, my arms, hands, eyes working without thinking, my skin caressed by breezes, my ears filled with the soft rustle of the bamboo, the mourning dove’s call.  Yet I let everything else come first, and so I end up frazzled and depleted.  I haven’t solved the world’s problems or even my own.

Recently, I came across an article by Jerome S.  Bernstein which looked at Native American, in particular, Navajo, understandings of healing.  For the Navajo, illness is a symptom of lack of balance or harmony in an individual or in a community.  The Navajo believe that it is up to humans “to restore harmony when energies are out of balance.”  According to Bernstein, a medicine man he worked with put it this way, “Balancing the individual balances the world.”

The poet Adam Zagajewski in his wonderful poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” speaks to the tension of acknowledging the world’s brokenness and ruin, while also offering a way to restore a sense of harmony by remembering beauty:

 Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June’s long days,

and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.

The nettles that methodically overgrow

the abandoned homesteads of exiles.

You must praise the mutilated world.

 Further into the poem, he suggests

 Return in thought to the concert where music flared.

 I suppose that we rarely manage to find perfect balance in our lives, but the poet suggests that by both experiencing nature, beauty, and love and then by remembering those experiences, we can balance the ugliness of much of life.  What I really love about this poem is that Mr. Zagajewski doesn’t ask us to pretend that life is other than it is.  His is the mind that can tolerate paradox and live between the tension of the two.

In order to remember beauty, we have to partake of it.  So I’m going to try to make time for my garden, and for music, even if my to do list grows longer.  Maybe if I can restore my own balance, I can add to the harmony of the world.  It’s a nice thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trapped in the Ice January 22, 2013

I once found an old book at the flea market called “Be Glad You’re Neurotic”.  Just the book for me!  Written in 1936,  it has chapter headings like “You Hate Yourself. No Wonder!” and “Are You Getting the Most out of Your Insomnia and Dreams?”  I did not make this up.  I prop this old book on my shelf, title out, reminding myself to be glad.

Having a chronic illness is a sure way to intensify a neurosis.  I’ve been sick since Christmas, sequestered in the house for the most part, too exhausted to go out.  All plans for the future are on hold.  I’m waiting for the verdict from the insurance company as to whether, this time, they will approve my treatment.  Instead of being able to let go, to read and relax and wait to get better, I go into overdrive, fending off the feeling of impending doom.  Will I be able to keep up my walking routine?  To sing in the choir?  To write steadily?  My mind goes into ever more solipsistic rounds, and I become more tense, contracted– unable to heal.  I feel guilty for having a lousy immune system.  I read a book review about primitive tribes and identify with the sick woman left to die because she is no longer of use. I see her struggling to keep up with the tribe, only to die alone on the road. That’s me, I think, falling farther and farther behind. My mind turns in ever smaller circles, like the little swan trapped in the ice in “The Ugly Duckling.”  I can not stay in the present, or take deep breaths.  My mind is turning too frantically, even as my body is inert.  Intellectually, I know better, but I’m in the grip of something I can’t think away.the-ugly-duckling-english-school

This impasse is only broken when a friend calls unexpectedly.  Like me, Mari has a chronic illness and has lived with all the difficulties of people not understanding, of insurance companies that are unresponsive, of dreams that have to be let go.  I find myself articulating to her half-understood frustrations and fears.  All the thoughts and feelings that had festered in the sealed room of my mind come pouring out.  Yet, once they are not mine alone, they seem less formidable.  I feel myself taking deeper breaths, feel my body loosen.  Mari shares practical advice, and more importantly, she exudes a confidence I no longer have that thing will turn out.  Holding onto her confidence for me, I can let go of the death grip I have on the outcome of my illness.  I feel supported, and humbled.  I do not have to be God.  I can relax.  I am reminded again that I am not alone, and I am invited to experience a feeling of being held and nurtured.

To heal, it seems, we need each other.  I can do my yoga practice at home, but doing it in a group seems to be a fuller experience.  I have had profound experiences of healing from healing touch, from massage, from the caring physical therapists who have put me back together, from chats with friends, from therapists, from writing groups, from the liturgy.  And each time, I feel humbled and grateful, called back to Reality as sacred, freed from my ego’s need to control.

Before Mari’s call, my story about my illness was one of loss and desperation.  Yet, as she offered her generous insights, I was able to reframe my story.  My feeling of helplessness diminished and my sense of agency grew, even as I was able to let go of controlling the outcome. My story of isolation became a story of hope.  In the book, Narrative Medicine: the Use of History and Story in the Healing Process, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD,  talks about the importance of community in helping someone re-author their story.  “We need the group to re-author our stories.  Rarely can re-authoring be done in isolation.”

We need others to help us heal, although not everyone can help you re-author your story, as Naomi Shihab Nye says in this poem:

You Have to Be Careful

You have to be careful telling things.
Some ears are tunnels.
Your words will go in and get lost in the dark.
Some ears are flat pans like the miners used
looking for gold.

What you say will be washed out with the stones.
You look for a long time till you find the right ears.
Till then, there are birds and lamps to be spoken to,
a patient cloth rubbing shine in circles,
and the slow, gradually growing possibility
that when you find such ears
they already know.

Thank you, Mari Braveheart-Dancer, for being those ears.

 

 
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