The Importance of Being Everything

A friend looked at me with either disbelief or sudden comprehension (they are hard to distinguish) and said to me, “You are everything!” I laughed because that’s silly. The list of things I’m not is much longer than the list of things I am. But I have been thinking, on this 2-week trip out of the Costa Rican jungle into the Mennonite Meccas of the USA, about all the things I am–and it’s a lot of things. Diverse things. Often opposites.

I’ve been thinking about Living Theatre—how Life is theatre and Theatre is life. All the world is, in fact, a stage. And I Iove that. I was a college theatre major many lives ago, and although by all appearances I walked away from it, do not be fooled: I never walk away from anything. I love being a shape shifter, being a little bit of everything. A statement like that make me seem insincere if you don’t take the time to hear what I mean. So, listen.

You can be a lot of things without being insincere. I am never insincere. All of the personas, all of the characters, are real. I just perhaps enjoy this more than most—am able to delight in the scene/language/wardrobe/script(language) changes that drive most people crazy and make them feel that if they cannot always be one person, they are therefore incorrect. Why? Who says? Why be one thing when you can be all the things?

I know. You’re normal and I’m, um, a little strange. It drives you crazy when your life tries to require you be somebody you’re not. I know. Me? I don’t resist it. I take it as a challenge. A new role to play. New lines to learn. A new costume. And I am curious. I want to know everything. From the inside out. If you learn the language, believe your lines as you deliver them, wear the costume convincingly, you will be amazed how people let you in. I have learned this.

In my daily life at the beach in Tamarindo, I feel ageless—neither young nor old nor in need of setting myself at a particular place on the spectrum: undefined. I slip between 3 languages on a normal day which is like having 3 passports to 3 planets. Which one is my home? All of them. Or none? I couldn’t choose. I cruise around on a bicycle in cut-off jean shorts and flipflops (if I can remember them) with a notebook, a baseball cap and sometimes a raincoat in my backpack because you never know. I don’t even think about it until I shape-shift into the farm girl from Manheim, Pennsylvania and then I realize that the things I have in common with other women my age in this place are…well, there are some. Most of them involve reminiscing. Or baking. But what’s not to love about that?

The other night in my journal, I made a list of the things I am. You should try this. It’s an awesome exercise in self-awareness. And then you get to practice being all the things to the absolute best of your ability. Don’t try to shorten the list. Add to it. Deepen. Here’s a truth worth pondering: Acting is acting; lying is lying, but acting is not lying. If you don’t know what I mean, don’t worry. Keep living. You’ll figure it out.

Why anyone else would want to read this amount of my navel-gazing introspection I swear I do not know. But, you’re welcome. You can always shut me up by clicking on the little X in the corner.

This is my List of Things I Am:

the daughter
the grandmother
the step-mother
the good wife
the widow
the American ex-pat
la casi Tica
la quasi Italiana
the nurse (never by profession, but…)
the Pennsylvania Mennonite
the farm girl
the surfer
a single woman
the prodigal child
the cloistered nun
the writer
the student
the teacher
the one who is listening
the maker of maps
the clairvoyant
the wanderer
the stubborn one
the timid one
the guardian
the phoenix

Every day I get up and be some of the things—which ever ones are required of me. These personas are all the more clear when I travel to other parts/places of my life like I am doing right now. I am a human onion. Who, honestly, is not?

The lines blur between Life and Theatre. They melt into the one thing of being absolutely sincere in the moment where you are, and not shying away from any moments because you don’t know your lines or you don’t have a perfect costume. The more things you are, the more diverse moments of sincerity you may participate in.

This is what I’m talking to myself about today on the last day of my trip as a snowstorm approaches.

The Devil, A Hermit, and a Guy Hanging Upside Down

What do you say when your friend offers you a Tarot card reading to start the new year? Um, you say, “Yes.” You get on your bike and ride over to her house and willingly accept a vodka soda first because you don’t know what’s coming. If you grow up Mennonite like some of us (ha ha) you know nothing about Tarot cards except that they are definitely Satanic. I giggle as I write this because the idea of the devil residing in a deck of cards is, well, funny. Right? If only it were that easy. Sigh. Anyway.

I expected the reading to be interesting, but I have to say it was FAR MORE interesting than I imagined.  I’m open to input from all sources, so why not a deck of cards to suggest ways in which I might think outside of my box?

We shuffled up the cards, and I pulled 3. These were intended to represent the Past, the Present and the Future. And my friend said you’re supposed to pose a question. I don’t really have any specific questions in my life right now, just vague ones like, “Which end is up?” and “Am I doing this right?” But you apparently aren’t allowed to be vague, you have to be specific—so I made something up about focusing my energy. Which is still vague. And I feel the cards I drew held a mirror up to me in a way that is IMMENSELY COMFORTING.

Funny. I wouldn’t have said I went there looking for comfort, per say. That’s not generally the way I roll. But I rode home later practically crying with relief. Here’s what I drew:

THE PAST

I flipped over the first card that represents the past and there was the fucking Devil. Sorry about the f word.

I gasped. I mean, the last thing you want to do on your very first Tarot reading as a recovering Mennonite is come face to face with the Devil. It scared the crap out of me. And then I almost burst into tears of joy because HE IS IN THE PAST. You and me, you Beast From Hell, are done with each other. Bye.

The more you know of my story, the more levels of meaning the Devil in the Past will have for you. And, no, I don’t believe I have dealt with the literal Devil in the past. I mean that I have been through many difficult scenarios, most of them in one way or another chosen by me. And of course Cancer is an obvious devil who has very recently caused the complete destruction of the life I had. So yes, a diabolical amount of pain and difficulty are DEFINITELY in the past for me. And what a relief to have this comforting pat on the back from a stupid deck of cards saying, “That’s all done, honey. It’s all over. It isn’t now and it isn’t later. It’s done.”

THE PRESENT

This one was so obvious it made me laugh. I flipped over the middle card and found The Hermit. Ha ha. There’s not even much to say about that. And the Tarot deck only has one devil and he’s in the past so what the heck? Everything else is cream, baby. That’s an amusingly accurate picture of what followed The Devil. A whole year that I spent being a hermit.

I am trying to move out of the hermit mode little by little and I think I’m doing a good job. The Hermit card is said to represent a period of withdraw and reflection, which I think all of you have witnessed me doing.  Right again.

So now I’ve got one card left and it’s the one I’m nervous about. Only mildly nervous because the Devil is in the Past, but being as the Hermit in the Present is SO ACCURATE, I can’t help but be worried about what the Future card is going to be. Because if it’s as right-on as the Past and the Present, then…well, that’s a little scary.  What if I don’t like it?

I flipped it over.

THE FUTURE

Staring back at me was The Hanged Man. I was stunned, confused and dismayed–in that order. The picture on the card and the name of it don’t really match. The name on the card sounds like a death sentence, but the guy on the card isn’t dead. He isn’t even hanging by his neck. He’s hanging by his foot with a very peaceful Mona Lisa type of look on his face. He doesn’t actually appear to be in any type of distress at all. In fact, the more I stared at him, the more it seemed like he was hanging upside down because he wanted to. Just chilling in an upside-down tree pose. And he has a halo on his head.

I stopped being upset and became fascinated. I spent most of my childhood hanging upside down from a broomstick trapeze that my dad finally made for me in in a tree in the front yard after I inflicted on him unbearable amounts of pestering. When I outgrew that, I spent an inexplicable amount of time doing handstands against the kitchen door—just chilling upside down. My parents were perplexed. My sisters were annoyed. I just liked it. I’ve always liked upside down.  No idea why.

So what does The Hanged Man mean? My friend and I had to look him up because he’s a little obscure.  We found this description:

In this card, it depicts a man who is suspended upside-down, and he is hanging by his foot from the living world tree. This tree is rooted deep down in the underworld, and it is known to support the heavens. It is believed that the hanging man is actually positioned there by his own free will. We believe this because of the serene expression which is on his face. His right foot is bound to the branches, but his left foot remains perfectly free. His wearing of red pants are a representation of the physical body and human’s passion, while the blue that he wears in his shirt are representative of calm emotions, a color combination that is commonly seen in saints. His intellect is symbolized by the yellow color of his shoes, hair and halo.

Which, supposedly, means:

The hanged man understands that his position is a sacrifice that he needed to make in order to progress forward – whether as repentance for past wrongdoings, or a calculated step backward to recalculate his path onward. This time he spends here will not be wasted, he does this as part of his progression forward. His upside down state can also symbolize the feeling of those that walk a spiritual path, for they see the world differently.

This is a card which is mainly designated towards waiting and suspension. This suggests that this might be the thing that you need to do in order to achieve success or to wait for the proper opportunity. Keep in mind that taking action is not always the best solution and in certain cases refraining from doing so might bring you just as much, if not more benefits.

WHAT IT ALL MEANS TO ME

I told you it was interesting.

What I got from all of it is pretty much a huge pat on the back from the Universe, and a, “Don’t you worry your little head about it.”

The dark days are in the Past.
The Present is quiet.
I’m not supposed to know, now, what’s going to happen later and there is nothing I need to do to bring it about.  So I should just hang upside down and chill.  Be where I am.

I love it. I can do that. I would have been ok with a bright, joyful and glorious future instead of hanging upside down by the foot, but hey. I can hang. Whatever is coming will eventually get here. And if this is what’s coming, it’s good enough for me.  As long as the Devil is in the Past, I can hang right here for the next 50 years or until enlightenment arrives or until somebody cuts me down.  Whichever comes first.

 

Not to Hide

Silence

This is the end of a year of silence. I didn’t set out to experience a year of silence, but I also promised not to require anything of myself other than keeping my job and feeding the cats. A year of of much silence is what came to me. It was necessary and beautiful in a fearsome way.

Walking out of it, I feel nothing like the person who walked into it. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s true.

 

2017

In 2017, I lost everything. Not “lost” like I don’t know where I put it–“lost” as in my whole life lifted off the planet like water vapor and disappeared into the sky. You know that story already. Until the beginning of June 2017, I had one life. It vanished and was replaced, first by another completely different life in a country with a language I barely spoke, and then replaced again. Replaced the second time by a life back in my familiar country but in a strange house with a reconfigured job, and a new silence.

So. Very. Much. Silence.

I learned to inhabit it.

 

2018

2018 has been a quiet year. Very quiet. Everything happened. Nothing happened. I don’t really know. If I try to make a cohesive, sensible tale out of all of it, my head begins to split down the middle, so I stop. It’s alright. I just tell you true stories as they come to me–maybe someday one of us will be able to make sense out of it all. Or at least some of it.

I have literally written volumes. Notebook after notebook, obsessively as if my life depends upon it. Maybe it does. Some of it is good, some of it isn’t–it doesn’t matter. I have to do it to keep from going mad. There is so much noise in my head and so much silence all around. Sometimes I start to cry and I don’t even know why. Sometimes I feel unnervingly happy. There’s just so much. So much everything. So much that is so important and so impossible. It’s a very big wind and I attempt to simply stand still in it. To take all of it and not fall.

And yes there is a book coming. Poems for the brave-hearted. It’s called “Certain as Afternoon.” Because everything that will happen is.

 

Fear

I’m not afraid.
I don’t feel weak, either.
I feel inexplicably strong.
Like one of those giant cenizaros that hum with bees when they bloom.
Like that.
A blooming kind of “strong.”

I literally do not know what I want.
Maybe I am afraid to want anything for fear of losing it.
That would be a reasonable fear for me to have, all things considered.
But I just said I wasn’t afraid, so what is this confession?
Not afraid, perhaps, of anything that can come from the outside.
But raw as as a fresh wound on the inside.
Yes.
That.
I’m more afraid of me than I am of you.

 

Resolutions

I don’t do New Years resolutions any more. When I used to do them, I always resolved the same things: to write more, to eat less, to be kinder. I don’t have any other ideas. But if I wrote any more than I do right now, I’d have to quit my job. If I ate any less, I would blow away in the wind. If I was any kinder, I seriously hope someone would tie me to a tree and go get help.

But maybe I do have a resolution for 2019. I resolve not to hide. Why do I feel like bursting into tears when I write that? Because hiding is safe and I am good at it?

Well I won’t do it.

I’m not broken anymore. Not most days, anyway. But I’m not sure I’m the same species of creature that I used to be. Something in me feels like it has the coiled strength of a waiting tiger–motionless and not at all delicate. And I’m pretty sure I have butterfly wings, playful, bright, and fragile. I don’t know what you call a thing like that. I don’t know how you be a thing like that. What does it eat? Where does it sleep?  Will people be afraid of it?

 

Water

It’s like surfing. Everything is. Life is. Every day you paddle out into it, whatever it is. Some days you wait and wait for absolutely nothing. Some days you get cold and you want to go home. Some days the sets are so big and so terrible all you can do is paddle straight at them with all your might and pray to God that the hit, when it comes, won’t be as bad as it looks. Some days you ditch the board and dive for the bottom. And some days everything is right, including you, and it all comes together so perfectly you can’t decide if you more want to laugh or cry. I like those days. I have some like that. I have all the kinds. You don’t get to pick.

You pick whether or not to get in the water.

I’m in.

Poem For the Cave

(A love poem for a dark place that ceases to be terrifying when it becomes familiar.  I call it The Cave.)

o deep black
space of silence,
place before time,
dark lung that
pulls us in with the air.
this is where we must
find our way
without sight,
the place where the eye
cannot speak and
only our crying echoes
to show us the
shape of our
sorrow.
the texture of air in our
clutching fingers
is so thin and strange.

Intermittent Fasting: Burn the Broken Chairs

So, let’s talk about something practical for a change, a useful experience I can perhaps offer the world that is neither sad nor entirely nebulous. I’m going to tell you about my 3 months of experimenting with Intermittent Fasting.

What it is

Intermittent Fasting, if you don’t already know, is including a “fast” within each day. You can do this every day, or on certain days—there’s not a wrong way to do it. Your fast starts when you finish eating in the evening and continues until you break the fast. Obviously. You can fast for as long as you want, but people working within this model often aim for a 16 – 20 hour fast.

This means that if I finish eating/drinking at 9 pm and I am aiming for a 20 hour fast, the next time I eat food will be at 5 PM the next day. Another name for this is the 20/4—20 hours of fasting with a 4 hour eating window.


What I was always told

I was always told what you were always told:
You have to eat 3 square meals a day in order to be healthy.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
If you don’t eat enough, you will feel weak and be improperly nourished.
You have to eat an amazing number of portions of certain types of food, or else.
If you don’t eat enough calories, your body will think it’s starving and you will get fat. (?? Thus, all the fat starving people??)
It’s ideal to eat 5 small meals per day.

Etc etc etc

 

What I am discovering

All of that appears to be incorrect, or at best, incomplete. I’ve been doing more 20-hour fast days than not since the end of August, and I am not: starving, fat, too skinny, weak, dizzy, ill. I can surf, ride my bike, run, do yoga and even though several colds have gone around the office lately, I haven’t gotten any of them. I got an infection in my foot from a thorn I stepped on and it went away without me having to take antibiotics. Doing pretty well, all things considered.

 

What made me try this

Two things happened simultaneously that made me so curious I couldn’t resist trying something that I was sure I would hate:

1. Riding along in the car with a friend of mine, discussing longevity in Blue Zones vs all-the-people-getting-cancer-nowadays, I watched him have a complete Eureka moment when I explained that in Guanacaste, the dry season ended in an epoch of virtual famine back when people lived off of the land, not the tourists. Could times of fasting/famine may be one of the Blue Zone common denominators? I saw how much this discovery illuminated him, and I understood that it’s worth paying attention to.

2. Listening to a pod cast this friend send to me later in the day, I heard an analogy that made all the sense in the world about how it is that fasting can be good for you—what your body does when it is hungry that can save your life. Let me paraphrase:

The body is like a wood-burning ship or train crossing the ocean or desert. The food you eat, obviously, is the fuel. So what happens when, in the middle of the ocean, the captain realizes that there is never going to be enough wood to make it to the port? He sends the crew through the ship, room by room, to check the furniture and haul out everything that is obsolete, wobbly, or broken. And they throw it all into the fire. Burn the broken chairs. That is the phrase that grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. Burn the broken chairs. The extra fat cells, the unhealthy cells that can get out of hand and form tumors, tissue that is damage by too much sun or too much wine or too much whatever. Burn the broken chairs. God knows the closets are full of them. Stuff we save up in our bodies and our hearts because we don’t want to throw it overboard. Burn the broken chairs. When we get to the port, we can build new ones out of solid materials that will hold us up but not create clutter.

This is a link to the podcast.  There’s a lot of discussion in it of other, um, unconventional health measures people take, but don’t let that scare you.  No, I haven’t tried all of them!

I had to try it. I had to know. I’d spent 47 years believing that I could not live without breakfast, lunch and dinner, and actually experiencing very real symptoms of hypoglycemia if I didn’t eat “on time.” So? How in the world could this possibly work for me?

I do not know. But it does. I am not weak, dizzy, grumpy, miserable, or any of the other things you would think I would be. I am also not losing weight. This is ok with me because right now I do not need to lose weight–although many people who want to lose weight are able to do it this way. I kind of feel like a rock star.

 

How it feels to fast

You wonder, am I not starving hungry all day? I’ll be honest. I’ve been starving hungry since the day I was born. I love food. But I am not more starving hungry now than I ever was before. It depends more on how much I ate the day before than on anything else.  If I don’t eat enough food during my 4 hours of “feeding,” I can be pretty miserable by about 10 AM. I get terribly hungry, then I get distracted and forget about it. Exercise helps. Endorphins wipe out everything else. I’m the hungriest between about 2-3 PM, for some reason. When 5 o’clock finally rolls around and it’s time for me to eat something, I couldn’t care less if I have something to immediately start stuffing in my mouth, or not. It’s amazing.

And this fasting, as I mentioned in a previous post, has also (I believe) affected my heart/spirit. I absolutely believe that this has helped me burn the broken chairs in my heart. How, I don’t know. But if fasting has been a spiritual discipline for thousands of years, there must be a reason. I have not tasked myself with being the one to define it, but I will tell you that I do experience it. If you have shit to get rid of in your body or in your heart/soul/spirit—stop eating and let the employees haul out everything that doesn’t serve you well. Burn the broken chairs.

When I am very very hungry and I feel like I don’t want to do this anymore, I tell myself it’s alright to be hungry. It’s alright to feel that way. And I love proving to myself over and over that I can do hard things. Hell, this is nothing.

I feel like I “burn cleaner.” And I don’t even know exactly what I mean by this. If you do intermittent fasting, I’ll bet you know what I’m talking about, though. I feel more….sharp. More like I am made up only of essential elements. I mean my body and my mind. Because who are we kidding—we are all only One Thing. I’m done with those bogus separations. I’ve never been able to separate myself into compartments and I’m not interested in starting now.

 

Practically

Practically speaking, this is a difficult way to live. There are all kinds of occasions where you kind of can’t get out of fast-breaking social occasions. So, ok. I go out to breakfast and don’t fast that day. I go out to lunch and don’t fast that day either. It’s alright. There’s always tomorrow. You don’t accumulate a boat full of broken chairs in one day, anyway.

For how long am I planning to do this? I don’t know. Until further notice? Until I change my mind? For how long are you planning to eat the way you eat? Until I decide I have a better idea, I guess. For now, I like it. My body/spirit feels strong and uncomplicated. I also have zero problems with acid reflux, which I suffered from for 12 years. So, there’s that to consider. I am completely off the meds I thought I couldn’t live without.  As Pio would say: Fa’ti delle domande.

 

My takeaway

Let go of everything you thing you know; it’s all somebody’s best guess.  Let go of it all. Truth will arrive on its own to fill up the empty space.

Burn the broken chairs.