48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

Essay #48: h(om)e

In Love on February 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Om is the whole universe coalesced into a single sound and represents the union of mind, body, and spirit (yoga.about.com); used in contemplation of ultimate reality (Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary)

A few years ago, I was in the habit of going to Woodard Bay a few times a week to swim. Part of a natural reserve, it features a quiet inlet that’s usually people-free. One particular day it was sunny and calm, so I took my time getting in and out of the water, instead of the mad dash and dip I usually do when swimming in the Pacific Northwest.

After I dried off, I sat on the beach a while, soaking up the sun, the salt air, the barking of distant harbor seals, herons grumbling and rumbling overhead, the soft plash of the Sound against the shore. The tide was coming in.

Eventually I got up and headed back toward the park entrance, about a mile away. And I noticed a strange thing. The forest was gorgeous. Each individual evergreen, each bush of salal and blackberry, each nettle was magnificent.

I slowed to take it in. Was it the light? I felt as if I had never seen this place before, never noticed how stunningly beautiful everything is. I stopped and looked around… and realized that there was no difference between me and the trees. None.

It wasn’t a huge gong-like revelation. It was quiet, as if it had been there all along, and I just now noticed. I was looking at god. I was looking at me.

I felt an incredible peace. There is no they, only us, all together. One. I got it, viscerally, and started weeping with gratitude. I knew in my bones (which are leased, at best) that there is nothing wrong — not with me, not with the world, not with anyone. Ever. We are all love(d).

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “It was the most basic of events. It was heaven, yes. It was the deepest love I’d ever experienced, beyond anything I could have previously imagined, but it wasn’t euphoric. It wasn’t exciting… It was just obvious. Like when you’ve been looking at an optical illusion for a long time, straining your eyes to decode the trick, and suddenly your cognizance shifts and there — now you can clearly see it!”

My experience of Oneness lasted an eternity, an hour, three minutes. I don’t know how long I stood in one place, or when I started walking again. I am, now, slightly embarrassed to relate this incident. Don’t intelligent people scoff at the idea of god? I do believe that god is love is god, but I also don’t proclaim it to strangers (or at least not very often). But it happened to me, this experience of the Divine, more than once.

And just to bring the notion home, I have only to read the Woodard Bay interpretive sign again:
Like the scent of saltwater, you are welcome here.

Essay #47: falling

In Love on January 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Gee, but it’s great to be back home. Home is where I wanna be. I been on the road so long, my friend. ~Simon & Garfunkel, “Keep the Customer Satisfied”

I went to California last week, to see my dad and stepmom. I was scared to go, afraid to fall back into old family patterns and behaviors.

After the snowstorm, however, I decided to let myself fall. Instead of trying to remember to be my (new! improved!) adult self all the time, I gave myself permission to relax and relapse. I planned to dust myself off and try again: be Me.

What a relief. Instead of expending great amounts of energy trying not to fall, I just went with it, like a martial artist. Those smarties assume they’re going to fall, so they practice, learning to land as free from harm as possible. When I studied aikido a few years ago, we practiced falling and rolling a lot, on good thick mats.

My favorite aikido move is rolling from standing, although when Sensei introduced it, I thought he was nuts. A somersault from standing? TO standing? I can’t do that! Scared scared scared.

“You can do this,” he said. “I know you can.” So I practiced it slo-mo over and over. And watched kids and teenagers doing it easily — whoosh!

One day, I just went for it. I stood at the edge of the mat, threw myself forward across the floor, tumbled along my arm shoulder hip — whoosh! and then I was up, on my feet, facing the same direction on the other side of the room.

“I did it!” I said, thrilled to my completely intact bones. Then did it again and again. And found out how much easier it is to do quickly. Momentum can be your friend.

All that week at work, I strutted around, finally understanding the cocky walk of arrogant men. Sauntering to the restroom, to a meeting, to a co-worker’s cubicle, a voice in my head repeated, “Ha! I can roll from standing! I can do anything!”

Oh California, I’m coming home. Will you take me as I am? ~Joni Mitchell, “California”

Essay #46: powerless or powerful?

In Love on January 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Big storm last week, with knee-deep snow. It knocked out power and phone and thousands of trees. The tall locust in the back yard cracked, and several huge limbs crashed down, scraping the house. My next-door neighbor heard it and yelled, “Are you okay?!” A broken branch dangled 15 feet above the northwest corner of my roof. She stood lookout in the front yard while I gathered blankets. I slept at her house that night, frightened.

That kind of fear doesn’t dissipate immediately, especially since the branch continues to hang over the house. I called the landlord (no phone), his son (no response), and two arborists. Yesterday one of the tree men made it down the drive and took a look. “I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” he said, “the branch is hanging by some strong cords. Locusts are resilient, like taffy. But listen to your intuition. If you get scared, get out. And beware of the wind.” He estimated three weeks before he had time to take it down. So relieved to finally have an expert opinion, I started crying. I break down after the catastrophe.

Back in November, I emailed an alleged friend: I am uncomfortable with the way you hug me sometimes. Too intimate. Distressful. Her response? “I am not coming on to you.” No apology.

Because she was out of town, I continued to attend rehearsals for a dance we were both part of. But eventually she showed up. I ignored her and tried to tough it out, but my body was deeply unhappy. I needed to feel safe. I needed to speak to her. After rehearsal, I asked another dancer for moral support. Without mentioning names or details, I said, “I have to speak to someone about something difficult. Will you wait for me?” She said, “Yes, no problem.”

The too-intimate hugger and I stepped out into the hall. “You got my e-mail?” I said. She nodded. But imagine my surprise when she started to tell me how hurt she was. “I was slammed!” she said, hand to heart. My friend Anger started to get up. What? No apology? No how are you? This is the person you protected for several months, struggling with how to preserve the friendship? Anger raised my voice and shook my head. No no no no no! The discussion became heated. A dancer yelled down the hall, “Good NIGHT, Elizabeth! See you MONDAY.”

In other words, shut up and go away.

Since we weren’t communicating anyway, I did shut up and went back into the studio for my street clothes, shaking so hard I couldn’t put my shoes on. Everyone left, even the one who promised to stay. The choreographer gave me a brief hug, told me how to lock the door, and departed. I sat in the dark for a long time, until I stopped crying. Not one person asked if I was okay — not then, not since.

I receive almost daily emails from the collective’s listserv about rehearsals and labs and brunches. I answer none of them, and dropped out of the dance piece.

I shut up and went away.

And took a good hard look at the people I had been spending so much time, energy, and money on. Dance, for me, is about joy and self-expression. But if I don’t trust the people I’m dancing with, Joy takes a holiday.

The power is back on in my house, and the phone works. I am no longer four years old, waiting for the roof to cave in. I can pack a bag and get out.

Essay #45: kings

In Love on January 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm

On Christmas Day, a Buddhist monk gave me a present. I’d been ill, bedridden, but had decided to walk to the Vietnamese temple to say hello to Quan Yin and the other gods. The sun was out and the sky was that crisp winter blue I love to see behind green trees. Bundled up, walking slowly, I entered the grounds near the largest statue, and immediately saw a monk. Rats, I thought. People. But the monk merely nodded, we bowed slightly to each other, and he ambled away. Leaving me to it, I thought.

I moved closer to the huge sculpture of… Buddha? Quan Yin? How do you tell them apart? and aren’t they just various faces of god, the universe, and everything? But that’s a different essay. I began to chat, say thank you, how are you. Checking in. The monk returned. Sigh.

I turned toward him politely, because, well, he’s a monk! He held up a large sheet of thick paper. A drawing in pastels and ink, lots of green squiggles and black dots, and oh, a brown trunk. Seemed to be a tree, some kind of pine, and writing on a slant beside and under it.

The monk gestured and spoke in Vietnamese, pointing to calligraphy near the bottom of the drawing. “Thich Nhat Hanh,” he said, the first words I understood. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist writer, who Martin Luther King Jr. described as “an apostle of peace and nonviolence.” The writing was a quote. Here it is, grammar intact:

Breathe and Smile
Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky.
I join my hands in thanks
for the many wonders of life
for having twenty-four brand new hours before me.
The sun is rising.
The forest become me awareness
bathed in sunshine.

Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment!
Breathing in, there is only the present moment
Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment.

I laughed with delight — god is not subtle! To my surprise, the monk handed me the drawing and motioned for me to take it. “Happy Christmas,” he said.

After a few rounds of “No! Really?” I said, “Thank you.” He allowed me to give him a very brief sideways hug. “Happy Christmas,” I said. Smiling.

Essay #44: what if?

In Love on January 9, 2012 at 4:34 pm

What if there was nothing riding on your success or failure? No approval or disapproval, no appreciation or disappointment, no money, no love, no friendship, no future work. No pressure. Nothing.

Would you do the difficult task? Would you even try, or would you drop it altogether? Maybe you’d gleefully fool around, exploring different possibilities with simple curiosity. Or take a break and let the subconscious deal with it for a while. Maybe you’d ask for help, or be more open to suggestion — no shame, no blame, everything’s beautiful, as Dancer Meg says.

When I face something challenging, like writing an essay or dancing upside down, a loud voice takes up residence in my head: I am never going to be able to do it. No way. When I look a little closer, I detect two conflicting beliefs: I must, and I can’t.

I must triggers fear and dread. I can’t triggers despair and lethargy. Not your healthiest cocktail. Usually, I force myself to overcome these exhausting thoughts. Try to give myself a little pep talk, or some such. But, really, there’s nothing peppy about it. More like the sergeant in Private Benjamin (or any other war movie): Get out of bed, you lazy loser! Get a move on! Time’s a-wasting! Just do it! Fucking Nike.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, United States of Tara) claims to enjoy the process of writing more than the thrill and relief of having written. I want that. I want to enjoy the process, the #$%&* journey. I want to enjoy my life. (Radical idea!)

Today, tired of the overwhelming thoughts and resultant sick stomach, I tried something different. Instead of resisting, I investigated them, meditated on them, one at a time. Must I do it? Can I do it?

Must I? No. These are not commissioned essays. I’m the one imposing the deadline. I do not have to post anything today or ever again. Do I want to? Yes. These essays are a gift to myself. I want to keep my promise to publish. There has been a dearth of Elizabeth, a paucity, a lack. I have been holding back.

Can I? I have no idea. I’ve posted 43 essays so far. Chances are good I can do it again. We’ll see.

Handy little phrases, no? Must I, Do I want to, Can I.

Evidently I can, because here’s essay #44. Only four more to go.
No pressure.

Essay #43: welcome

In Love on January 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Welcome: admitted gladly, freely invited or permitted; synonyms: comfortable, wanted

Last night I watched Cary Fukunaga’s film version of Jane Eyre. It opens with Jane running across the moors in the rain, periodically falling to the ground weeping. “Jesus,” I thought. “What a loser. Running around without gloves, not bothering to keep her cape closed or the hood up.” Of course she washes up on a friendly doorstep, not quite fatally ill, and recovers.

When I was 17, in the middle of a fight, my mother told me she had found another house to live in. There was no room for me. Devastated, I ran out the door, jumped in the car, and drove to find my boyfriend. “Let’s move in together,” he said. A friendly doorstep!

Unfortunately, I believed that if your own mother doesn’t want you, you’re lucky if anybody does. If you’re not welcome at home, it’s a miracle you’re welcome anywhere.
This is what is known as faulty logic.

For decades I was convinced that my welcome could wear out at any time. At home, at work, with friends, lovers, family — I could never rest, or get comfortable. I had to be ready to go at any moment. In order to survive, to protect myself, I thought I had to know which way the wind was blowing, what people were thinking, what they might do. My natural sensitivity became extreme.

Today I tried an experiment. What if I were welcome… everywhere?
What if I did not need to know what others had up their sleeves?
What if my paramount concern was my comfort? my happiness?
What would that be like?

Turns out, I would be like Emmett. You’re having a party? Here I am! You’re going for a walk, a drive, a bike ride? Let’s go! He always assumed he was a part, not apart.

Do I ever welcome myself?

When I listen too long to a neighbor’s chatter instead of saying, “Gotta go,” I put her comfort ahead of mine. When I plan a party I don’t want to host, who am I considering? Not me.

Who is wandering the moors instead of sitting by a fire sipping brandy, saying, “Look, this is not working. You have got to let the mad woman out of the attic.”

Come in from the cold. The fire is lit.

Essay #42: present

In Love on December 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Four years ago, the time between Christmas and New Year’s was one of the worst in my life. Emmett was dying and I didn’t know how to save him. Everything hurt him, I could not make him comfortable for more than a few minutes. He wouldn’t stay in the house.

The vet had removed his front leg a year before: sarcoma. And for a while he was okay. Then he got pneumonia and a wracking cough. His breathing went from labored to difficult.

Big dog. Shiny coat. Stupid woman, me, who didn’t know what to do. Even riding in the car hurt him, so I went to the vet alone to get more medicine. It didn’t seem to be working, though he took it with peanut butter every few hours. He had the softest mouth, gently taking the pills from my hand.

He could barely walk around the block. He was only six years old.

On New Year’s Eve I awoke at 4 a.m. Dark. By this time we’d developed a fairly good telepathy. Emmett rarely barked. He only had to stand outside my window for me to ‘hear’ him. But he wasn’t there. I pulled on a jacket and went out to the garage where he’d been resting under a boat. He wasn’t there, either. He wasn’t anywhere in the garage. It felt like the tomb after Jesus had risen. Empty.

I searched the back yard, the front yard. Finally found him up by the sidewalk. He had jumped the fence. He could barely walk or breathe, but he had jumped the fence.

I called the emergency vet. She asked if his lips were blue. “No,” I said. He was still in the front yard, staring through the fence at me in the house. Come on. Let’s go. I knew what he was saying. He was done here. But I wasn’t done. So I ignored him.

The streets were icy. I asked a neighbor whether I could borrow her 4-wheel drive, but Emmett wouldn’t get in. He stood by the back door of my old Toyota, waiting for me to open the door. We were doing this his way.

Emmett sat in the back seat as usual, looking out the window at the sunrise and passing strawberry fields.

His regular doctor wasn’t there, and the one who was wouldn’t see us right away. So Brandy, his favorite vet tech, came in and talked to us, then weighed him. He’d lost 10 pounds in a week. “Fuck,” I said, shocked. She nodded. It was bad. We decided an x-ray was in order.

For some reason, Brandy expected me to walk Emmett back to the x-ray room. Usually he went of his own accord, no trouble. And he was no trouble this time either, but I walked back with them through the hospital and saw him through the door. “Good dog, Emmett.” Then I returned to the little consulting room we’d been in, and shut the door. That was the last time I saw him alive.

Someone yelled, “I need help here,” and running footsteps came from all directions. I started praying. Not that he would live, even then I wouldn’t make bargains with gods, but that he would be okay.

I am loving you, Emmett. I am loving you.

He was the best present of all.

Essay #41: support

In Love on December 19, 2011 at 11:03 pm

I am taking an aerial dance class. It’s very difficult, engaging muscles I don’t use every day. How often do you pull yourself up on a long piece of silk and flip upside down?

My favorite so far is the dance trapeze. It’s easier to get into than the sling, which is just a loop of fabric hanging from the ceiling. My mind chimes in with, “Silk is something you sew, you can’t possibly dance on it!” But the trapeze has a sturdy wooden bar I can grab and manuever.

I seem to be stronger and able to do more when the teacher is standing next to me than when I practice on my own, outside of class. I will spot you, she says, I will hold your weight. Meaning, I see you. You’re safe.

With her support I am able to get into Half Angel, Sitting Pretty, and Coffin pose. The cycle of life, yes? Born angels, we’re sitting pretty for awhile, then we’re dead. And the whole thing is easier with support.

Usually I apologize for needing help. “I’m such a loser.” But how will she know I need it unless I ask? Maybe I’ve been missing the point of this exercise. I signed up for a dance class, but what I’m actually learning is how to ask for what I want. How to receive it. How to trust. How to fly. And how to land.

Just back from class, my arms are so tired I can barely lift them to the keyboard. But tonight I was able to pull myself up higher on the silks, and hold on longer. For the first time, I held myself steady with my feet, pulled my upper body through the slit in the fabric, and performed the Diva Descent, arms open wide and welcoming as I slowly slid to the ground.

Supporting myself the whole way down.

Essay #40: duty or delight?

In Love on December 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm

“If you feel a sense of delight, you know you’re on the right track. Delight is a marker for the soul’s truth — it’s never wrong.” ~Kathy Freston, Expect a Miracle

Amen, cousin.

Who would you rather be around: someone who’s delighted to be here or someone who thinks she should be? Don’t do us any favors by saying yes when you want to say no. We can tell it’s a should — a duty, not a delight.

How much energy are you expending on duty, on shoulds? Do you talk yourself into hateful jobs? ill-fitting friends? Do you pray for traffic or nasty weather so you have a good reason to skip the company Xmas party? Or do you immediately reschedule everything so you can attend?

I’m not saying duty can’t be delightful. Take exercise. It starts out being a duty, something I should do, but by the end of the walk or ride, I’m delighted. Life is good.

Figuring out whether something is a duty or delight can be tricky. Usually the body knows better than the brain. I recently, surreptitiously, returned the music to a dance piece I hadn’t bowed out of. My body wouldn’t let the CD all the way into the house, kept it near the door so I could slip it in my pocket next time I visited the choreographer. Afterward, my brain finally let me e-mail my resignation. If I attend rehearsals for a piece I think I should do, I’m doing my Self a disservice, as well as the dance.

Moving toward delight can be scary if you’re out of the habit. I have actually run from delight, talked myself out of it in all its manifestations. Years ago, I was hugely attracted to a man at work. Instead of talking to him, I avoided him like the plague. Could barely look at him. Whipped a quick 180 from the very possibility of delight. I’ve regretted it ever since.

Which are you choosing — duty or delight?

Essay #39: rolling through fear

In Love on December 5, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Before Thanksgiving I stopped at Bike ‘n’ Bike to see if I could find some wheels for the winter. Volunteer run, housed behind a thrift store, here you can avail yourself of donated tools and used parts to build a bike or fix one. Volunteer Elise found me a bike with a good frame, and a comfortable seat to swap out. I worked on the brakes, put my name on it, and left it propped against a ladder to the loft.

After the holiday, I swung by three different times but the shop was always closed. Finally, yesterday, it was open. Full of bikes and men. No Elise. I looked around the crowded room. Couldn’t find my bike among the many parts and people. Finally, hanging on a hook against the wall behind a slew of other bikes — I saw it.

Dirty white Cro-Moly frame with a bike rack. Rear brakes still stuck, though I’d cut myself trying to loosen them. Elise had even put the good seat on for me. But another name was taped on the frame. No sign of my name or the sheet of paper I’d threaded through the spokes. Perhaps it fell off when someone lifted it on the hook. What to do?

I walked over to the counter and tore off a piece of old greasy flyer. Wrote Elizabeth on it. Went back to the bike. Looked at it. Decided to take it instead. Gently pushed the other bikes out of the way, but handlebars impeded my progress. An older man started yelling that it wasn’t my bike. “Yes,” I said, evenly, “this is my bike.”

“That’s bullshit!” screamed Angry Man. “I’m not going to stand for it!”

“It’s true,” I said in a higher than normal voice. “Elise gave it to me.”

“I don’t give a fuck who Elise is! Who’s Elise?” he yelled, storming around the shop, which was hard to do given the limited floor space.

“She’s here on Fridays,” I said, starting to shake.

Angry Man continued cursing and screaming. I raised neither voice nor fist, but continued extricating the bike while asserting my right to it as calmly as I could.

Finally it was free and on the ground, but I was deep in the dingy room. Angry Man and the others were between me and the door.

Then a miracle occurred. As soon as I started to move, a pathway opened up. Without making eye contact, I rolled the bike past everyone and out the door. No one laid a hand on me or barred my way. Angry Man stopped screaming. Even though I was scared, I pushed the bike through the thrift store, outside into daylight and fresh air.

No one stopped me.