Signal

The morning carried a heavy weight, bent over, wary and in high tension. The cloud on the close horizon did not help, walkers’ wind cheaters silhouetted and a stray seagull quite out of it, flock cried off, nowhere in sight. Our tree signposted barren hopes of spring, far off, and daffodils slept off last spring. I don’t need to tell you this, but it is grim everywhere. The mad men have lost control, mouths and our lives like fish landed, opening and shutting, messaging deranged contradictions. They lack all conviction, covering their behinds with lies that have nowhere to hide. Back here, a bit more pastoral, gardeners armed with chainsaws, hack limbs off dead shrubs, sculpture hedges in some vain effort to control the wildness. The television glares news loops and scarecrow men rally around a loser lost in another universe where the future was once orange. In that there is a signal, one hope not too distant.


© 2021 Copyright Rick Frame

No escape

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I was at Cape Town International Airport when he said that I should be grateful to the person who triggered my series of crises and, boy, was I furious with him.

In saying that he had absolutely no clue about the actual pain of the experience – the almighty disruption that had flipped me out. That had hung me out to dry. I literally had had no inner resources to deal with the flooding of my feelings that had nowhere to go.

That is why the therapeutic experience is so very important to deal with those feelings. Good therapy enables the crisis to be experienced in a way that is held. A kind of holding environment, a container. It is the place where extremely difficult feelings can be known, named, explored, excavated and dived into.

This is not to make it sound easy. It is emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Importantly though, the one to one experience with my therapists, gave me the time and space to get some kind of calmness and stability knowing that, although mine was fairly prolonged, ultimately the therapeutic environment is temporary.

Inevitably, I believe (although this may not be true for everyone) we have to fall back on our own inner lives. What therapy did was to give me the language to name the feelings and the emotions and ultimately helped me to see the universal truth that suffering is something that each of us do in varying degrees. Jack Kornfield amusingly states in one of his podcasts, some of us are quite loyal to suffering and I can relate to that experience.

What is key though is what Mark Epstein says in The Trauma of Everyday Living about the examination of our own trauma: ‘While the things that bother us cannot always be eliminated, we can change the way we relate to them.’ I am not sure what I am imagined when I first went into therapy – whether I wished to find a way to escape from the pain – but I thought six or seven sessions would fix me. Not so. Over four years later I am not fixed but I am in an environment where I have at long last acknowledged my suffering in all its awfulness. I am in a much better position to be the sovereign of my own destiny and not yanked about by feelings and emotions. The key thing, too, is that I am not alone.

The disruption has led me down all sorts of roads and discoveries of contemporary psychotherapists and philosophers, thinkers and wise men and women who have an extraordinary understanding of the human condition.

I have learned a lot and it has been tough – on reflection there is no single truth except perhaps the line from Pema Chodron’s book, The Wisdom of No Escape. All the wisdom points in this direction. It is in the examining of the feelings, rather than running away from them and acknowledging trauma and suffering instead of pretending that everything is normal, that we can begin to walk into a wider view of how we live and deal with our stuff.

I wrote Raw-Red Bone of Memory in the midst of my own extraordinary pain which was both spiritual and mental and on re-reading, I have a new perspective. I had had a sharp memory of physical pain and in some kind of weird way this experience became, without sounding too pompous, allegorical.

He called out in a distress forged in the tangle-metal of an accident. Only the songbird-needle of morphine could ever so briefly-fleetingly extinguish the misery of the wide-open unhealed wound, gaping with flesh and blood.

I lay in the next bed to him in the hospital, having been admitted in the morning, doubled over with my own pale version of pain. An emergency had whipped out a fetid appendix (yes, I know, I am being dramatic) and my only experience then was of post-anaesthesia dullness and the odd stomach muscle smarting slightly in a sudden movement.

Summoned, the nurse was unable to ease his pain. He half-shouted out that he didn’t care about being addicted to that songbird in a vial. He simply needed the sweet relief, even if it only glanced him, took the edge off.

Until today, I had completely forgotten about those midnight hours lying in a hospital bed listening to a man who sobbed in his pain, and who cursed and swore at the world. I had been  remembering my own pain, gliding in on a songbird of hope, blowing away the awful what-have-beens that sometimes fester in the raw-red bone of memory when, startled, I thought of that hospital ward thirty four years ago.

https://shorttrouseredyouth.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/raw-red-bone-of-memory/

Which leads to the bit where, now looking back, I can be thankful to the bastard that triggered my shit. I have come full circle from that conversation in Cape Town and see this differently too.

Epstein posits that if trauma does not destroy us, ‘wakes us up both to our own relational capacities and to the suffering of others. Not only does it make us hurt , it makes us more human caring and wise’.

That’s my wish for myself and anyone who is in crisis and pain.

 

”Where ever you go, there will be people who will be difficult. You know they are waiting for you.” Jack Kornfield, Podcast: The Garden of the Heart

 


Until now

I am mostly certain. But I see that it is okay to only understand mostly and not fully. I just want to be me. That gap between is a life-time journey of me in conversation.

The story told me. I allowed it to. And it messed with my head, good and proper. You see, it was all one-sided – from him to me. I had listened obediently for far too long. Until now.

I snatch the voice out of the teller. I have his vocal chords in my hands. His pens that he used to write me with are in the bonfire, snapping and crackling. I dance around the embers of the crayons that he drew me with. The earth falls into the night sky and yet I know that morning will come.

My voice now tells me. I tell me now.

My voice drizzles like olive oil in the early summer warmth. It is husky from emotion and being unused and unsaid. There is a depth to my soul that I thought impossible to reach – a new landscape of conversation in which I can tell of me and how I feel.

I am mostly certain. But I see that it is okay to only understand mostly and not fully. I just want to be me. That gap between is a life-time journey of me in conversation.

I have come upon myself and in my telling I laugh at the death of the old story teller. I had never thought it would have been possible. Until now.

The understanding of the firing line

There was no actual declaration of war. It kind of just happened. It all began in skirmishes with disintegration. A slow motion, frame by frame shattering. If only I had known of impermanence then I would not have clung for dear life on the shards-scattered-splintered. I mentioned that the guns were trained on myself but that is not entirely true. Gunned down but gunning at the world. The raw red bone was in my head and in my soul. The numbness was not numbness but a strange out of touchness and a fragmentation and no place to contain the battleground. The shell shocked feelings rode out on a storm-flood. There is a possibility of explanation: the groundlessness, cratered by the total war heard in my head.

Caught


Obsessive thoughts caught
in a rat trap grip
and the cheese was not even worth it.
I worry what people think.
The darkened train carries the faces of their
judgement on the window mist.
I think I am burned out.
I have no container to keep the embers - the hot coal ash
floats in on the wind.
I snatch them back - too hot to touch.

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‘But in order to loosen their grip, we must first know what they are.’
Mark Epstein Advice Not Given: A Guide to getting Over Yourself

The other day


I had the sensation
Of wanting to harm myself.
It came as a hooded figure, dark and real,
Carried in on a night.
I sought sleep to escape it.
The hooded figure loiters on the corner in the alleyway.
Drop back into my body and lighten on the breath,
Carried in on the sun from the East.
Still, the figure stands in the shadow.
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Trying not to have a thought only made it more pronounced and more threatening … We don’t need to make your symptoms go away; we just need to change the way you relate to them. With less aversion to your thoughts, their hold on you will lessen. You could be less preoccupied and more open to what you are seeing around you … Instead of focusing so much on unwanted thoughts, he started to look around.

Extract from Mark Epstein, ‘Advice not Given: A Guide to Getting Over yourself’