SANITY IN TRANSITION
poem written and Essay revisited JUly 13, 2016
Snail knows something
And who wouldn't
when going somewhere
means traveling without limbs
while carrying a round house.
My one regret, child, is cutting
the chord that ran the breath
through blood between us
before you had
breathing on your own.
ex·tinc·tion wit·ness post / winter 2012
I’ve never been diagnosed or drugged, but I've definitely known depression. I've experienced what it is to be so lonely you want to die. And I know you can’t know what it means to be in that place unless you’ve been there, so it’s best not to judge someone who has gone there and not come back. In that state, I’ve cried myself to sleep and woken up less exhausted and glad for the cat nestled at the foot of my bed.
The mind's dark tendencies are dressed with the darkness of our time. And sadness is not suffering depression, but is a healthy response to genocide, a dying ocean, mountains topped off for coal, species and cultures gone to waste, and the ties that bind me to all of it.
Depression results from the loneliness driving all the needless violence and loneliness can be felt as viscerally in a crowd as in isolation. Loneliness is when we fail to recognize ourselves.
I think I must be sane like my great grandmother Henrietta, that she and I (and perhaps my father’s entire line) share an appreciation for reason and are inherently good at predicting outcomes. Henrietta lived through the industrial and urban boom of the early twentieth century. A mere hundred years later, I live through the feverish scramble of industrial and technological transition that could be a death or birth as in the case of any labor. What's more, Henrietta and I share the experience of war's extreme. We are thinkers become worriers, our capacities for reasoning, planning, and problem solving crippled by complexities beyond grasp, our empathy overwhelmed by losses too many to know.
If she was anyone like me, Henrietta witnessed a present tragedy lending to a future that is my now and that worried her terribly, so she raged about it. In her time, her rage—manifesting in outbursts with no apparent cause—was silenced by lobotomy. If not for my fear of letting others know just much I love, I would be stripped bare in the street and wailing the sound of “WHY are we killing ourselves?"
But, I’m generally shy. I don’t like to disturb others. And I fear most being locked up for being seen. So, I wail in solitude and write poems in witness to this moment in geological time that is much like the stage of transition in childbirth.
For me, transition was as quick as it was intense. After twenty four hours of sustained labor, I pushed through three contractions to birth my son. Those first twenty four hours are now a bit of a blur. I managed the most intense contractions of those hours by practicing ujjayi breath (“ocean breath”) and imagining myself the dancer—perched on one leg with the other leg kicked up and behind, my hands reached overhead and back grasping my ankle to complete a graceful, balanced backbend. Of these many hours, I simply remember beautiful, sustained calm like floating in still water. My transition, though, remains a vivid feeling, much like shitting a bowling ball. I was sure to split and get this baby out or die.
When I told her I could no longer remain calm, my doctor said “That’s good, ‘cause this baby isn’t coming out if you do.” We are not meant to remain calm as Earth has gone from a period of sustained contractions to a time of transition. It's also not helpful to freak out. The human mind, surely touched by the pain, is challenged enough to manage the intensity with grace. The pain is unbearable and crazy-making when experienced in isolation. We are really too small to handle this transition alone. And, when circumstances find us alone, we can then fall into the arms of the ocean that is Universal love.
Peace of mind that stops with being at peace with what is fails to meet the care that gives birth to everyone living and thus grieves wholeheartedly everyone's death. So, I practice "making peace with patience" in the words of Thích Nhất Hạnh, enduring the pain of love, enjoying this life, and, ideally, being of some help to others. My first priority is essential self-care, for I am only as beneficial to others as I am kind to myself. There is truth in the saying "mind over matter", so I tend my mind with breath.
Breathing, I twist my body into awkward positions. I balance on one leg with the other leg in half lotus and bow forward to touch the ground, breathing. I stand on my head, breathing. I play with the dancer. Balance measures my attention. I run. I ride. I climb to the top of mountains to see mountains as far as I can see, to see myself as I am, witness to something larger to say the least. Along the way I pass whitebark pine, most of them dying or already dead. I think about what their exodus means for mama grizzly bear who loves to eat pine nuts. I consider her babes. With a pause, I catch my breath. Again and again. I begin again.
See also Letting Go of the Wheel - Transition Poems at extinctionwitness.org