Friday, July 16, 2010

Κυκλάμινο (Cyclamen)

Back when I was in the hospital after falling off my horse and fracturing my skull, a dear friend brought me a plant: a beautiful cyclamen with blood-red flowers. When she lived in Greece, she explained, she always saw κυκλάμινο, the cyclamen, growing in wild and dangerous places. When she saw the plant in the gift shop, it reminded her of me.

Photos I’ve seen of the cyclamen in the wild show its flowers springing up from leaves nearly invisible in cracks in the rocks. That lovely, tenacious, tough little plant flourishes in “impossible” situations. The cyclamen feels like a symbol I can hold on to, not just because my friend sees me like that, but because I recognize those qualities in myself. And I need that symbol in my life right now, when I’m trying so hard to find the next steps on my life’s path.

I have never thought of myself as a risk-taker. I was a pretty timid kid who never rode fast on her bike, was scared to cross a creek on a log, hung out by herself, and never broke a bone (until a month ago). But there were exceptions to this.

Throughout my life, I have found myself taking on certain risks and challenges because of something I believed in very strongly. Sometimes the risks were in relationships, sometimes they involved goals or directions in life. Like the cyclamen growing on a dry and rocky slope, I’ve persevered at these times, sometimes with little or no encouragement and, seemingly, with little or no chance of succeeding. Sometimes things worked out; sometimes they didn’t.

One example is my dissertation. The dissertation was its long and wrenching process, or maybe the process was the dissertation. Either way, to call it unconventional is an understatement. It took six years of watching “nothing” happen, of trying in vain to piece together pieces that didn’t seem to go together, and waiting—just waiting—for understanding to emerge from chaos. Not even my advisor truly believed I’d finish—I know he was convinced that I was going to be just another “All But Dissertation” PhD student.

But I just kept going, despite how dangerous it seemed in terms of ever getting it accomplished. It took a very long time indeed! My dissertation defense occurred within a week of my "drop-dead" date, the absolutely last day, after which my entire eight years at Pacifica would have been for nothing, at least officially.

I certainly never envisioned myself as radical in any way. But when I first proposed my topic, my advisor said, "Wow. That's really out there!" And the statement in the abstract, “a radical approach that … refigures the traditional distinction between research as scholarly reflection and the act of being in the world” is almost verbatim my advisor’s response when, after a couple of years of hearing nothing from me, he read the final draft. Interestingly, the same friend who gave me the cyclamen was with me the evening I heard those words over the phone.

The dissertation process itself was so emotionally risky. During that time I ended up questioning pretty much everything I thought I knew, everything I thought I was. Some of it held true, some had to be let go in order for new wisdom to enter. But I kept it up, day after uncertain day, until finally the thing coalesced and I could piece together the final story.

I need to keep that process, that journey, in mind as I move along the path toward building a viable career with my horses. It seems so unlikely that I’ll ever make a go of it financially, and no matter how emotionally and psychologically rewarding the work is, I and the horses have to eat and have a roof over our heads.

I just have to trust the process as it unfolds, follow where I am led, and keep moving. No old, outworn story of loss and defeat must stand in my way. I choose to move forward now, toward my dream.

Κυκλάμινο, be my guide!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Back to Grazing

The last few days I’ve been mulling over a journal entry from some years back:
She who dances in the moonlight becomes the lady cloaked in sorrow. Dance the grief…. Oh God, let my heart be pierced, let my heart be opened so that joy may flow once more.

The entry is the record of an active imagination session, a waking dream, that occurred in the aftermath of an emotionally devastating relationship. The grief still haunts me, and there are days when I become pretty much nonfunctional because of it. Lately I can feel myself sliding back into that depression, just when I most need to be alert, alive, and aware of the excitement that a new direction in my life offers me.

Worse yet, this entry seems to represent a kind of pattern in my life. Not just the relationship itself, or its outcome, but the story. I am a closet drama queen. Well, in truth, my friends would probably dispute the “closet” part. I prefer the terms “high-strung,” or “sensitive,” but call it what you will: I seem to thrive on intense emotion, and what better way to keep it alive than by spinning it into the myth of my life?

So, I realize now, I tell myself these stories over and over again, like re-reading Jane Eyre or some other beloved, romantic book. The brave but beleaguered heroine faces poverty and despair, but ultimately triumphs over it all…. So satisfying to read. So uplifting, in fiction.

However, it’s not so uplifting when it’s your own life’s fictions that you’re re-telling. I’m finally starting to get bored with the plot, and it’s holding me back. But I’m having a terrible time changing my habits. It’s not so easy to let these kinds of stories go—not nearly as easy as putting down a book. I think I’m addicted to the melodrama.

I’ve recently been using Linda Kohanov’s The Way of the Horse, which accompanies a set of cards bearing gorgeous images of horses created by artist Kim McElroy. Like “angel cards” or the tarot, these “wisdom cards” allow one can do readings or get advice from the Guides by pulling a card or cards at random. Whether or not the cards one pulls are meaningful depends entirely on one’s point of view. As you might imagine, I use these types of tools pretty much every day.

This morning’s card was #19 in the Horse Wisdom set, “Back to Grazing,” which speaks of emotional agility and letting the story go. Horses live in the eternal present. They remember, of course; but they spend no time or energy re-living the past or worrying about a possible future. When they are frightened or angry, they react. When the moment is past, they let the emotion wash through them, and they return quietly to grazing.

If I could let my story go, I could simply experience the emotion that is actually present in the moment and not re-live the past and its destructive patterns. The story, alas, can just keep playing over and over in my mind, robbing me of peace and energy.

In point of fact, I am not cloaked in sorrow right this moment. Yes, there are times when that is true, and I can deal with those times. But for the most part, I am, in the moment, feeling quite fine, and am often joyful. So, as the Horse Ancestors might advise,

Let the story go, Kay. Let the grief wash through you, and get back to grazing. The world is a salad!

[Cross-posted on The Alchemical Horse]