I’m heading west today, to the mesa, to my distant land where I work on the project of solitude. I almost can’t believe how much non-solitude my recent weeks have been. I’ve rarely been alone. My mother was terrified of being alone, of being quiet. I sat with her day after day, responding to her repetitions which came in spurts, breaking any train of thought I might be able to develop. This was the difficult part of her dementia for me. I never could find a stretch of time alone. In the din of her needs, plus the needs of the medical system which is also very demanding of everyone’s time—they need you to fill out forms, need you to talk to all the very specific moving parts who are marvelous but don’t talk to one another so you become the liaison, they need to you to observe how great they are at what they do and get your permission by law to do this and that which they need to explain to you at great length—and the needs of my father to try to talk to me, I had almost no quiet. No wordlessness. And certainly no solitude.
And now I head toward the mesa where, aside from the builders, there is no one. Where huge stillness sits on the huge land. I can’t even imagine how that will feel. Will I explode?Will the fear and pain I’ve had no time to feel overwhelm me? Perhaps I will be too weary to be troubled.
Modern American Trauma
Inside myself I have been steady during the unchosen hullabaloo. The words and demands and constant clawing at me are a storm. Storms spin around us. They don’t enter us. They batter us, but they rarely crawl down our throats. It is trauma to live through this amount of turmoil, and many of us will experience it. Whoever becomes a caregiver, whether by profession or by association with a loved one, can expect stress far beyond the reach of normal coping mechanisms. I was too harried, too unfocused, too finger-in-the-socket crazed for shivasana or watching my breath. Standard meditation skills, even well-ingrained ones, don’t work in times of trauma. During periods of stability they are good for establishing a solid inner sense of self. They are brilliant for that. But in times of extreme distress the techniques require too much and give too little.
Digging in My Bag
One hallmark of stress is lack of sensation; we feel even less embodied than usual. We hardly feel our bodies at all. In extreme distress, many people report being on automatic, operating like puppets, way out of body. Sleep is frenzied. Mind is on fast forward or it obsesses, trying fruitlessly to find solutions, to get things under control. It is hard to know where to find calm.
I kept digging in my Dancemeditation bag of tricks to find ways to soothe myself. I found a few really good tools. It was important that to find a few. Not a lot. Just a few that I could remember, that worked fast, that were basic. They didn’t look graceful but I did not care. They got me back from the cliff edge, back onto the ground. Certain parts of Dancemeditation saved me. One thing that worked—swaying & rocking. I’ll write more about extreme self-soothers soon. First I have to go be alone. Breathe. Hear nothing. Rest.
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