Summer’s Sweet Dream

Even at quieter times of the year when life shouldn’t be frantic, it seems I can still become frazzled and overwrought. It sometimes feels like I’m caught in an endless repeating cycle, but at least if nothing else it serves as a reminder that feeling stressed is less to do with circumstances and more to do with how we meet them. This is not the first time that I’ve written about this and I’m certain it won’t be the last.

Feeling like an over-wound alarm clock about to go off is a pretty good signal to pause and take stock. I know I’m not as wise or considerate towards myself as I should be, and I also know that somewhere inside me there’s a wiser and kinder person who’d like to help if only I’d let her. On this occasion I realised it was time to go for a walk.

Wandering around with a camera and not thinking, at all, of anything, is a pretty reliable way for me to unwind. It’s a bit like just floating about, and looking, and blinking – and suddenly you have a photograph (such is the extraordinary wonder of a phone camera that doesn’t even feel like a camera) and I can relax into doing this for long minutes at a time, until I’m just happily bumbling about in a sort of visual dream.

I haven’t done nearly enough of this lately and it’s like taking a long drink of cool water when you’re hot and tired and desperately thirsty….

I have a suspicion that all this aimless wandering around gazing at things with an empty mind is probably far more valuable and powerful than it would seem. It’s hard to quantify or describe, but it’s far more than just a way to relax. And long after I’m home again, not just hours or days later but months, even years afterwards, at times a part of me is still out there in the woods, under the trees. Sometimes when I catch myself whirling into wound-up alarm clock mode I remember to pause and grope for stillness and a way back. And occasionally memory will float to the surface in the form of words, which then turn into pictures, which then become once again a kind of dream…..

Raspberries, strawberries,
peaches and cream,
sunlight and shadows
are summer’s sweet dream.

Wandering slowly,
unhurried, through trees;
picking up words as they
fall through the leaves.

Picking up words
and writing this song;
meeting each moment
as it comes along.

Raspberries, strawberries,
peaches and cream,
sunlight and shadows
are summer’s sweet dream.

Compassion

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After a morning
of pain
(not mine)
I lay down
and tried
to run away.
It didn’t work.
The pain ran with me.

Pain is a fast runner.
It can stick to you
like a shadow.

Exhausted, fearful
I tried a different tactic;
stopped running,
turned to it
and smiled.
Spoke to it
and listened.

Discovered
we are not enemies.
It is not evil, simply
the way things are.
It needs my love
and runs after me
to ask it.

I can reach out to it
now, touch it, even.
I can feel my heart melt.
We can sit together
in the half-light,
listen to each other’s stories
and hold hands.

Weekly photo challenge: One Love

State Of Mind

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I’m going down deep.
Every hour or so
When I’m edgy and rattled,
confused,
I’m going to breathe slow,
and simply let go.

I’m going up high.
I’m going to lie
on a cloud and head for
the sky!
I’ll put everything else to one side
and just go for a ride.

I’m going down deep,
and I’m going up high,
but I’m not going far.
An infinite distance
is right where we are.

One of the things about ME (or chronic fatigue syndrome) is that you have much less than most people of what in a computer is called RAM – random access memory – the part of your brain that can quickly recover things that you’re currently concerned with, and lets you do one thing while mentally stacking up a fair few others in the background. I can’t do this. If I try, or if I have to do it for more than about a minute, I crash, just like a computer with not much RAM. And I mean crash – both mentally and physically.

This has been happening a lot lately, and so I’ve been gently steering myself into calmer waters. Coping with ME a lot of the time involves trying to create new neural pathways, and at the pace of a snail, or a glacier, changing the patterns that are hard-wired in my brain.

There are lots of ways to do this. Lying on my back with my eyes shut, and letting words slide about without interfering with them until they arrange themselves into a poem is just one.

State of Mind is this week’s photo challenge.

Setting A Trap For The Moon

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I’m going to
set a trap
for the moon;
catch it
and hold it
just for a moment
and then set it free –
just for the joy
of letting it go
and watching it fly.

I’m going to
lie in wait
with my snares
and my lines,
watch it approach,
then snap! and I’ll have it
there in my hand.
Oh! What a wonderful
thing it will be!
One second to touch it,
to feel it, to know it,
to greet and salute it
and then –
set it free.
Oh! What a wonderful,
wonderful
thing it will be.

Write Out

Sometimes, nothing will straighten me out except poetry.
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Not long ago I went on a workshop given by the poet Chris Tutton called Poetry as Healing, an afternoon that came like a gift of grace at a time when I needed it more than I realised. It confirmed what I already knew but had forgotten – that there are times when writing, and more particularly writing poetry, can do more than anything else to bring stillness and peace to a frightened mind.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that research shows when sufferers of anxiety and depression use poetry as a form of expression, it lessens activity in the amygdala – the so-called ‘lizard brain’, the primitive neurological centre associated with fear. Quite why writing poetry rather than creative prose should do this is not fully understood and was something we discussed, but it seems clear that as Chris suggests it probably has to do with structure. Finding words to express feelings in a concise, condensed form and in a free creative way can be very liberating, while at the same time it’s a comfort to find focus and order in a situation that is otherwise spinning out of control. I know that there have been times when I’ve found greater peace and comfort from this than I could have found any other way.

It’s important to understand that it doesn’t matter how good the results are in terms of writing. This is unashamedly, first and foremost, therapeutic and if you thought it was only worth doing to try to produce a poem to be proud of, you’re thinking about it the wrong way. Nevertheless it can sometimes throw up lines that make sense in a powerful way that can be worth sharing.

That Saturday afternoon I was filled with tension and anxiety. A close member of my family had slithered into a deep depression after enduring months of anxiety and was struggling to keep afloat; we watched in dismay as he sank further and deeper and weren’t sure he would be able to climb out however much we supported him. We had all been hanging on in one way or another, wishing desperately that there was more we could do, and having known the pain and despair of depression from the inside I now learnt the pain of watching someone you love suffer in a bleak dark place.

It wasn’t until almost a week later when the crisis had past, and new medication and the intervention of the wonderful Mental Health team had brought about the miraculous beginnings of recovery, that I noticed myself coming apart and agitated to the point of distraction.

I did a lot of vacuuming. I went for a fast walk, trying to ease my tension with fierce exercise. I immersed myself in work that didn’t really need to be done and got exhausted. I did practically none of the things that I could have done that would have made me feel better and by dawn the next morning my stomach was fluttering and cramping and no amount of slow deep breathing would calm my anxiety. My stress response had kicked in and activated the fossil-record of experiences from long ago so that the present merged with past and I was in a permanent state of fight-or-flight. I lay in bed unable to control my gibbering mind, and clutched at straws. Start from where you are, I thought. That’s the right way to begin because you can’t start from anywhere else.

Catching the first few words that came to me I let them form together and repeated them in my head until they made sentences that I could hear on the in-breath and on the out; the rythymn of the unspoken sound of it was like a lullaby, like listening to rain or the sound of the wind. Within minutes I was calm, and the calmness endured.

Let my heart cry.
Let me loosen the ties
that bound me
and held me together.
Let me unravel a little,
and travel a little
in weakness and worry and fear,trusting my journey
and finding the comfort of tears.

Its not much of a poem. I print it here to illustrate how much that doesn’t matter, how that really isn’t the point. What matters is that it’s often the best way I know to find my way back to myself, to a place of stillness and calm, the place that feels like home.

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Exploring New Worlds

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I have been climbing
through canyons
of light; basking
on the round smoothness
of golden silk-soft slopes;
diving headlong
down deep
into dark crevasses,
finding secrets.
I have been
lying cradled
in the curl of an edge
suspended
in space;
sheltered,
concealed.
I’ve been drenched
by dew drops
the size of dinner-plates,
then warmed
by sunlight
filtered through
gossamer canopies
of pale gold,
and all the time
breathing it in,
drinking deep,
held captive by wonder.

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Postscript:
I said in my last post Suddenly, New Worlds that I thought I would be discovering images that needed no words. And I have been. But all of a sudden I found I couldn’t help trying to write about what it feels like to dive into these pictures and get lost in places I’ve never seen in quite this way before. I never stop being amazed by how the ordinary, the everyday – or what we mistakenly think of as ordinary and everyday – can turn in the blink of an eye into something completely different, extraordinary, and magical.

Walking On Grass

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Sometimes I have to walk on grass.
Footpaths are good,
and pavements, in the rain;
but there are times my feet
need to remember
the springiness of short-cropped turf
nibbled by sheep,
or tussocks of couch grass
long-bladed, tousled,
catching the wind in waves
in an ungrazed field.
Grass mixed with clover,
buttercups and dock;
or a lawn freshly mown
with the cuttings still damp,
strewn, smelling of childhood,
of cricket fields,
of home.

Sometimes I need to lie
on my back in the grass
like I did today,
under a tree,
feeling the earth beneath me,
watching the sky,
thinking of nothing at all.

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