A wonderful photographer was going to mail me a photo he took of the Dalai Lama- he’d been invited to photograph His Holiness, a great honor- I won a little contest with a photo of my cat.
…and Kyle’s photograph just never arrived. One of life’s mysteries, I guess. I don’t know why seeing that photo and having it had become so important to me. A talisman, a reminder of a beautiful soul to light the way in a time of deep personal struggle.
I keep dreaming of the photograph. When I open the envelope, there are many photos in sepia, very faded, and they look just like my Grandfather walking away from me. He’s always turned away or walking away — and I always think “Huh. the Dalai Lama looks just like Grandpa.” The places where the sun through the trees is brightest on him are so faded they’ve disappeared.
Learning to let go. Then let go again. Oh, you thought you let go? Just kidding! Let go some more, goober.
PTSD requires this: I have had a full day now without fight-or-flight, that sickness in the belly that had become my “normal,”
I know how to do it now. I have felt what it is like to live with a soft belly, with safety in my body, it’s mind-blowing. The absence of pain and fear is so beautiful!! – and I’m stunned into sadness that I have not had a day, nor yet a full hour (unless I was boxing or through kirtan) of this peace for years until yesterday. Then : the backlash happened. Nightmares – waking up in the night with fears about my current relationship repeating the past trampling my soul. There’s a quote from Ray Bradbury that says it all:
“Oh God, midnight’s not bad, you wake and go back to sleep, one or two’s not bad, you toss but sleep again. Five or six in the morning, there’s hope, for dawn’s just under the horizon. But three, now, Christ, three A.M.! Doctors say the body’s at low tide then. The soul is out. The blood moves slow. You’re the nearest to dead you’ll ever be save dying. Sleep is a patch of death, but three in the morn, full wide-eyed staring, is living death! You dream with your eyes open. God, if you had strength to rouse up, you’d slaughter your half-dreams with buckshot! But no, you lie pinned to a deep well-bottom that’s burned dry. The moon rolls by to look at you down there, with its idiot face. It’s a long way back to sunset, a far way on to dawn, so you summon all the fool things of your life, the stupid lovely things done with people known so very well who are now so very dead…” – Ray Bradbury Something Wicked This Way Comes
When we begin to heal, to make changes, the psyche and body will fight to hang onto their “normal,” even if that normal is a place of pain, or overweight, or whatever else has become the “status quo.” If we are used to carrying 40, 50 extra pounds, and have a day of eating healthfully, positive in a conviction to start treating ourselves as though we matter, BAM – that’s when the urge to overeat comes even stronger than before. The thoughts of “I can’t do this so why try,” or the emotional saboteurs that will convince us that we must give up our forward momentum. They’re wily, strong and crafty – they have to be, these “saboteurs,” they are our means of survival–or so the body and subconscious think. Status quo must be preserved at all costs! That’s why it’s so very hard to make significant and lasting change. My “normal” has become a certain tense, fear-laced readiness to fight. at all times. My body and psyche think this is helping me, this is the way I will survive.
Therefore in order to make changes it takes a warrior spirit that persists gently, (I know “gentle” and “warrior” sounds like a paradox but it isn’t) one breath of change at a time, consistent, choosing every day to fight for (or in my case, give in to) the change until the change becomes the new “normal” –
I know how to do it now; it requires renewing being present every moment. it’s so hard…and so light. it requires letting go . I will let go until letting go becomes the new habit, the new “normal.”
If that photograph of the Dalai Lama was meant to teach me this lesson, well, it has been a deep and profound gift. I am incredibly grateful for the loss, the absence. That my talisman never arrived was, I think, exactly how it needed to manifest in my life.
edited: I feel like I should add a few helpful, practical tips here for people who carry PTSD.
1) Start by noticing. Just slow down and notice the triggers.
When we pause and notice, we are moving things from our reactive brain into our analytical brain. We are distancing a bit. This is the beginning of the way to healing completely. It’s a small step but a HUGE one. (It’s also not always easy when you’re already IN the triggered state.) Just breathe and notice. Don’t judge. “Oh, there you are, clenched stomach. There you are, trembling hands. What triggered you?” notice and name it. “The four teenage boys in that aisle shouting to each other triggered this.” Don’t name it as the enemy – don’t name yourself as victim – name it as the cure. Throw your closet door open and shine the light on the shadows that lurk in there. That’s how we see that the Tigers are actually our coats…
2) Set aside a time for mindfulness practice every day. Meditation isn’t some kind of training in being an exalted “zen” person — it’s training in letting go. When we notice thoughts come up (THEY WILL. There’s nothing wrong with that. the brain is a chattery, busy thing!) we learn to just notice them, then let them go and go back to the breath, rather than follow the thoughts down the rabbit hole. Sometimes the thoughts are so seductive, we’re chapters into a story of our own writing before we notice that we’ve gotten caught up in thoughts! That’s ok. just notice when you notice, and go back to the breath. It’s training the brain to notice. it’s training the brain to observe and training the self to have less judgment, more compassion, and release and move on.
3) Self-Care. Stopping putting myself last. Stopping being a “pleaser.”
Honestly… these days I am taking more time to make sure I exercise. I am being very careful to notice the guilt and defensiveness that comes up around my need to exercise, the excuses I feel I have to make to people to have that time to myself, etc… and then I let it all go. I say “this is what I need to do for myself,” and I do it – with joy and gratitude. If people don’t understand or don’t like you to take time for yourself, that might bear some examining.
4) Sleep. Just making sure to get enough sleep. With the nightmares and middle of the night fear attacks, this is a priority now. No more apologizing or saying I have got to “push through.” Sleep.
This is just the beginning of healing. Just a few small things to do.
Take it one moment at a time. Breathe into the belly. release – Just right now. One moment, one day at a time.