When one of my kids was in the hospital a few years ago I remember sitting bedside writing words in the back of a book of crossword puzzles, words that were more about finding a place to put my fear than about telling a story.
Yet later, reading the notes I’d jotted there and in the margins of magazines and in the backs of envelopes in my purse, I found words that brings me, now, right back to the pain, fragility, and fear of that moment.
The words did a certain job as narrative, as description, and as memory keeper – keeping a memory alive that I otherwise wanted to push away and forget because it was almost too much to bear. And the writing served another purpose. Not the actual text itself, but the process of rendering it onto the page.
The process put me into an energetic loop, a place I know from years of writing, meditation, and exercise practices. A breathing room in a space with no air. As though you are under water for long periods of time and someone (you) is bringing oxygen to you for a long enough breath that you can hold on until the next breath.
And it does seem as though we hold our breath when we are hurting.
When you start to breathe again, to physically open your lungs and allow oxygen in, you literally feel the fear exit the body.
Your limbs loosen. You have been holding yourself so tight. You shake your head, move out of rigidity, find a way to stretch – as though holding yourself tight was going to keep you from harm.
Staying with your practice through pain is a way to alleviate pain, to bring you away from the threshold of panic, of too much, of overwhelm.
You can almost feel attached to how bad you feel – as though you sense that if you take the time to sit and write you will change, the pain will lessen, and you will have lost something.
Emotional pain can make us feel like running away. Breaking glass. Screaming. Causing pain to someone else. Causing physical pain to ourselves so that we can have this hurt out in the open for others to see and acknowledge. Something visible, external, to distract ourselves from what is invisible, internal, and perhaps untouchable.
But change can happen in an instant.
Change can happen in a breath.
A single moment can become the pivot for a complete change in your life, your attitude, your direction.
Tom tells a story of hitchhiking south in the Florida Keys. Eight hours into a long day with no ride he crossed the highway and caught a ride the other way.
That day he changed his mind, changed his direction, found himself heading west, ended up in California, got a job at Nepenthe, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Life can crowd that space out of our daily life. But we can hold that space, even the space of a breath, to keep a place for joy, pleasure, beauty, in our daily life.
Another way to think of this is making room for joy.