So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. – TS Eliot
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
– William Wordsworth
Winter is a season of recovery and preparation. – Paul Theroux
If you have been reading my posts in 2017, you know that much of my recent writing has been highly influenced by Celtic Myth and specifically the work of Sharon Blackie, the author of the book If Women Rose Rooted. After reading her book in early 2017, I was moved to study with Sharon and have been taking her year long on-line Voices of the Wells course since April. Sharon invites you to explore Celtic myth to inform your sense of place in the Land you live, contemplate Seasonal changes and consider the role of the women as keepers of the land.
You also know from my previous posts, that I’m a long time student of yoga and draw from Eastern traditions to be calm. What I have enjoyed observing over this past year is how many of the Western based traditions that I’m exploring connect nicely with my Eastern based studies. So many of the underlying principles are similar. It was coincidental that one of my seasonal assignments from Sharon about reflecting on the silence and meaning of the Winter Solstice coincided with an opportunity to learn more about the monastic tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. I had been resisting fulfilling both my course assignment and attending the documentary about Thich Nhat Hanh’s work, because my husband is seriously ill after complications from open heart surgery. What was supposed to be a week to ten day hospital stay was going to be much longer because of these complications.
Friends and the medical staff continued to remind me to “wear my oxygen mask” which meant I needed to take care of myself to be there when my loved one needs me most. Doctors encouraged me to focus on things that would reduce my stress while my husband recovered in the ICU. Finally, I took everyone’s advice. I decided to attend the Thich Nhat Hanh movie and responded to the Voices of the Wells weekly email. The following is what I wrote in response to the winter solstice assignment after viewing the movie:
I received and read the email with Sharon’s questions, while my husband was on Day 11 in the ICU after a complicated heart surgery that required many trips to the OR. I chuckled at the irony…. One way to buy less stuff, be silent, and participate in less holiday activity is to spend time at the bedside of a critically ill spouse who is on a ventilator.
I had begun to deal with the stress of this time, by bringing out my Santa collection that he and I had started when we lived in a rural part of New York State. My hubby enjoyed the childlike joy I exhibited as we discovered a unique Santa on our travels through the year. He smiled as I strategically positioned our collection gathered over the past twenty years around our living area.
We always seemed to be traveling to our family over the holidays so we stopped the practice of buying a cut tree to decorate. As much as we loved that tradition, it saved at least one tree and meant less holiday effort. The Santas recalled memories of people who gave them to us or stories about the places where we found them when we were out and about together. Halfway through my decorating, yet another OR visit was scheduled. I stopped decorating. It was clear he would not be home for Christmas. After a nurse asked me what I was doing for me during this difficult time, I told her I had started our tradition of decorating, but after his increasing complications, I stopped. She suggested, “Finish the task that brings you joy…and leave them up for when he does come home.”
Now, at Day 23, I let myself believe that he is getting better and will be home this year. But, I’m headed back to the hospital to learn about yet another procedure that may be done to keep him healing.
Last night my local Yoga studio hosted a screening of the documentary Walk with Me about Thich Nhat Hanh’s community in Plum Village, France. Two messages from the movie were relevant to my current experience. 1) An African – American nun who lived in the community visited her aging and ill father in NYC and taught him to breathe. “Focusing on the breath is Joy!” 2) An Asian nun spoke about the value of walking in nature. It’s mindful, silent walking in nature that allows us to find a connection and know that we are one!
Prior to my husband’s surgery, I had been teaching him some yoga breathing exercises to help him relax pre and post surgery. Now, I walk him through breathing in anticipation that he can do so on his own, without the ventilator. This truly would be my greatest gift of the season and pure Joy to see him breathe on his own without assistance from medical devices or surgical interference. The ability to deeply inhale and slowly exhale is life affirming and signals independence. The movie’s depiction of this nun doing the same thing with her father brought tears to my eyes.
Nature has healed me for as long as I can remember. Sometimes when life throws us a curve ball, we want to curl up under our covers and not leave the comfort of our home. I’ve been fortunate enough to have two different partners, my sister-in-law and my Mom stay with me at different times while my husband has been ill. They have supported me in so many ways. Both understand and appreciate the need to move in nature. My sister-in-law convinced me that we needed to walk and see the holiday light display at the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in nearby Vienna, VA. That evening, as I walked with eyes wide open among lighted fairy gardens, garden creatures and Christmas symbols scattered through the landscape, my spirits lifted as I re-connected with Childlike wonder and joy of the season. I silently took in the magic of nature augmented by lights. My Mom insisted we do the same walk on a warmer day during the day-time. The winter sunlight highlighted the magic of the natural landscape. Two bluebirds captured my spirit within minutes of our walk. Once again, as I walked in silence in nature, I knew all are connected.
So for me, focused breathing and nature walks are what will get me through not only a holiday season but the stress of seeing a loved one so ill. May your holidays be bright and full of connections.
I don’t know if Celtic inspired Western reflections meeting my Eastern meditative studies, or the integration of two different but similar traditions coming together, are what has kept me grounded through the ups and downs of my husband’s illness. Practices from these traditions restored my energy and hope on days when I felt depleted. On Day 25, I allowed myself to do a Happy Dance because my hubby’s ventilator was finally removed. He has been breathing on his own since then! With much Joy, I acknowledged an early gift of this season. I will continue to wear my oxygen mask as I breathe and walk in nature to help me, help my hubby in the long recovery ahead of us. In the meantime, I will be seeing light in the darkness, taking in the silence of the season, staying close to home and hearth while I count my blessings. Happy Holidays whatever your tradition!