Being Sage: A Meditation on Choice & Healing

Amanda Ngoho Reavey

 

The whole world is medicine. Where do you find yourself?

–Zen Master Yunmen, 9th Century China

 

I have always been a deeply spiritual person. I believe we are all interrelated both to each other and to the land. I believe we are at a fork in the road for the future of humanity. That we have to make a collective decision about one of the biggest issues that we have ever faced as a species. And whatever choice we make will have huge positive or negative ramifications. And I believe that choice begins in the heart of each and every individual person.

 

I remember laying in the ivy one day in Boulder, Colorado, staring up at the sky and touching the tulip, which leaned towards me, as if it were purring. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, but I was present. Completely in the moment. Suddenly, I realized that this relationship was one of mutual trust because, if I wanted to, I could destroy this tulip: pluck the petals, cut the stem, pull out the roots. But for whatever reason, decided not to. This was a choice.

 

I also realized that the choice began with my mind and my body. While I ultimately did not destroy the tulip, it did occur to me that I could. The whole thing, which lasted no longer than a few seconds, at best a minute, felt profound. An insight, perhaps, to the nature of humanity. What makes us choose one way or the other?

 

For many years I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety, but refused to take medication for it. For me, I wanted to find the root of the issue. Was there something else? Taking note of a few close friends who were changing their diets, discovering allergies, I decided I needed to see a nutritionist. Of course, there’s a difference between knowing something must change and changing it. After a couple of years of not following through (it was either too far away – I don’t drive – or too expensive or I was too afraid of doctors), I made it my 2016 New Year’s Resolution.

 

As luck would have it, I voiced this commitment at my friend’s friend’s house and she happened to be a nutritionist. She gave me her card. It felt like fate and though it took all year, I finally went to see her in October. The first thing she said was, “hey, don’t worry, you fulfilled your resolution before the year’s up.” She was non-traditional, and I trusted that. I told her how I would crash in the afternoons, needing a pot of coffee to get through the day; how I was always tired when I woke up; how my emotions would go way up and way down. I took a blood test and an adrenal stress test. Turns out I was low on iron, deficient in vitamin D, allergic to gluten and needed to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet. Immediately, I began a vitamin regime (11 pills per day) and cut out anything with gluten, dairy and soy. It was probably one of the roughest detoxes I’ve ever been through. My body ached to the point that it hurt to sit on a chair for a long period of time and it hurt to stand for a long period of time and it was difficult to sleep, but I am stubborn about not taking aspirin or ibuprofen. For those first two weeks of, I cried almost every day.

 

But now, four months later, my head is clearer, I don’t need coffee to get through the day, I feel stronger, my emotional health is better…. And I’m not even done with the detoxing…. Getting my body back into balance will take at least one year, but I’m probably looking at two.

 

I think back to that choice with the tulip. There is a newfound reverence for life. The tulip already knows what it needs regarding nutrition. It bends towards the sun, its roots grow towards the most fertile, nutrient-rich soil. It doesn’t complain or avoid or apologize. It simply does what it needs to do to survive. When in danger, it warns its friends and they take the proper precautions. It is what it is.

 

But for us, because we have choice, it is what we allow it to be. In the essay “Three Dimensions of Ecology: Soil, Soul and Society,” Satish Kumar said, “what we do to nature we do to ourselves.” I chose not to destroy the tulip. I chose not to destroy myself. Perhaps if we all do the same as individuals, we can make the right choice as a collective.

 

Being Sage: At Capacity

Ways to know you are beyond or at capacity (like an elevator):

  1. Your phone is maxed out of data so you can’t read emails, get image texts, etc.
  2. Your feel dizzy because you are wearing the wrong contact lens prescription.
  3. Your bank account is overdrawn.
  4. All of these happen on the same day.
  5. You cannot move your legs or pick up the phone because you have been traveling SO much (even if it was fun.)
  6. You have to cancel (a lot) because you set up your life for a superhuman robot (not you.)
  7. Your friends and family don’t get all of you: you are on your phone working or on your laptop applying or half asleep trying to stay awake enough to spend time with them.
  8. You fall asleep with all your makeup on and your black cocktail dress. You wake up feeling ready to go out until you realize it’s 7am.
  9. You have a constant queasy feeling in your stomach about the future: relationships, job, career. You watch Sex & The City and it makes you feel like you are not the only one.
  10. A lady on the street tells you (in the middle of it all) that your bag is going to eat you. (?!)

So, now what?

  1. You ask for help.
  2. You take a breath and go step by step.
  3. (After you let yourself freak out a bit. Family is good for this. They will always be there (hopefully.)
  4. You delete stuff on your phone, ask the bank to remove unnecessary charges, and take out your contact lenses.
  5. You say no. And you let those you say no to still know how important they are to you. You make a plan with them for the future.
  6. You reach out for other work, something that will take care of you.
  7. You ask others to visit you, to call you.
  8. You  laugh at it all. (Also helpful with family.)
  9. You don’t over schedule next time.
  10. You schedule YOU time.
  11. You write.

Being Sage: surrender: submission

Nell,

This past year I asked my mother & my father each about you. Both, in
the end, told me I should ask the other, who was sure to know more. &
so you are a mystery.

I discovered that you immigrated from somewhere in the middle of
America during some great difficulty, either the dust bowl or the
depression, to El Monte, California, & that nobody really knew how old
you were when my family met you. But by then you were pretty grey.
Pretty. & grey.

You had two children, both undiagnosed with conditions I now think
probably Downs. & you had had these children & raised them on your
own, working too many jobs & hours to count. & your children were left
at home alone & you didn’t really know how they survived, except that
you worked enough to feed them. & they must have been in their 50’s by
the time I met them & they still lived with you & you still took care
of them & they were so happy & I remember the German shepherd, Pepper,
the children were always calling out to Pepper to come & be with them
under the black Tartarian cherry tree on that patch of overgrown earth
where they liked to sit while you tended the garden.

By that time you were raising rabbits for scientific study. Once, you
took me back into the enclosure of wood & wire cages & opened one &
took the doe out one-handed & set her on the ground & reached in again
more delicately & pulled out a hairless pink infant bunny & put him in
my palm & told me to be very careful. I must have been three years
old. I stared at the creature for as long as I can remember.

“This is new life,” you said, “it’s what we all look like at some point.”

& we went inside & you made a meal of black eyed peas & meat from
forever in a freezer. & you greased the pans with the butter that
clings to the paper that they wrap the butter in & you wasted nothing,
ever. I’m told you had preserved food that nobody could say how long
you’d had it. & you had your hands in the land. & you loved the
children. Me & my sister. Pepper. & your kids. & the earth. & the
vegetables in the earth.

I think about you all the time.

Being Sage: Various Intelligence

I was running along College Avenue when it started raining. Everything was a mess and right and rigid and my brain was screaming. And then wet. Then the rain flooded my pants under my shirt. With no choice I just let go. My face opened. The water washed out my eyes, ran across my lips. I kept pounding. The pink ruddy running I liked. The universe pounding with me on concrete. Alive.

Heart heals body. Body heals mind. Mind heals heart. I realized my body was a community of various intelligence and They were all working together.

 

Being Sage: You Had to Be There

For Kate Hunter & Brian Buckley
A late morning
summer chill
sweeps ’round
the café
absent-
mindedly
ruffling
my cowlick.
Yes, I am
wearing shorts
and
a sweater.
Yes, we are
sixteen years
into the third
millennium
since
the west
recognized
a prophet.
I was beginning
to lose hope
when I saw
the baby
in that
pickup truck
chewing
the steering wheel.
Dad leans forward
and kisses
the back of
her head.
* * *
I wrote this poem in a small town called Murphys in gold country, California. It’s a built
attempt at getting myself out of the way of the landscape, letting go of institutional
concerns in order to really notice what love there is in the world. The final event in this
poem brought me to tears when I saw it happen, and it reminded me of how much
lasting power a small gesture of love can and will have, and it filled me with gratitude for
the people (especially the parents) I know who show this kind of love to their daughters,
daughters who will undoubtedly experience violence, in some form, perpetrated by men.

-Joe Braun

Being Sage: Roots

I was delirious, stumbling over my own feet and the flat, huge long roots of rainforest trees created walls, flowy spiraling wavy walls that told me I was safe, secure. This kept me going — feet rooted in mud, then uplifted, then planted. My heart in my mouth my heart beating my whole body my whole body beating with the earth. An anchor. Not in the sense of holding you down. A pressing firmly. The ground beneath told me between breaths that I was alive.

To Walk As A Woman

The first time I walked alone, I went to school. Second grade. Invincible in my pink, metallic Snoopy bomber jacket with rainbow-striped cuffs and collar. Intelligent in my newly acquired glasses and scholarly blue backpack. Eager to learn about the planets, multiplication, and phonics.

 

I waved to my mother as I crossed the street and followed the pedestrian path to the hill of stairs to the playground. From across the Wyoming prairie-scape, I could still see Mom watching.

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One snowy day, Matt chased me down on the way home and tried to kiss me. I ran, then slipped, and fell on the frozen creek. I screamed “no,” but he moved in anyway. My reading partner Billy ran to us and threatened to punch him. I sprinted away, heart pounding.

 

If anyone saw, they never said. I never told. They would say he liked me. They would call it sweet.

 

I kept walking alone to school.

 

Many years later, I would walk alone to each day through crowded Chicago sidewalks, en route to public transit, class and work to a catcall soundtrack. I would ignore. I would yell back. I would harden. I would yearn to be invisible.

 

“What can you do?” They would say. “You’re an attractive woman.” They would reason.

 

Sometimes the catcalls became following on foot or a stopped car. Would the following become more? Would the car door open next? I carried pepper spray in my fist at night. I hid my femininity under layers of fat and long, bulky coats. I cut my hair short. I wore a baseball cap. An effort to deflect.

 

“Your ass is amazing!” They would announce. “Smile!” They would command. “Bitch!” They would hiss.

 

But I never considered any of these day-to-day occurrences to be walking alone until this very moment in time at which I sat down intending to write a piece about hiking. And that is when my mind homed in on a small but important memory of that attempted kissing and began to follow the progression toward street harassment.

 

None of this is to call myself a victim. It is only to say that for the first time I recognized the shift, the moment at which I stopped walking as a child and started walking as a female.

 

The first time I believed myself to be walking alone was seven years ago when I stopped in the mountains to hike during a cross-country road trip. Only then, in vast isolation, did I recognize fear. Danger lurking, unseen. Each cracking branch and rustling leaf a signal. My heart thumped all the way to the summit and all the way back down. I scrambled, not taking in the scenery.  I feared man and beast.

 

“Weren’t you afraid?” They would ask. “No.” I lied with such bravado that even I believed it.

 

It would take me six more years before I would finally re-learn how to truly walk alone. My training would involve leaving and reflecting, daring and growing. Finally, I felt ready.

 

I would take an airplane to England and a train to the Lake District and a bus to the trail near Ambleside where I would walk until sunset. Well-prepared in my black, waterproof hiking pants and old, windproof fleece. Adventurous with my camera strapped around my neck and my black Marmot backpack holding water, trail mix and additional layers. Thrilled to be in this beautiful countryside exploring, on the trip I’d long dreamed of taking.

 

I walked through the tourist-filled village, past Wordsworth’s grave, and through a gated pasture. With each step, I wondered if I remained on the correct path. A pause to look around, then through a cobblestone alley and a cattle gate until finally, the path led up, up, up, up. Green-quilted hills neatly patch-worked together by ancient stone walls emerged from the mist. I pulled off my stocking cap and listened. All I could hear was my pounding heart and my own awe-filled gasp through panting breaths.

 

Occasionally, I would encounter a herd of aloof sheep or the rare human. We would exchange blank stares and smiles, respectively.

 

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” They would greet me. “Enjoy your walk.” They would pass.

 

My heart would flutter as the path crested and disappeared into a rocky crag. A little beyond, it would turn into mud with no clear direction forward—ahead of me stretched only the vast, outstretched hilltop encompassed in a vacuum of silence and vacant land in all directions. My throat would later tighten as I found myself walking over a bed of rocks near a valley creek.

 

Perhaps we should turn back, my mind would suggest. Instead, I kept taking steps and breathing and listening and pausing to appreciate the beauty around me. You are safe. You are capable. Keep going. I let the damp air fill my nostrils and held it as it filled my chest.

 

Soon, I learned that if I just went a little further, I would discover I wasn’t lost, that I could trust my own judgment. I would rediscover a sense of delight, embodiment and wonder that had long escaped me.

 

I picked up a large, grey rock and left it atop a giant cairn at the summit. I said goodbye out loud to something, to someone.

 

When I returned to the inn with ruddy cheeks and muddy clothes, they asked me how it was. Brilliant. I said, filled with pride and joy and confidence.

 

I suppose it is then I learned to walk as a woman.

-Anonymous