I was furious at first, when it was announced to me that I was to be spirited away to Charleston, South Carolina for five days, “for my birthday”. Everything had been arranged, the tickets bought and paid for, reservations made in local restaurants and a walking tour already booked for the first day….
Though I know that many would have been delighted with the surprise, I felt disrespected and manipulated. South Carolina – or anywhere else in the southern USA – was not on the list of places I would ever have chosen to visit of my own accord. My previous visits to The South, sources of enough unpleasantness to forge a determination never to return – have I mentioned that I’m not white? – had been organised for me as well. I felt that my birthday had become a convenient excuse to advance an agenda that had nothing really to do with me.
On top of this, I’d just returned from Europe and was once again as poor as a church-mouse (The work I do over there is mostly unremunerated, financially at least…). To my mind, I was in obvious need of gainful employment; I wasn’t able to pay my bills – how could I be so irresponsible as to just take off for another five days? Plus, there were so many people calling and writing me who were in real distress – should I not be staying and answering to their needs the best I could? I feel a very deep responsibility to the community around me….And speaking of responsibility, there was the Farm – who would feed the animals and heat the house? My mind was on overdrive; I could feel the self-justifying escalation of energy in my body. I was so angry that somewhere on the fringes of my awareness a flag went up, signalling that something else must be going on….
Anger always arises in proportion to the fear that it is cloaking. (Yes, always. Think about it…). So what was I afraid of?
I awoke the morning after the announcement of the trip in a sweat, with my heart pounding and wisps of terror whirling inside me. What had I just dreamed? My first thought was of the earthquake in Iceland that was due to erupt, and that perhaps this fear was related to my daughter who was supposed to be travelling soon. She called me on Skype just moments after I had checked the activity of the volcano, finding it very active but with no changes; she was fine, she said ( she told me later, though, that she had been waking up with strange panic attacks – the first time she had experienced anything of the sort…).
For my part, there was a vague familiarity to this feeling, something bodily remembered. When had I felt this before? The first images that came were from a somewhat dangerous bit of work done a couple of years ago in the States. Was this somehow resonating with what I was really going to the US for this time? I had learned that we were going to be at the place where the first shots of the American Civil War had been fired, and swells of wildly mixed emotions moved through me with the thought. My old friend Bill called just then, reminding me, when I told him what was going on, that we had both been told that we’d lived and known each other in those times. Hmmm. The plot seemed to be thickening…. I reminded myself that Life does its work through any intermediary possible, and began to feel that I was maybe being guided to this place in this way precisely because I would never choose to go of solely my own volition.
I didn’t feeling well at all. Exhausted and achey, I drove out to the Farm that night, waking the next morning to high winds – winds of change – and clouds that seemed to be moving in every direction at once. It felt so good to be back on the land. I went for a walk, listened to the water splashing and gurgling everywhere (the snow had mostly melted), stood in meditation and gratitude in the stone circle surrounded by trees that we call the Green Chapel, and tidied up here and there. That morning, I did a detoxifying foot bath, after which the aching in my body slowly turned into a sharp pain in my kidneys. A black fog slowly sank over the land, so thick that the barn no longer existed and none of the neighbours’ lights could be seen. I fell asleep with hot water bottles on my back and belly, and the sense that there was something important happening….
I struggled out of bed to feed the animals the next morning. Good grief! I almost didn’t recognise the haggard face I caught a glimpse of in the mirror. The whole rest of the day, I was either flat on my back or soaking in hot baths, as I passed a kidney stone. Lying there, I allowed myself to just feel the pain and let it rise through me. It brought with it image-sensations that seemed to float up from my body to the surface of my awareness like bubbles, popping and disappearing as they hit the border of consciousness.
Revisiting my arguments relating to my responsibilities, I saw that I have often been in this relatively penniless situation, yet felt less or no distress. This anger that was now arising about not being able to meet my responsibilities was stemming from the fear of not meeting them. If I was afraid of being irresponsible, the corollary was that I was deriving value for myself from having these responsibilities. Oh dear. That one again….. A sensation of helplessness came up next, attached to the cycle of needing to do everything myself because I can’t pay anyone to help me. I couldn’t ask anyone to help me without an exchange of some kind: memory-sensations floated up from different times during my childhood when I had learned that if you ask for something, you are certain to never get it. Maybe I could see what, other than money, the neighbours would be willing to receive in exchange for helping me with the Farm’s upkeep while I was away…?
Eventually, the image-sensation bubbles seemed to congregate around the first trip I took in a plane, when I was very young and we left Trinidad to come to Canada. I wasn’t getting any clear pictures, but I knew that the fear that was being released from my body – from my hips and legs and kidneys – had been stored since then.
Snow fell overnight, deep and wet. I had fallen asleep in the foggy softness of Autumn and awoken to the sparkling, silent clarity of Winter. As we leaned on our snow shovels catching our breath, my neighbour and I had a conversation that ended with her telling me she needed nothing more from me, in exchange for helping when I couldn’t be there, than the freedom to walk the land when she needed to. I left with relieved and grateful tears warming my cheeks from my heart.
By the time I had to leave for the city a storm had whipped up. In a last-minute pass through my treatment room, I absent-mindedly picked up a couple of thermal bandages – one for the wrist and another for the foot – and stuffed them in my pocket as I left. On the drive in, the blowing snow and slippery conditions lasted, as they often do, about half the way. Montreal, warm, with the ground bare and wet with rain, was worlds removed from the past few days.
We were to leave very early the next morning and I had a class to give that evening; I threw some clothes in the wash and then worked on the laptop a while, answering e-mails and such. As I finished and was rising out of my cross-legged position, I realised too late that my whole right leg was asleep from the hip down, and fell heavily and extremely painfully on my foot. I’ve rarely heard myself scream – my voice surprised me, but in retrospect I think it was part of what helped me release the trauma from my body and not gather it back inside me. I knew right away that it was fairly serious, and thought it possible that I’d broken a couple of little bones in my foot. Hmmm. What now? I quickly wrote an e-mail to cancel the evening class – dealing with this was going to take some time. Then I remembered the foot wrap that I had stuffed in my coat pocket and gratefully but almost suspiciously slipped it over my foot. Aaaah…what a relief – the bandage was just tight and supportive enough to alleviate most of the pain and allow me to hobble around.
I got into a hot bath so that I could gingerly and thoroughly check my foot – nothing was out of place, but I could feel there were fractures in two of the metatarsals. So what was this about? I wasn’t feeling anxious or even thinking that this would mean cancelling the trip – working from an understanding that nothing happens without reason, I was more curious than anything else. The right leg, the right foot…. I visualised the water in my body melting into the water of the bath, allowing beliefs and memories that were no longer serving me to be released.
What were the consequences of this fall? I had cancelled a class that would have been a small source of income, but I had been conflicted about expending the amount of energy I needed for teaching when I was feeling already quite tired and pressed for time. I was being forced to take care of myself. My injury would mean that I would not be able to do the amount of walking that had most likely been planned during the trip. This was fine with me – I would potentially be able to have a real rest, away from all responsibilities for a short while.
My right foot…. A change – a break – was occurring in my structure – in the way I had learned to make my way in the world. I got out of the bath and began preparing for the trip, being sure to pack my drum and my tobacco.
I felt grateful, and at peace.