hope, living, mental health, moments, nature, time

Conversations with My Father

by Carmen H Gray

From the novel, Wild Animals I Have Known, by Ernest Thompson Seton

How do you have a conversation with your father when he isn’t quite himself? I’ve been learning to navigate this recently. Tonight I called him to check in on the state of things. He informed me that his sitter had been ensuring that he eats and drinks. He also gave high praise to the people working at the hospital, telling me that they were kind and helpful, but not too helpful because they had to push you do things for yourself as much as you could. He told me about his foibles and again brought up the name of one nurse named Rosa, whom he particularly favored because she was “perhaps even bossier than your mother”.

“What are your big plans for the night?”, I asked him.

“Well, they’ll give me medicine soon that’ll knock me flat,” he answered.

“What will you do in the meantime? Have you attended any classes today?”, I inquired.

“Nope, I just stay in bed most of the day and think about things,” he answered.

I then remembered that I had in my possession several novels by one of his favorite childhood author’s, Ernest Thompson Seton. He’d given me these books 3 years ago and I remembered him telling me he thought my students may enjoy them, but I never did take them to my classroom.

I am glad I didn’t, because I decided maybe it would be a good idea to read to him. So I found the novel, Wild Animals I Have Known in my upstairs library. The first story in the novel is about Old Lobo, a very clever and powerful wolf who evades the exasperated humans. It was written in 1898 and the setting is in Northern New Mexico. My father has always been a nature lover. I stopped every couple of paragraphs to reflect on the story with him and he knew all the characters and the highlights of what we were reading-he told me he’d memorized all of Seton’s stories. I enjoyed reading to him and after about 30 minutes or so, decided it was time to stop and save the next chapter for our next phone conversation. He told me he really liked hearing the story and that it made his evening even better. Before I got off the phone I told him about a dream I’d had two nights ago. I was at the home of his parents. I walked around all of the rooms and though I did not see them, I felt their presence in their home. I walked him through each of the rooms with my words and he recalled those places in his own mind.

After we got off the phone, I remembered a poem a friend had posted recently, The Peace of the Wild Things. And it gave me pause because it is exactly why my father has always held an affinity for nature. I look forward to more adventures with Old Lobo, for he has more days to live yet.

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

hope, living, time, writing

The Invincible Summer Within


In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.
“-Albert Camus

A is for Aprazolam

B is for Buspirone

C is for Cymbalta

I can name many medications in the anti-depression/anti-anxiety and mood stabilizer categories that begin with almost all of the letters in the alphabet. I’m familiar with many of them. They’ve been thrown around since I was 16, when I discovered my youngest sibling on a terrifying downward spiral mentally.

I am familiar with psychiatric care and with alternative methods to regulate a hijacked amygdala. I’ve seen the evolution in psychiatric care over decades and I’ve seen the stigma associated with it diminish in the last decade the most. I’ve seen the greatest breakthrough in a reckoning with mental healthcare in the last 2 years, mostly due to the pandemic. For the general public, words like “trigger”, “anxiety”, “impulsive behavior”, “suicidal ideation”, “depressive episode” are now part of a common awareness that didn’t exist (out loud) when I was 16. Back then, those words were not casually thrown around in conversation. Back then, they were whispered in hushed conversations and even considered sinful (I grew up Catholic-you didn’t talk about attempted suicide or suicide at all. Like sex, if you didn’t talk about it, it wouldn’t happen). I had to learn all of these things during the course of my life. They were things I feared and wanted nothing to do with, but you know, what you fear the most is often what you end up having to face.

from a hike last summer in Colorado-feeling invincible

I’ve had to be on suicide watch, use my mindfulness/yogic breathing to help bring loved ones back to the present and to help me come back to the earth more times than I can count. Each time it has been an opportunity for me continue learning.

The first time I learned about anxiety was when I was in college and I was experiencing a panic attack. I had no idea what was happening to me. It was frightening. And, because it was not something you talked openly about to others, I suffered quietly. Until I couldn’t. I got physically ill and could not eat. A dorm mate, whose name was also Carmen, must have had some understanding of what I was going through. She held me and rocked me through a particularly bad panic attack. Finally, I went back home to speak to the same psychiatrist that my younger sibling saw. I just knew I was crazy and something very terrible was wrong with me. When he explained what was going on with me, it was such a relief. And years later, when the anxiety popped up again, the therapist I saw helped me further by explaining what was physically happening to my brain/body when I had a panic attack. That helped me the most, I think. It seems so simple. But it was a stepping stone to what we now refer to as “mindfulness”, which is something I now teach to others. Being aware of your body, your breath, where you are in space at the present moment. It came in handy when my own children suffered with their mental health struggles.

The Body Keeps the Score (written by Bessel van der Kolk), the go-to book for understanding trauma and how it is stored in your body, was introduced to me by a Somatic Therapist in 2016. I knew a thing or two about trauma at this point in my life-I’d attended trauma therapy with my daughter from the cancer she’d experienced and from the divorce I subsequently went through afterwards. I thought I understood trauma after that. I recall the therapist explaining how the mother suffers acutely when faced with her child battling cancer. She taught me that when the brain is in trauma mode, a person’s thoughts and behavior change. I was making connections with prior trauma that I’d experienced and how it triggered anxiety. But there was more to learn.

This Somatic Therapist and I met at a Shamanic Women’s Group that I attended weekly. She taught me about trauma that is bone deep. And ancestral trauma-how it is carried from one generation to the next. There was still more to learn about how to slow down and to be present. I gave the book to my daughter, a few years later, after she came home from treatment of a major depressive episode. She’d learned about it in treatment already. She also came home talking about DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). She’d superseded me in her knowledge. I observed how we return to a situation when we haven’t mastered the lesson. That is exactly what life does to all of us. Life was nudging me, saying ”you’re not finished with the lesson”. There was definitely more to learn.

My father has suffered with his mental health, as well. In the last year of this pandemic, it has been especially difficult, but truly the last 7 months have been a living hell for him. My mother, a nurse by profession and caretaker extraordinaire, has been dealing with the day-to-day duties of supporting a loved one (yet, again) with depression. She is in her 80’s, but here she is learning more about mental healthcare. My daughter visited her grandparents and could empathize well with her grandfather. I can chat away with my mother about all the therapies and medications and the caretaker perspective. But there is still more to learn. And I like to think, with each layer that is peeled back, we are learning and we are healing. We are learning how to maneuver collectively. Learning about acceptance, love and facing our fears. Learning how to tap into that Invincible Summer Within.

hope, living, moments, poetry, time

Half Moon

my hand outstretched in half moon pose today

Half Moon

by Carmen H Gray

Today, as I leaned down into the ground

Connecting to the floor with the right hand and foot

While lifting the other half of myself skyward

Gravity pulled drops of sweat down

To puddle together near my right fingertips

I was invited to remember

How two opposing energies

Generate a power that is greater than its singular parts

And how each difficulty we encounter

Requires an equanimous state

Though we have toppled over many times

We are drawn to keep seeking

That pause in a perfectly balanced pose

Between the Moon and the Sun

It is quite exquisitely powerful and subtle both

Like a knowing look

Shared by companioned hearts

ethereal, poetry, time

What Lies Inside

What Lies Inside

by Carmen H Gray

What stirs her

Only the burs that stick inside the lace lined white socks

Oh the flutterings of the old, burned burrows

Drawn in the straw colored grass, they come out

Reeling from thorns that are still sharp

Yet certain steps retrace forgotten paths

Altering the trajectory of the stars, as it were

Never to be known the same again

That is what lies inside

Like chards broken into bits

A mosaic of light and sound

Sometimes dimmed in an overly bright world

Too fast, too demanding

Get off of the merry-go-round

Stand still in the centripetal force

Felt on the periphery

Or be that force itself

That is what lies inside

beauty, hope, living, moments, nature, poetry

Courageous

Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

An act of courage is as unnoticeable as breathing

(to the outside observer)

When you’ve kept everything stored up for a potential moment

That has yet to materialize

It is the unfurling of a leaf

The action directly following an extended pause

I don’t agree with Seneca

It’s not some times

It is all of the time

Living is an act of courage

It isn’t involuntary

Like I was taught in biology classes

It’s more like:

Lungs, breathe

Anger, seethe

Heart, beat

Move, feet

Fingers, feel

Feelings, heal

Eyes, blink

Brain, think

Living is an act of courage

So I salute you, my courageous one

Living courageously each minute

Each hour

Each day

Each year

And I honor the beauty you bring to us all

hope, living, nature, poetry, Uncategorized

Suspended

For it’s our grief that gives us our gratitude,

Shows us how to find hope, if we ever lose it.

So ensure that this ache wasn’t endured in vain: Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it.

-Amanda Gorman

Suspended

by Carmen H Gray

Fold yourself gently into it, my love

Suspension is the pause

Before you let yourself step further

Even if you trip, have confidence

In the fall

The sweet earth

Contains a purpose for you:

Soft grass reminds you to lean into her for comfort

Icy streams awaken your senses that are dulled

Vast meadows with their worlds within worlds

Show you there is always more to examine

And even the harsh desserts

Where the sea once was

Have vestiges of a former way of being

To teach you

Life can change

And shift, yet even so, it adapts

Everything you need is

Where you are

Let yourself fall a little back to earth

Forces pull you downward, inward

For a reason

living, moments, mystics, nature, poetry, time

The Ancients

by Carmen H Gray

one of the many trails I’ve hiked in the pacific northwest

Time passes

it is a path of fallen petals

strewn across soundlessly, like dew drops

upon fresh blades of grass

they are just as temporal

each petal holds a moment

whereby a day was lived,

gladly or sadly

depending on the circumstances

they disintegrate

softly curling inward

becoming part of the footpath

where little bare feet tread

scattering with the wind

and nestling into the ground

resting under layers

of newly fallen petals

the soil and rocks

collectively guarding all

the knowledge and secrets

of each day lived

and each night spent

here on earth

letting go, moments, nature, poetry

hands

hands by Carmen H Gray

the ice was crisp and forming

on the leaves of my plants

i had tended

i knew each leaf, each flower

i could almost feel their cells,

filling with tiny shards of ice

cutting them open and destroying plant tissue

which made me grieve their deaths

but it wasn’t until i saw that man

on the side of the road

whose delicate cells were simultaneously dying

that my heart leapt outside of my chest

on this icy day

in this tale of two cities

brimming with the new Elon Musks

and the homeless, what a juxtaposition

the last part of his body i noticed

were his hands

which could have belonged to any one of us, really

hope, living, poetry, time

The Healing House

“Before you can hear, much less follow, the voice of your soul, you have to win back your body. You have to go on a pilgrimage beneath the skin.”

―Meggan Watterson, Reveal

The Healing House

by Carmen H Gray

one day they may come back to you

have your prepared yourself anew?

have you gone on your own pilgrimage?

have you faced your very own umbrage?

for when these lessons return to know

the breadth and depth of your adagio

this is when all is revealed

the stalwart strength in your shield

the gentle bend that did not break

regardless of the commanding quake

you will then come to find

that in the midst of all that time

the stumbles and the thorns helped form

a compelling foundation to transform

your healing home inside of you

a precious place of highest value

it never stops until you end

the effort put forth to transcend

each new lesson to teach you more

that is what a healing house is for

hope, letting go, living, moments, poetry, time

Phantom Dog

Phantom Dog

by Carmen H Gray

Why does it hurt so much?

You having to leave?

Perhaps your existence is a metaphor

Your eyes mirroring all of the humanness

That we experienced in a certain set of years

A living/dying time capsule

God gave us such creatures to teach us

How to hold space

How to pause time and embrace

A lifetime of lessons

A dog’s life being a condensed version

Some creatures are here to fast forward

And simultaneously flashback

Our perception of an era.

living

Love In The Time of Everything

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Love In The Time of Everything

by Carmen H Gray

When I was little

I wrote about a heroine

In one of my silly chapter books

Writing and writing

My favorite escape

She had auburn hair

And striking green eyes

I didn’t know

She would materialize

That one day she would

Come to be

And how this little sprite

Would change me so

I did not know

It was not all sugar and spice

It was laughter

But also tears

And tumors and fears

Inward reflection

Rejecting affection

I knew

Love

In the time of the highs

That’s the easy part

But my heroine

Showed me how to find

Love

In the time of the lows

And how the cracks

Are certain signs

Of wholeness

Being born

hope, letting go, nature, time, poetry

One of These Days

by Carmen H Gray

One of these days I’ll get it right

I’ll learn to lean into the lightness of the wind

And I’ll borrow a song from the sea

I’ll set all sadness aside and I’ll mend

The hollowed out grief inside of me

One of these days I’ll not care one bit

I’ll find myself nonplussed from the fuss

Regardless of the constant lurch

And pivot turns, going backwards, thus

I’ll regenerate regardless, like a silver birch

One of these days, I’ll surprise myself

I’ll look back on it all and smile inside

I’ll peek at the front of the tapestry, whole

And get the messiness of the other side

While I hum a hymn that resides in my soul

One of these days, you’ll understand, too

One of these weeks, or months or years

You’ll glide like that red-tailed hawk in the sky

Aware of what from below appears

Seeing everything from afar and nearby