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

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

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.

art, beauty, ethereal, hope, living, moments, mystics, Uncategorized

The Rich Deep Tones of A Cello

drawing.pearl

drawing by Carmen H Gray

The Rich Deep Tones of A Cello

by Carmen H Gray

I’ve heard it in my dreams

As if he called to me

His voice in that same living tone

Of her beloved instrument

The sound waves echoing from our distant past

An expanding ripple of spheres

That reach across time

Pausing to recapture

The rich, deep tones of a cello

That hold so many memories

She ordered resin today

The parentheses have had their moment

I feel the exhaling of one hundred breaths

 

 

 

art, hope, letting go, living, moments, time

Dark Night

profile                                                     Art & Poem by Carmen H Gray

I wrote the poem below 25 years ago. Found it today rummaging through old things this morning and it inspired a self-portrait. Although I am quite sensitive/empathic, in all these subsequent years, but especially in the last 5 ones, I have learned how to shore up my psychic boundaries, practice self-care and self-compassion. This has created a firmer foundation for me to explore who I am and what I feel, apart from others around me. It has led me to shed the burdens that I have allowed others to place upon me. In other words, I have a better sense of me. I read this poem now and realize, I no longer feel these emotions. I absolutely can and do sense the grief and heaviness in others, especially I can tap into this during my reiki sessions with my clients. I hear the feelings/experiences that are present in their subconscious.  But, there is no need for me to take on another person’s healing process now. I am there to reflect it, but not to feel it for them. For my own healing unfolded, and for this I am grateful.

Dark Night

To be alert and eyes wide open,

Heart exposed, vulnerable organ that it is,

Is to be both cursed and blessed.

But it is the only way to truly be

To truly live, and see and feel and die.

As I witness sad souls beat down in this world,

My heart feels heavy with the weight of their sorrows

How insignificant it may be, that in my life

I am present when your restless soul seeks

The warmth of another, reaching, hands outstretched, searching, searching…

How common that I mourn for you

When nights are long and painful

The senses are heightened

For every smell is sickening

And even silence is too loud

How simple to share moments of despair

When a blanket of nothingness surrounds you

Groping, blindly for hope

Hope, hope…this is what will save us

Returning to our human condition

Sharing our dark night of the soul

 

art, beauty, hope, living, moments, mystics, nature, time

Autumn

Art and Poetry by Carmen H Gray

Autumn

The clouds opened up in October

Fay beings in my garden

All of the old souls summoned from the cold, misty northlands

Landing hither and thither

On that one flower that overshadows me

It grew from seed, you never know what will happen

When you send seeds forth

Into their future states of being

One might become

The one that surpasses you

To stand in that hushed intermission

Of fluttering souls

All Soul’s ShadowSelves

On a steady path south

To a mountain where I have lingered in this lifetime

cancer, hope, letting go, living, moments, nature

Why Poetry

file-47-1

Why Poetry

My poetry is influenced by nature, math, science and art. I had an opportunity to study Emily Dickinson at Amherst in the summer of 2017 when I won a grant for the National Endowment for the Humanities. She has always been interesting to me, both her writing and her life. I resonated with the way in which she observed time and moments of being, with a great reverence for the minute and the mundane.

My Mexican-American heritage also plays a part in my writing, as does my personal journey in mothering a teen who survived cancer and another one who was on a transgender journey. I have been to hell and back in many ways that most people understand, but not all people are willing to admit. Here I stand, alive and willing to share my stories with the world. I know that my stories have helped others understand their own. I hear this again and again when I lay myself down on the metaphorical table and all allow myself to peel away the layers, bare for all to see.

When I write poetry, I channel. I channel the anguish and the deep sense of compassion that I have experienced on the path. I tap into a greater cosmic consciousness, on a realm outside of this 3 dimensional reality. I have written as long as I can remember. Poetry is how I think. It is my therapy and my lifeline. While I went through watching my thirteen year old daughter fighting for her life, I could not control the outcome. The interesting thing I learned, is that no one is really in control of anything. We like to think we are, it helps us feel steady, to think that if we plan everything just so, it will all unfold as we imagined it would. But, life is not that way for many, and it certainly was not for me. I was schooled in how to slow way, way down by the cancer. In the In Between Times, there is no future. There is only now. And in the now, everything becomes heavy, the movements fluid and gentle, as you flow with (as opposed to against) time. Sometimes, when you are in the underwater-like existence, you experience other-worldly latitudes. Once, when I could not comfort my sweet daughter during an agonizing bout of anxiety that her cancer might return, I experienced this very phenomena. She was 2 months into remission. I had to go to work. I had done everything to comfort her, but she was facing her own fears and I could not allay them. The fierceness of a mother to protect and shelter her offspring is hardly unique. But, this fierceness went beyond the five senses, because there are senses that lie unawakened in all of us, until such a moment presents itself for its stirring. I thought of my vulnerable daughter and when I arrived at work, I felt compelled to write a poem for her. The words fell easily onto the page:   

                  Whirring noises are the sounds of birds in flight

The cold air a misty San Francisco morning in the depths of summer

Prayers whispered to Whoever while my hand touches the soft fuzz of her delicate hair

Delicate shell, the inverse of Her being, Her soul, Her unconquerable spirit

We are not in that sterile place of radioactive inspection

We are in our own private world where time and beauty bless us

With their perfect embrace

Just as I finished my last line, she called me. “Mom! You’re standing at the end of my bed.” “What?”, I asked her, still in my poem daze. “I am pinching myself. You are standing here, looking at me.” I smiled a smile the old mystics must have known intimately, “Yes, I am with you. I told you a mother’s love is just that strong. I conjured ourselves together with words.”

Emily Dickinson was right. There is nothing mundane about the small things. There are greater worlds to explore in the depths of minutia. All around us, all day, everyday. And that is how I move through my life now.