Assimilating Vipassana

Last week’s post brought to a close the story of my first Vipassana meditation course and the first nine months of my life. It was a story — told in three parts and beginning here — about trauma, catharsis, and synchronicity. In the spirit of compensation for that longer story, here’s a haiku version of how and why I currently practice Vipassana. Perhaps down the road I’ll be able to flesh it out.

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A Sword In My Side: 3

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

This concludes a story that begins here.

Come Out Steaming

It’s Christmas Eve, 1995. I’m alone in a rental house on Inverness Ridge, an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, where I was born 50 years ago. My wife Joyce and our 11-year-old daughter Lauren have joined my parents, my sibs, and their families for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It’s part of a long-planned family reunion. I haven’t joined them because outwardly and inwardly I’m unable to do so.

Classic signs of the flu set in this morning: congestion, fever, fatigue. But these are symptomatic of a deeper dislocation. A week and a half ago, on my first 10-day Vipassana course, I was plunged into psychological crisis. Since then I’ve been tumbling through a bewildering array of insights, anxieties, communions, and paranoia. Given the traumatic aftermath of the course, including my dissociated flight to San Francisco, it’s somewhat surprising that I haven’t ended up in a psych ward.

Continue reading A Sword In My Side: 3

A Sword In My Side: 2

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

This is Part Two of a three-part story, told from the perspective of how I experienced it twenty-five years ago this month, in December of 1995. Part One can be found here.

A Frightened Octopus

I’m sitting in Light Morning’s community shelter. It’s December 18th, 1995, and I have just returned from my first 10-day course at the Vipassana Meditation Center (V.M.C.) in western Massachusetts. When the course unexpectedly turned traumatic on Day 8, I stopped eating or drinking anything. Now my mental status is becoming marginal.

Continue reading A Sword In My Side: 2

A Sword In My Side: 1

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

The following story has three parts. It’s told from the perspective
of how I experienced it 25 years ago this month, in December of 1995.

* * *

After the trauma had served its intended purpose, I would come to believe that the path I was traveling needed to unfold as it did. The hard-earned clarity of hindsight would show me clues I had missed and traces of long-dried blood on the tracks. But we don’t see what we’re not ready to see. Or shouldn’t see. Foresight would have made me run from the pain that awaited me. And from the improbable healing that pain would bring.

Continue reading A Sword In My Side: 1

Letting Nature Take Its Course: 3

This is the last of three posts which chronicle Marlene’s
final journey home. Part One, which introduces this series, is here.

Marlene drying veggies at Light Morning circa 1974

May 30th, 2018

May is a manic month in a homesteading lifestyle. Several of the past few evenings have seen me either hoeing or mowing by moonlight. Mama black bear passed through the orchard recently to taste a few small apples. Standing up on her hind legs to pull down one of the branches, she looked like a large man, with very good posture, in a bear costume.

Marlene is once more back in her bed and Ron is wrestling with myalgia. For the past month, Marlene has preferred to be on the floor. Ron didn’t want to keep the side rails of the hospital bed raised because it caused her to feel imprisoned, so Marlene became adept at lowering herself off the bed and onto the floor. Once down, she could scoot around from place to place using her hands and knees.

It was hard for Ron to minister to her needs, of course, while she was on the floor. But he was willing to do whatever it took to help Marlene regain some semblance of mobility. Her use of morphine also decreased significantly while she was out and about. For one stretch of ten days she didn’t need any at all.

Continue reading Letting Nature Take Its Course: 3

Letting Nature Take Its Course: 2

This is the second of three posts which chronicle Marlene’s
final journey home. Part One, which introduces this series, is here.

April 9th, 2018

I checked in with Ron and Marlene yesterday evening. Much to my amazement, Marlene was her feisty, smiley old self. She was lying on her stomach instead of her back. As soon as I walked in, she asked me about Ron’s taxes. She’s done his taxes for years and, knowing that tax time is close, she was concerned. I told her that all the financial info she had stashed in Ron’s red folder had been delivered to a tax person in Roanoke.

She grabbed my hand and gave it a tight squeeze. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Then she talked about the cards and letters she’d been receiving. She couldn’t understand why so many people were suddenly writing to her. I saw an unopened envelope lying on the bed.“Do you want to see who sent this one?” I asked. “Sure.”

It was a long letter from Jess, whose family lived at Light Morning many years ago. Marlene has remained close to them, so I read the letter aloud. Marlene listened attentively to the news about each of the family members and each of the family’s cats.

Later, Marlene said she wanted to have a chiropractor in Blacksburg fix her back. Ron paused for a moment before answering. Then he gently reminded her about the childhood injury to her back, the progressive osteoarthritis in her spine, and the cancer.

“No one can fix those things for you,” he continued. “You’re just going to have to learn to live with it.”

There was a brief silence as Marlene tried to take this in.

“Well, I’ve had seventy-seven years,” she said.

“Seventy-seven beautiful years,” Ron replied.

Marlene gave him a delighted smile. Then she reached up to where Ron was standing beside the bed, grabbed the sides of his face with her hands, and pulled him down to give him a kiss. A second and third kiss quickly followed.

Continue reading Letting Nature Take Its Course: 2

Letting Nature Take Its Course: 1

Marlene cutting tomatoes for canning

This photo shows Marlene, one of Light Morning’s four co-founders, prepping tomatoes for canning on the porch of the old community shelter. She taught me how to work; I learned by watching her. Marlene’s hands moved at the same consistently fast yet careful pace, whether she was typing, cutting tomatoes, or bow-sawing firewood.

Marlene also deepened my understanding of what Light Morning half-humorously refers to as U.P.S. — Unresolved Parental Stuff. In a previous series of posts (here), she shares a harrowing tale of how primal childhood woundings leave scar tissue, which in turn causes us to re-create our unresolved trauma with other people and in other settings. How much of our trauma can be healed and how much will remain unresolved is an open question.

Finally, Marlene taught me about death and dying. The teaching was up close and personal, as Marlene chose to die at home, here at Light Morning. The following story (in three parts) charts her journey from receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness to taking her last breath. It’s based on a series of email updates I sent to Marlene’s far away family and her many friends. It’s also a story about the shadow dance between the acceptance and denial of death.

Continue reading Letting Nature Take Its Course: 1

Healing Deep Within: 3

Part One of this three-part series, which includes Marlene’s disturbing account
of the abuse she received as a young girl at the hands of her mother, is here.

The Chain of Abuse

Marlene and Leona

At my mother’s funeral, I talked with one of my uncles. He told me that Leona had been horribly abused growing up, thanks to grandma and grandpa swinging the leather horse straps and the logging chains on their eight children. I was stunned! Never before, in all my fifty years, had I heard this story.

“Will this chain of abuse,” I wondered, “ever be broken?”

For the next two weeks I sorted through all of Mom’s “treasures on earth.” She had moved from the farm into town in 1965 and, except for the machinery and the cows, had brought everything with her. My God! Why had she saved this and that and everything in between? It was intense work physically, and even more so emotionally.

Continue reading Healing Deep Within: 3

Healing Deep Within: 2

Recovering From the Wounds
of an Abusive Childhood

Part One of this three-part series, which includes Marlene’s harrowing account
of the abuse she received as a young girl at the hands of her mother, is here.

Reaching for Blackberries

Marlene’s high school photo

I went off to college in 1958, at the age of 18, filled with excitement and enthusiasm. Even though my mother, Leona, gave the Dean of Women a fit, and some weekends at home were the usual hell, I was finally out of there. Free at last!

Or so I thought.

Continue reading Healing Deep Within: 2