The letter was from the Czech Republic, it was the latest piece of mail for InCoWriMo and it had the loveliest stamp on it. My mail box had been filled with many letters from all over the world, Korea, Japan, Australia, Singapore, China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. Total strangers writing to me to tell me of their lives, and in turn I wrote to total strangers telling them about mine. Handwritten letters, with stamps, in envelopes, mailed out. A way of connecting in the world that is a little slower. A way of connecting that requires a bit of trust, trust in the basic goodness of people.
My father cannot tell me how he feels. It is something that does not appear to be part of his make-up. This is not unusual, it is part and parcel of masculinity. I hear it in the office every day, spoken and unspoken. Men who struggle to express their feelings, struggle to even acknowledge they have feelings, feelings long suppressed that are killing them. I see it in unmanageable blood pressure, in stomach problems that defy solutions, lousy sleep, boundaries that are never set, unrealistic expectations, deep profound depression that seems to lurk just at the edges of their lives. These men hold one thing in common, though they do not know it, they cannot speak of their feelings… ever... to anyone.
There is a certain simple pleasure to the process. Taking time out of the day to sit down and compose my thoughts. To prepare the space, selecting the paper, choosing a pen, and then placing the pen to the paper. Watching the ink flow from the nib across the page as my thoughts are translated through the subtle movements of my hand into words flowing through ink. The sounds of the nib on the page, the slight scratch, the way the paper grabs at times against the tines of the pen. It requires a bit more concentration, I have to be mindful of my thoughts as I write so that they do not outrun the pace of my pen. I have to hold those thoughts as I reach for a new page. These are all the little moments that make writing by hand such a pleasure.
Fresh snow blankets the world, the wind was absent last evening as it fell, so it come straight down, settling into fluffy piles upon the surfaces. Every branch has become a small shelf allowing the snow to rest for a while, the spruce trees with their small, tight leaves hold the snow so well among the branches, each one piled high with snow, undisturbed. The lower branches are weighted down, touching the drifts that lay below. In this space, there is a silence that is felt, the sounds of the world further away as these heaps of snow slow and muffle the noises of life beyond the pasture edges. It is a silence I have felt before, in other settings, in other places, but it always brings the same sense of peace when it is here.
In the moment, she asks me to feel into the place where the longing lives, where the desire to reach out to others arises. I find myself moving my right hand to reach toward someone who is not there, reaching for something that is elusive, something just out of reach. Drawing my attention to the feeling, she asks me to stay with the longing, to sink into it, let it fill me up, let it flicker to life within me in a deep way. I notice the ache in my heart for comfort and love, the ache in my heart to be held close, and the voice in my head tells me it is not possible. Skillfully she notices that change, asking me about this voice, she offers to say those words out loud so I can study them more closely. Hearing those words shifts the longing to a deeper place, and unconsciously my hands begin to cradle my face.
My heart tapped upon my shoulder this morning, asking me to get up earlier than usual, it had something important to show me. I tried to ignore the request, but it was being asked with such yearning, I found myself getting up and walking down the stairs. The alarm that would wake me was still several hours away, the house was in that deep quiet darkness, when the moon has set, and the sun is still hours from rising. Sitting on my cushion, turning my attention in, a longing within me began to grow, so I settled to listen to the story that my Heart had to tell.
“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
I am struck by the honesty of this quote, there is a deep truth within this understanding, there is a fear in moving, edging closer to the deep truth that lays within us all. This has been the 11th block of a 15-block training in Hakomi Mindful Somatic Psychotherapy, and as per usual, I am sitting at the Newark Airport feeling a little shaken up by the process.
Lately, I have been seeing a lot of writing from Pamela Wible MD and today I re-read her article about doctor suicides. This time in the Washington Post. As I read through these articles, and reflect upon how medicine has changed during my lifetime, I am struck by the degree to which I have seen the humanity scrubbed out of the system. I think about the times during my career when I thought, ‘you know, it is not worth it anymore to do this, I should just go.’ .....
The sky is so blue when the storm has passed. It is clear in a way that it never seems to be on normal days. When it is cold, deeply cold like it is today, it is as if nothing can be in that air other than the blue. There is a deep beauty to this kind of day, you have to take a moment, slow down, and let it unfurl before your eyes. It is funny, I did not used to look at the world with this set of eyes, and they seem to grown in clarity over the last year, as my vision has slowed down, the clarity with which I see has changed.
“He had great faith in you, and you let him down…” These words landed, heavily, in the middle of my chest. These words brought pain, they were a tool to bring pain, and they did their job well. I cannot know the state of mind within the one who spoke those words, but I imagine they came from a place of great worry, great pain, and great anger. I have spoken words like this myself on occasions, more than I would care to remember at any given moment, and when I have used words like this with others, they were designed to hurt. It is from this place of seeing the pain, that I began to wonder about why anyone would choose to be a physician, and I realized it’s because no one really knows what they’re saying yes to when they pursue this career.