Thursday, December 22, 2011
"The wisdom of no escape" or how a jam tart saved me
So you might have noticed that December has been a hard month for me. It hasn't all been bad. There have been ups as well as downs. And those ups have been pretty good while they lasted. But I thought they would help make the downs suck less. They don't. Having ups even gave me a false sense of security. Just when I thought I was getting through the worst of things, just when I thought I'd already hit my low point and was now coming out the other side, something happened to wallop me and make me see that there's always somewhere lower I could fall to. It made me remember that quote I blogged about a few weeks ago - "Abandon any hope of fruition." Not because I was feeling particularly morose and hopeless (ok, I was) but because there is a truth to it.
It may seem contrary to all your survival instincts and it hurts like hell, but when you are at that point when you feel there is nothing left to hold onto, when you feel there is no choice but to let go, when grasping and resisting and holding on - to anything - is so painful, you have to stop, that is the point at which things can start to turn around. And the hardest part: there's nothing you can do about it. Whether you resist it or welcome it - you can't make it happen. All you can do is be through it. Just be - when each minute feels like an hour and each hour feels like a year and each breath feels futile. Resisting makes it worse. I don't know what welcoming it does because I've never been able to do that. But I imagine it could make it worse too - like the anticipation of an eagerly awaited visitor who is delayed, and delayed some more and delayed some more and you go from being angry at them to wondering what's happened to them to fearing the worst, to trying to bargain with whatever force you might suddenly decide to believe in just to make things ok again, until you reach the point where you give up because they're not coming and you wonder what you've done to deserve this. And then they show up.
But life goes on. And they leave and may not show up again and the whole cycle begins anew. The only thing you have control over is trying not to escape. The only thing you can do is to be there, wherever there is.
One of my low points this month was when a batch of jam tarts failed. Go ahead, laugh. Yes, I cannot bake without swearing, but this was monumental. Things didn't actually turn out alright in the end. I was making them for a community centre fundraiser. I'd spent two hours making the damn things from scratch. But I made a mistake and that mistake made itself clear all over my beautifully rolled out pastry. I overfilled the tarts. When I pulled them out of the oven, it looked like there had been a jam explosion. I lost it. Obviously it wasn't just about the tarts. But they tipped me over the edge. I behaved just like a two-year old and had an almighty tantrum. Afterwards, the tarts were still ruined and nothing had changed.
Something happened to me then. Something in me cut off. I didn't notice it straight away, but when I woke up the next morning, I realised that I felt numb. Like there was a glass wall between me and the world. I didn't feel anger or pain anymore, instead I just felt nothing. A dull nothing. That distressed me, but even that sense of distress was dulled. I hadn't felt, or not-felt, this way for a long time. Something sank in me. I remember that the last time this happened, it went on for weeks. I tried to prepare myself for it, to prepare myself for having to live like this. All the things that seemed important, all the things I'd hoped to do, hoped to achieve, it all went out the window. I knew I wouldn't have the energy to even try. I knew that trying - to do anything at all - but especially to make me feel better - would only make it worse.
I was standing in my kitchen. Some of the ruined jam tarts from yesterday were still on a plate on the counter in front of me. I went to throw them away and noticed that one of them was a lemon curd one. I'd really wanted to try them, I hadn't had lemon curd for years. So I took a bite. The pastry still had a crunch to it, but also a buttery softness. The sweet tangy lemon burst on my tongue. The combination of the pastry and the lemon curd was exquisite. For a few moments I forgot about everything but those tastes on my tongue. Then I looked up and noticed the blueness of the sky and the outlines of the starlings on the roof opposite. The sound of their calls hit my ears like I'd never heard them before. Then I noticed that the glass barrier was gone, the dullness had lifted. I'd been pulled into the present moment by my senses. Nothing special, just tastebuds. But I could feel again. And I felt very fortunate.
Of course things weren't all fine after that. I've been sobbing for the Olympics for much of this week. And each time, I felt better after. But that's not the end of it. Of course it's not going to be all bad. But things will never be all fine either. The point is there is no real escape. So maybe, if you can let go and manage to be present, be mindful, pay attention, wherever you happen to be, maybe you'll find that there is also joy. Even in the midst of all the crap.