In the days following that painful first two-by-four upside the head, I thought about Mom, wondering what her message to me was, and why she was so intent on getting me to hear it.
Mom is something of an enigma. None of us in the family really knew her, it seems. She wrapped her entire life around Dad, and I have no idea, or only hints, at who she herself was or would like to have been. What would she have done on her own, if Dad, two kids, and her sense of duty hadn’t intervened?
All wasn’t bleak in her life—I don’t mean to imply that. But I know, from watching her suffer, and from listening to her in the last few years of her life, that she felt desperately unfulfilled.
One thing is clear: she does NOT want for me to follow in her footsteps. Hence the pain and the vertigo that night: a not-so-gentle wake-up call from my mother. (Thank you, Mom. I love you, and I miss you even though in this moment I can feel your presence.)
Back to the story.
The Tuesday following that nighttime event, I went out to the Ranch, as I usually do. It was another tense and frustrating day, full of excitement as the new class of interns arrived to begin their training. Tons of details to be dealt with and questions to be fielded. No office to work in, my files in two different locations, and an internet connection that flickered on and off, leaving me without a way to access files on the shared drive and unable to send files from my own computer in the upstairs classroom to the Ranch’s computer.
My machine was working fine, though, and I managed to get everything done. Around three I packed up, planning to email the files when I got to the house and to a stable internet connection. Then I drove home, with a stop at the barn to feed the horses.
That evening, I reconnected my computer and went to turn it on… and… nothing happened. It was deader than a doornail.
Well, you can imagine my shock and frustration. And I was pissed off! This was so not fair! Not only could I not get to the Ranch email, or update their files, but I couldn’t get to Facebook! Oh no!
Those of you who know me can imagine my anguish! I have to laugh, looking back, because I hadn’t really focused on how much time I spent/spend on the computer. Writing is one thing—I don’t want to go back to longhand—but most of what I was doing was not writing. It was compulsively checking email—my own and the Ranch’s—and Facebook. And (dare I admit?) playing Spider Solitaire online, sometimes for hours.
But no longer, apparently!
Why? Why take away my computer? I hopped up and down and cried and whined…. Again, I “blamed” Mom—in life, she was notorious for being able to knock out any computer she came within ten feet of. Seriously. I’m not the only one who witnessed it. We all got to where we kept her out of the rooms and offices where there were computers.
Whoever or whatever fried it, the fact remained that my computer was defunct, and I no longer had access to the internet.
But I wasn’t giving up that easy—no, not me! I started checking email via my cell phone. Gotcha, I thought!
Well, you can guess what happened next. That’s right—my phone stopped working. I could send and receive phone calls, but not much of anything else. Its buttons didn’t work. No internet, no email, no text messages. The phone’s battery would no longer take a charge unless I plugged it into my car out in the driveway.
I was really mad, but also scared. This second smack upside the head forced me to stop and think.
Finally, the link between the two shocks became clearer. Not only was I allowing my volunteer activities to take time away from my own work, I was also spending WAY too much time online.
And it’s not just the amount of time, I realized. It’s the quality of what I’m doing with my time.
The demands that this electronic age has created for us—the expectation of things done in real-time (whatever that is), and that we be constantly available via the Internet, creates a sense of urgency in our lives that makes it difficult or impossible for many of us to practice the kinds of meditative actions that are necessary if we humans are to access any level of reality beyond the mundane on any consistent basis.
I’m not suggesting that many or most of us don’t pray or meditate, or that our culture disallows or devalues prayer—at least some parts of our society take prayer very seriously indeed. And that’s generally a good thing. But what I’m talking about is the kind of meditative practices that allow us to be in touch with alternate states of consciousness, or with states of reality that lie beyond or behind the waking, sticks-and-stones world we generally experience.
I’ve been fortunate to experience the gifts that some of these different levels of reality bring. Much of my work has been done in what’s called, in the depth psychological framework, the imaginal world. This level of reality co-exists with the mundane, everyday world and can be accessed through it, provided one can quiet one’s mind, be fully present, and allow oneself to hear and experience it. [You can find out more information about this in the first few entries in this blog. Start here.]
This is one of the lessons that the mystics—Christian and otherwise—have shared throughout history. But our culture, the one we live in every day, fosters anything BUT mindfulness. I know that was one of the lessons of this computer episode: in the quiet time and space that was created, it became clear that you can’t be quiet inside while you’re completely connected, at every moment, to so many other people through the electronic world.
Here again, it’s not a lesson per se, but a matter of our personal choices. This incident, like its more painful predecessor, was necessary in order for me to become aware of the choices I was unconsciously making—and to choose differently.
That brings up lots of other issues, of course, like the idea of “horse time,” which is always and only in the present moment. Perhaps being with the horses will be a way to engage with the larger reality during more of my waking time. None of us can avoid cultural expectations, but by spending time with the horses I may be able to foster and strengthen the abilities that I clearly have to interact with the imaginal world, with the Guides. That’s my life’s work, after all, and I want to give it my full attention.
I keep hearing “balance” and “moderation.” Not my strong suits, eh? But that’s why they call it a spiritual “discipline.”