Trigger Warning

Alchemy 2This pain has been ramping up, slowly, for a few weeks now. But it’s like boiling a frog: Start him in a pot of cold water and he’ll never notice. Yeah, it’s like that. What I was conscious of, early this month, was an increasing sense of “upset” about the Presidential campaign.

I didn’t see the connection.

On Sunday the 9th, I watched the second presidential debate, even though my intuition told me it wasn’t a good idea. Watching it wouldn’t change things, obviously, and I was already upset. But it’s like gawking at a car wreck—so very hard to look away as you drive past.

Sunday night I went to bed full of the image of Donald Trump lurking behind Hillary Clinton, glaring intensely at her in the most physically threatening manner imaginable. I do not know how she managed to stand there and continue calmly to speak; I was cowering, unable to sit down and watch. Even now, typing this, my heart rate goes up at the memory.

Less than an hour after going to bed, I was awakened by an agonizing jolt to the nerve in my jaw. Then another, and another—the assault continued most of the night, let up for an hour or so, and then resumed as soon as I woke up.

Nearly two weeks later, the pain has finally relented enough for me to function again, though I’m exhausted and not thinking very clearly. I can speak, cautiously, at least a few words at a time again; I can eat without much pain provided I run everything through a blender and water it down first.

Not fun, folks.

Here’s the interesting part: I am far from the only person suffering in this way at this time. The viciousness, anger, and misogyny of this election campaign has affected many, many of us.

Donald Trump, in that debate setting, in his statements, and in the recordings that have surfaced, displays the kind of physical and emotional threat behavior that so many women have experienced all our lives. Trump embodies the abuser. I’m not going to try to say more about that: Just attempting to describe his behavior, and the effect on my own psyche, raises my heart rate and drives most coherent thought right out of my head. I just want to run somewhere and hide.

Not just me. A therapist friend of mine said, “You wouldn’t believe how many of my clients are reporting having trouble with this!” Clearly, I’m not alone—it’s triggering trauma survivors all over. All over social media, people are posting and tweeting responses.There was even a post in the Washington Times offering suggestions on how to cope.

One brave woman got a million tweets after asking other women to tweet their first sexual assault. “Harrowing” is one of the words she uses to describe the responses. Mine? Minor, by comparison to some, but significant: Fifth grade, one of my male classmates snapped my bra strap. He was followed by a few of his companions. I was afraid to cry for help; the teacher looked away.

“I was afraid to cry for help.” That tells me that it was not, in fact, the first time; just the first time that I can now remember.

I can’t write much more now—I risk the return of the pain, which I can feel lurking in the background. But as the ability to think and understand returns, I’m working on making sense of this. For now, though, let me just post a “dialogue,” facilitated by a shaman friend of mine, from the beginning of this month. I was addressing the pain itself:

Kay to the pain: Why will you not leave?

Pain: I am anger! I am rage!

Kay: You frighten me! How can I help? This anger and rage—it’s hurting me! How can I help?

Pain: Stop! No words! Fire. Tears. No breath. Help me!

Kay: I understand; I hear you. I feel that rage! Is there something I can do to help?

Pain: [Long silence] I’m afraid too.

Galahad and the White Dog


Note: This post is NOT linear, and it’s long…but bear with me. It’s worth the time to walk through it with me.

Part One: My Horse

Let’s start with a video made a couple of weeks ago for an online class. The task involved getting my horse to come to me, instead of going immediately to a pile of goodies placed in the center of the arena. When he comes to me, I take him to the goodies and he gets to eat. Galahad knows this game from past classes, and he likes it. He’s so good at it that he doesn’t even LOOK at the pile of treats—he just comes right over to me.

This time, for some reason, I interpreted the exercise differently, and decided it was about keeping the horse away from the pile. I wanted him to stop and wait and still not try to get to the treats. Why did I change the rules? I’m honestly not sure. It seemed clear to me at the time….

So poor Galahad circled me, round and round, very slowly, stopping occasionally to ask if he could come over to me so that I’d take him in for a treat. Every time he’d stop and ask, I’d send him off again. I just stood there, not even looking at him, policing the pile of goodies, keeping him away and refusing to let him come to me when he asked.

After 15 minutes, Galahad did stop. He stood there, looking pretty sullen, and did not attempt to go to the pile. Then, in utter frustration, he threw a very quiet hissy fit. I’ve NEVER seen him behave this way. At the time, I was almost happy that I’d gotten that reaction. Why? Dunno….

Eventually, I decided he’d been good long enough, and I called him over to me and took him to get the treats. He came, but he wasn’t happy with me; he wasn’t enjoying this game at all.

But I was so pleased with the video! I had kept my horse away from the treats and gotten him to stop and stand still! Yay!

On the conference call, my friend the instructor pointed out another way of viewing the situation—from Galahad’s perspective. Oh. Well. That looks quite a bit different. I was pretty shocked at this new viewpoint.

Had I been aware in the moment of the “game,” I would have seen the significance of Galahad’s “hissy fit”: He was NOT having fun doing what was supposed to be a fun exercise. But as usual, I wasn’t in the moment with my horse. Nope. I was in “trainer’s mind,” working to MAKE him stop and stand still. Furthermore, he had to stop without my influence—so I wasn’t even allowing him to get my attention when he asked for it. No wonder he had a fit! He must have been SO confused and frustrated—I had suddenly completely changed the rules of a game he knew well and really enjoyed.


Part Two: The Pain, Again

The last seven weeks have been a nightmare much of the time. The pain in my jaw and tongue returned on the third of March. Why? This time, I know the answer.

In February I started paying attention to the “Law of Attraction,” which in its simplest form just means that “like attracts like.” For years, I’ve known that people, things, and events show up in my life because of what I’ve always called “resonance.” People in our lives are there because there’s something in our experience or in our energy that is similar. We attract those whose life stories reflect our own in some way, or have similar themes. The Law of Attraction.

No problem with this—it’s just the way the world works. But enter Abraham-Hicks (Esther Hicks and the entity who call themselves Abraham), who specialize in large-scale events at which they share their patented inspirational messages on how to create our own reality.

Abraham-Hicks and their version of message has a pretty militant sound to it. Abraham, channeled by Esther Hicks, is a brilliant and inspirational speaker with a kind of take-no-prisoners approach. Control your thoughts; choose the best and highest thought in order to get “into the vortex” and manifest! Feel joy! That’s why you’re here—to experience joy! It’s up to you! The tone sounds just like my dad.

So I started controlling my thoughts, all right. I felt great! I felt joy! I monitored my thoughts at every moment and made sure I was feeling JOY! If anyone could get into the Vortex, I could—because I could monitor my thoughts!

Can you imagine someone hearing, “Be joyful!” and interpreting it as a command, with dire consequences for failure? No? Well, that’s exactly what I did. I drove myself nuts, policing my joy. But really, it’s not so surprising. That’s how I was raised. That’s how Arthur, my father, taught me. My dad was always DOING something, and it had to be perfect. No sitting around for him! Sitting around (and, presumably, experiencing joy) was a sign of sloth. And so we kids learned that we had to be busy. And oh, did I mention perfect, too? Yup. One “B” marring a report card full of “A’s” rated a scolding. I’m sure many of you know exactly what I mean.

So a few days into my “you will feel joy!” episode, I woke up in excruciating pain…again. It has gone on for nearly seven weeks now, and it’s just beginning to let up. A few days into it, I no longer cared about feeling joy. In fact, I couldn’t even imagine joy any more. All I could manage was to survive from one day to another. Once again, I found myself unable to eat, sleep, or talk. Anything creative was completely out of the question.

Part Three: Putting It All Together

Journal entry, April 15th:

Wow. The conference call last night was tough. I was so wrong about that video—I can really see that, now. But it fits a pattern, doesn’t it? It’s Kay-as-Arthur again, the Arthur who’s now living inside my head, the Arthur who taught me what the world was like and how to behave there. Arthur the Perfectionist, Arthur the Drill Sergeant, Arthur the Enforcer.

I still can’t get rid of the image of the White Dog. I’m certain that the dog has something to do with all this….

OMG: just now, a really scary understanding—that innocent, playful pup crushed beneath the wheels of my car; my own playful innocence also crushed. But what does the car represent?

And besides the white dog…. The pain this time began just as I was working—WORKING!— with the Abraham-Hicks stuff. Constantly policing myself, policing my joy, for Pete’s sake!

“Policing my joy”…. That image is the same one that was captured in the video of me and Galahad doing that exercise the other day. It could not be clearer.

There in the video is my poor Galahad responding as I probably did when I was a kid, when nothing I ever did was good enough for Dad…. And I just realized that Dad, if he ever thought about it (and he might not have ever done so until after he crossed over), would have been so sad to realize that the relationship between us wasn’t working the way he wanted; but he had no idea how to do it differently, or even that any different way existed….

The White Dog, crushed under the wheels of my car. My car—my way of moving through life. The dog, that happy innocence, crushed under the wheels of my way of being-in-the-world, which I inherited from Arthur, and he from his mother Anna, and she from (I suspect) a parent or grandparent. The saying in my family is, “There’s one in every generation.”

And me, little Kay, crushed under the weight of my father’s expectations. Wow.

That way of life, the way I was taught by my father, is relentless. “Relentless” is an excellent word for it. It never, EVER relents. There’s no relaxation, no peace, certainly no “let it be, let it unfold.”

After the accident with the dog, my Guides kept saying, “Some things cannot be prevented.” That’s true—on many levels. On this very personal level, it’s clear that with my current mindset, neither I nor Galahad (nor the unfortunate White Dog, for that matter) has any hope of anything changing. But now I can SEE what’s happening, and maybe, just maybe, I can make a change.

So anyway. Joy. Innocence. Trust. Three things that seem to have been lost to me as a child. Three things I want to retain and develop in my horses, and regain for myself. But that can’t be done by coercion, by policing, or by suddenly changing the rules.

I am so grateful for all the events that have helped me see and understand the full significance of the way I’ve always lived my life. If you don’t see something, you can’t change it.

So I’m going to change it…but calmly, quietly, by letting things flow.

Wow. What a funny place this life is, eh?

[Cross-posted on The Alchemical Horse.]

The White Dog

pitbull-terrier-americano-posters-20150130065127-54cb29efc389cJournal entry from Sunday night, 30 June 2013:

Well. Such a day. I hit a dog on the way home from the Rescue Ranch; that is about all that’s sticking in my mind at the moment. I have NO idea why they [my Guides] needed to hit me over the head with a two-by-four; what am I missing? I’ll have to wait a day or two to write about this, I think…too upsetting right now, and I can’t “hear” when I’m this upset. ….

What happened, as nearly as I can remember it:

I left the Rescue Ranch around three that afternoon, after a good day with horses and friends. It had started to rain slightly as I drove off, but I ran out from under the rain shortly after leaving.

A mile or two further, I saw a white dog—some bully breed mix, running down a long driveway toward the road. It looked to me like it was planning on chasing my car, so I slowed down from about 45 to around 40 mph, in order to give it lots of time to swerve and avoid me. But it got closer and closer without swerving, though it was looking right at me. I finally realized it was not going to stop, so I braked hard. There was virtually no shoulder—maybe a car-width—between the road and the ditch, so I couldn’t swerve to avoid the dog.

The damn thing, running full tilt and with its tongue lolling happily and LOOKING AT ME, ran right under my car. I heard and felt the breaking of its bones, the heavy thud of its body.

I was stunned. That innocent creature was alive one instant, dead the next, and I was responsible. Shock and disbelief rocketed through my brain. How could that have happened?! I killed a dog.

For an instant, I considered just driving away to avoid confronting a devastated owner. But I couldn’t do that, so I pulled off the road and stopped. I ran back to the dog, though it was obvious that it was quite, quite dead.

When I got there (avoiding getting hit myself!), I picked the creature up and half carried, half dragged it off the road and into the grass at the edge of the driveway. It was heavy—maybe 40 pounds or so, too heavy for me to carry up the long hill to the house and buildings at the top of the drive. The only visible marks on its body were a long smudge of road dirt and a trickle of blood from its mouth, but it was lifeless in my arms, its neck obviously broken and untold damage done to its body.

I left it there and ran up to the house.

A man was standing on the porch watching me. I was crying, saying, “I’m so sorry!” over and over.

“There was nothing you could have done,” he said. “My wife and I saw it happen. The dog doesn’t belong around here.”

“I’m so sorry! It ran right under my car!”

“There was nothing you could have done. Now go on back to your car. You’ve been upset enough.” He was matter-of-fact, not unkind at all, but without any emotion I could sense. That didn’t seem odd at the time, though it does, a little bit, looking back on it.

I walked back down the hill, drenched in tears, and stopped for a minute to kneel beside the dog’s body. It was a young female—not a puppy, but a young dog, well fed and fit. The pink plaid collar she was wearing indicated that she was someone’s pet. I thanked her for her short life, and promised to try to understand the lesson…whatever the lesson was. I certainly had no idea what this encounter could possibly signify.

Driving slowly away, I tried to understand. It wasn’t the dog’s death in itself that bothered me. The dog had died instantly, I have no doubt, thank God! My sense of it is that the dog was dead even before its brain had time to register anything but surprise. I feel like it bounced once in this world, bounced again on the Other Side, and got up still running happily. My Guides are precise. It wasn’t guilt they were trying to instill, but some other meaning. Or so I imagine, though I still do not fully understand—and it’s my lack of understanding that haunts me.

What bothered me then, and still bothers me now, is why was such a violent, shocking event necessary? What am I missing? What have I missed so consistently that this was necessary?

Some might ask why I assume it “meant” anything at all. Every driver hits something or other during her or his driving lifetime. Birds, squirrels, turtles, deer, snakes, whatever—we’ve ALL perpetrated that kind of carnage. But I live my life in the knowledge that we are all intimately connected, and that every event in our lives is resonant and interconnected. In my worldview, there is meaning in everything that happens. So it’s not that I’m suggesting this event was orchestrated for my benefit. Rather, in my worldview, there is/was a resonance that “attracted” the beings who were involved: the dog, the man on the porch, me, the dog’s owners…. There is meaning for all of us, though that meaning will be different for each one.

I wept and puzzled all the way home. “There was nothing you could have done.” The owners of that white dog failed in their responsibility to her by letting her get loose; I was also responsible, to some extent, for failing to anticipate that the dog might not stop in time. But the message to me at that point—I kept hearing it in my head—seemed to be that some things cannot be prevented. Choices are made by all of us, and the result of that constellation of choices becomes reality. There was nothing anyone could have done.

I stopped at a convenience store on the way home to recover a little and get something to drink. I walked into the store and was trying to decide if I needed something to eat—if I could keep anything down…. Behind me, someone said, loudly and clearly, “I have your dog.” I nearly jumped out of my skin. No, wait: HOT dog. I turned around to see that the woman was talking to her husband. “I’ve got your HOT dog.”

Then when I got back to my car, an SUV had parked next to me, on the driver’s side. And there, eyeball-to-eyeball, was…you guessed it, a dog, happily panting and watching for its owner to return. Thank goodness it was a retriever of some sort. If it had been a pit bull, I might have passed out. As I said, my Guides are precise.

So the rest of the drive home, I pondered and cried and pondered some more. “Why was such a violent, shocking event necessary? What am I missing? What have I missed so consistently that this was necessary?”

Over the past decade or so, I’ve gotten pretty darn good about finding the meaning in events, or if not “the” meaning, then at least meaning enough to help me along my path. More recently, I’ve really taken to heart the fact that I can’t “fix” a lot of things that I’d really like to be able to. I thought about a lot of examples as I drove.

Before going home, I stopped at the barn to feed my horses. Their energy helped me calm down, but got me no closer to an understanding. That night I didn’t sleep much, but nothing emerged from my frantic questioning or from my dreams once I finally drifted off.

The question still reverberates in my head: “Why was such a violent, shocking event necessary? What am I missing? What have I missed so consistently that this was necessary for me to experience?”

Two years later, after much soul-searching, I’m finally beginning to understand at least part of the message; I’ll explain that in another post.

Seeing Clearly: What IS the Highest Good?

2013-06-13_15-48-26_773It’s getting close to the date of my first cataract surgery. I’m excited! In recent months, my vision has deteriorated pretty badly—I’m no longer driving, and even seeing the computer screen is now difficult.

I’m starting to get nervous—but amazingly, only the tiniest bit, and I refuse to focus on that. Why should I? The benefit will be HUGE—to be able to SEE again? How wonderful….

So I’m trusting that the outcome will be excellent…and I also know that the outcome WILL BE for the Highest Good.

Now, those two things are a little different.

I remember visiting the dentist fifteen years ago for a repair to a crown on the lower left molar. I KNEW that all would be well. I’d been attending a spiritual center regularly, and had learned Spiritual Mind Treatment (which is a very effective form of meditation and prayer). I had treated for a positive outcome, and for the Highest Good.

No problem, then, when the touch of the dentist’s needle sent shock waves of electricity up and down the nerve in my jaw. That needed to happen, I told myself, but all would be just fine. No worries. The pain was momentary. I will admit, though, to being puzzled at the time, though: How could that stab of pain be “for the Highest Good?” [If you’re interested, you can read more about this amazing experience of pain in the “Two-by-Four” series, starting here.]

Well. Fifteen years of pain later, I have a more informed understanding of the “Highest Good.” I do believe, after years of struggle, that the pain is/was indeed necessary for a higher purpose. It’s done many things for my psychic growth, most of which I still don’t understand, and may never understand in my lifetime. But some things I do get.

Primarily, I now am able to see this experience of chronic pain as part of my repertoire. Let me explain what I mean by that.

In my life I’ve had so many “weird” things happen to me that do NOT happen to most people. Synaesthesia, for example—the experience of hearing color or seeing sound. While many of you will have heard of that, I’d wager that no more than a few of you have ever experienced it.

My case is a bit different, though. Thunbergia flowers sang to me once—and their songs were a vibrant orange color, like the vibrations of light turned into sound. Another time, majestic classical music performed in a cathedral one Christmastime sounded deep, soulful grays and blues which rose through chords woven of green and gold into and through the dome high above. There have been only those two instances, spaced many years apart.

Though I do not use drugs, I’ve had “visionary” experiences of altered states: Some have been ecstatic, lifting me up and out of my body to a sense of joining with the Universe. Others were profoundly “inward” and “downward,” dropping me through the reptilian brain and back to a place where “life” and “death,” “pleasure” and “pain” have no meaning whatsoever.

Fortunately, none of these lasted long; but the visceral memories remain. They are part of my experience, part of my “repertoire” of understanding. It’s really, really hard for my clients and friends to shock me, no matter what experience they share.

I’ve come to understand these experiences as a gift—they’ve vastly increased my compassion and empathy for myself and others. They provide a kind of “hook,” or framework of understanding, so that I’m not overwhelmed by what I see around me, or by what people share with me in confidence. Without this framework, I could not do the work I do in the world.

So the pain in my jaw that I suffer daily is a blessing, in this sense. There is no understanding of chronic pain unless you’ve experienced it, and you cannot experience chronic pain without it being, well, chronic. And long-lasting. And almost unbearable. So I’ve got that experience in my “toolbox.”

I’ve also got ways of coping with it—and of not coping with it—in that same toolbox. There are days when I just want to lay down and die…and there are days when I am so grateful for the experience that it brings me to tears right alongside the pain.

So I expect the outcome of my cataract surgery to be wonderful. I expect to be able to see very well indeed, just as I’m promised by the doctors and friends who’ve experienced the procedure, as soon as I wake up. And I am looking forward to that so much!

It will all be for the Highest Good, of that I am utterly certain. Let’s just say, though, that I have a more nuanced view of what the Highest Good actually looks like in “real life.” It’s not always what the ego wants to experience—but it’s exactly what the Soul has called forth.

What a beautiful, blessed life this is!

The Two-by-Fours, Prelude: Pain

Mom in the 40sThe last few months have been blissful for me in one important regard: the doctor I’ve been seeing for about a year now has found a way to manage the chronic pain that a damaged nerve in my jaw has been causing me pretty constantly since 1999, the year my mother died.

I wasn’t close to my mother as a child, but we grew closer during the last few years of her life. When my parents finally moved back to St. Louis in 1998, she and I were looking forward to spending a lot more time together.

“Fate” had a different plan, though. By the time they made the move, Mom was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and the disease progressed rapidly after that. Our time together consisted largely of sitting together in the nursing home: Mom, voiceless and angry, scowling and weeping tearlessly in her wheel chair, and me just sitting with her, hoping that she knew, at some level, that I was there.

The dental accident that eventually brought about my pain occurred a few months after my folks moved back to town, and didn’t seem to have any lasting effect until shortly after Mom’s death, when it began to flare up more and more often. By the time a couple of years had passed, I was in pain most of the time—it felt like someone was grabbing my jaw and the back of my tongue with a hot pair of pliers. NOT fun.

Chronic nerve pain, as some of you know all too well, can be pretty much untreatable. Drugs don’t touch it; psychotherapy or biofeedback sometimes offer relief, but only sometimes.

Unrelenting, untreatable pain like this leaves a person with basically three options. First, you can rebuild your life by focusing on the pain, letting it rule you, rob you of opportunities for enjoyment, and make your life miserable. For many folks, this is the only way possible. I can certainly understand this choice—there were lots of times that I did exactly that.

The second option, if things get too bad, is suicide. Certain kinds of pain—notably trigeminal neuralgia—not infrequently drive sufferers to this choice.

The third option, if you’re lucky, is to refuse to give pain the power to rule your life. I was fortunate to discover this option a couple of years into the experience, when I attended a conference at which Dr. Lionel Corbett was the guest speaker. He spoke about the Buddhist concept of “radical acceptance,” which in the depth psychological tradition involves the willing surrender to the demands of the unconscious, some of which manifest as pain (or illness, grief, loss, or other powerful experiences).

With time, effort, and lots of prayer, I was able to reach a state of acceptance of the pain, and treat it as a gift. Although the significance of the pain eluded me, I was able to trust that there is meaning in the experience. Most of the time, at least.

I mention the pain because it will become important as this story evolves here in the blog (and in my life!).

One of the early clues I had regarding its meaning was my mother’s experience. Mom, particularly in the last decade of her life, suffered from a variety of what we used to call “designer diseases”: a series of ailments that, once “fixed” by medication or therapy, seemed to morph into something else, in a different location in her body.

One of the many unpleasant phases of this process was that she developed trigeminal neuralgia, which is chronic, severe pain resulting from damage to or malfunctioning of the trigeminal nerve. This ailment results in more or less random flashes of agonizing pain in the side of the face. Sufferers describe it as “like an ice pick to the face,” and it’s one of those instances of chronic nerve pain that not infrequently results in suicide. The agony is just too much to bear.

In Mom’s case, she was lucky. Through the miracles of modern diagnostic processes, her doctors were able to identify the problem. A blood vessel, over the years, had moved into too-close proximity to the nerve at the back of her skull. That meant that her pulse, the very beat of her heart, would cause jolts of pain. The “fix” was to open the back of her skull, tease apart the nerve and the blood vessel, and suture a bit of fatty tissue into the space between them. This cushioned the nerve and relieved the pain.

So…being a depth psychologist, I could not help but associate my own pain—different nerve, but nearly the same effect—with my mother’s, and wonder about the connection. But I couldn’t do anything but wonder about it. The “signal” was so strong and full of “static” that no information was discernible. All I knew was that from time to time I really just wanted to lay down and die, if that would relieve the pain.

So that’s why it seemed like such a miracle when my doctor, 11 or 12 years into this experience, was able to prescribe a drug (one that’s been available for decades, but that is only rarely used for neurologic pain) that all but knocked out the agony I’d endured for all those years.

I remembered what it was like to be able to sleep soundly; I could forget all about pain for days at a time. No more radical acceptance needed! Blissful….

All this will make more sense in the next post, here.