Solitude is Your Friend

A little solitude. Yes, that would be a fine thing. Time to myself. Time to meditate; to day dream and, perchance, to rest.

Hmmmm … a fine thing, indeed.

And I suppose, as I watch my 12-year-old niece, Amy, snuggling with Max the big orange and white tabby who’s basking in the sun by the big ol’ barn door, I am in solitude. By myself, certainly. Enjoying my own company? Of course! While observing the innocence of youth interact with the trust of another species. It’s quite special, actually.

I want this for her. I want Amy to always feel safe and strong, so that even when the seas of life start to billow and bluff she will feel anchored and secure. Solitude helps us find that place within ourselves ~ that quiet place of strength. Lord knows I’ve had to discover this for myself along the passage of life, and often the hard way, but I have learned to enjoy my place in solitude.

I don’t find it necessary to be connected to people all the time. There is peace in finding your place in the world that starts within. Make peace with yourself and the world cannot move you without your permission.

Amy and Max have parted company now. Looks like the old barn cat has found a distraction worthy of his attention. His own solitude. I haven’t seen a mouse in our barn for years, for he and his four cohorts are terribly efficient hunters and leave no evidence of their work. Nothing goes to waste.

And here comes Amy now, running up the gravel drive toward the house and …

“Hi Auntie Ella!” The door crashes open with her exuberance and there’s a kerfuffle of boots kicked off and jacket removed and posted to an already loaded coat hook.

“So how’s ol’ Max, today?” I smile and give her a big hug after she’s stomped into the kitchen. She squeezes me back.

“Oh, he’s a happy boy,” she responds, wistfully. “We had a nice visit, and then he saw something and abandoned me to go exploring.” Disappointment tinges her words.

“How do you feel about him leaving you?” I ask, curious about how she feels about being abandoned, as she put it. We untangle and I move to the sink to fill the kettle with water; put it on the stove to heat, and then reach for the cookie tin in the ice box.

“Okay, I guess. We were having such a nice visit though. I’m sad he left.” She sounds conflicted as she plops herself down at the wobbly kitchen table and rests her head in her hands. Dirty hands.

“You need to wash up,” I admonish, nodding her over to the sink. Without questioning she gets up and wanders over to the kitchen sink and grabs the bar of hand soap. Turns on the tap and begins to scrub. “You know that cats, especially these barn boys, are predators and that’s what they do ~ always on the look out for their next meal. I hope you didn’t take his departure personally.”

Amy finishes washing her hands and turns off the tap. Grabs the tea towel to dry them.

“Not the tea towel, dear. The hand towel … beside it, please.”

“Oh … right,” she responds absently, and makes the switch. After she’s done she shuffles back to the table and sits. Still cheerful, but pensive. “I was disappointed. I was hoping we could stay there a little longer. It was so nice to play with him in the sun. I hope I didn’t do anything to put him off.”

I sigh. “Of course not, sweetie. If he didn’t like you he wouldn’t spend time with you at all. He’s a barn cat. He knows his job and he’s good at it. He caught wind of something else and went to investigate, that’s all.” I set a plate of ginger snaps on the table between us and gather cups and saucers. “If you like, we can go fill the cats’ feed tub when we’ve had tea.” The cats earn their keep, but we do like to supplement their income.

Amy smiles and nods. The kettle boils and I fill the china teapot with hot water.

“What tea would you like today?” I ask. Amy’s becoming quite the connoisseur.

“Lavender and camomile sounds good.” She knows her own mind. This is good. “I’ll get it.” Amy jumps up from the table, careful not to jog its wobbliness, and rushes over to the cupboard where the tea caddy lives. After a couple of moments spent ruffling through the packages she finds the favoured variety. She hands it to me.

“Excellent choice!” I smile. “Please put the caddy away.”

As together we complete our tasks I wonder about the lesson I might teach her today about solitude. We both sit at the table at the same time, and giggle as it wobbles. I really must fix that leg.

“You know, Amy, I think cats can teach us a valuable lesson about how to be alone.”

Amy helps herself to a ginger snap and begins to nibble on it. I know she’s desperate to dunk it. Just a minute more. “What do you mean?” She finally asks.

“Well,” I fish for words she’ll understand, “if you’ve ever watched a cat you’ll have noticed that they’re quite happy to be alone. They like companionship, too, but they’re comfortable enough with themselves not to need it all the time. They can watch a bird fly by and don’t need to point it out to their buddy. They enjoy the chase alone, and often even prefer it. When they do engage with us, it’s on their own terms. Many people object to this innate sense of independence, but I admire it. Knowing how to be alone ~ how to enjoy solitude ~ is an important life lesson.” I pause while she noodles, and then add, “Do we need to control everything? Cats are excellent teachers of letting go and letting be.” The focus has drifted somewhat, but done so naturally. It’s part of the discussion.

Amy ponders a moment and immediately dunks her ginger snap in the cup of tea I’ve just placed before her. “If we aren’t in control, how do we get anything done?”

“Good question. Have you watched Max hunt?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“How much control does he have over the outcome? Is he going to catch the mouse every time? Does he?” I take a sip of tea. Bite on a biscuit.

Amy gives this some thought. “Not necessarily. I saw him get really mad last week when a vole when to ground. It was kind of funny, actually.”

“Right,” I note, “so what else do you observe when Max is mousing?”

“He’s usually alone … and he seems to be having fun.”

“Okay, so in his solitude he knows how to entertain himself. He’s enjoying the journey of being a cat, notwithstanding it can have its moments of disappointment. He doesn’t need a cheering section. Doesn’t call in the troops for help when he’s zeroed in on his next meal. He’s resourceful on his own terms.”

“I guess …” Amy’s noodling again. “Some people don’t like that cats kill things.”

“That’s a topic for another day, sweetie. Cats are hunters and they kill things to feed themselves.” I sip tea and put this behind me. I get particularly impatient with people who don’t understand the laws of nature and always wish to bend it to their will. Take a breath. “Do you see what I’m getting at about being okay being alone, though?”

“Yeah, I think so.” She dunks her ginger snap again. “I’m alone a lot actually, and I don’t mind it most of the time. But sometimes I’d like more company. My school friends always seem to be having a good time without me and sometimes I wonder why I’m left out.” She takes a sip of steaming tea. My thoughts drift back to a recent conversation about her not being invited to a sleepover and how this had devastated her at the time. “But most of the time I’m okay with it. They get into trouble a lot. I don’t need that.”

“You’re a smart cookie,” I toast her with my tea cup and take a sip. “My mother always said that when the crowd goes one way, you go the other. It’s advice that’s always worked well for me. And in its way,” I stop and consider for a moment, “it really speaks to this idea of being comfortable being alone. As long as you can enjoy your own company, you need never feel compelled to run with a questionable crowd.”

“So, it’s okay not to be surrounded by people all the time?” Amy muses. “My friends think that if you’re alone you must be a loser.”

Friends, so-called. “That’s the crowd, honey. What do you think?”

“I think I’d rather learn to enjoy my own company.”

“That’s my girl!” I smile and take a final sip of tea. “Knowing how to live in solitude will always stand you in good stead. Then you have a choice, you see? You can be with people, or not, and be completely happy either way. So many people don’t understand this. I didn’t for a long time, and I was always anxious or worried that no one wanted me around. When I finally accepted it was okay to be alone and enjoyed it, it was amazing how fast new, good friends started to show up.” I get up from the table and walk around to give Amy’s shoulders a squeeze and whisper in her ear. “Never worry about being alone. Solitude is your friend.”

“That tickles!” she giggles.

“I know … Now, finish up. Time to feed the felines.”

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Daily Prompt: Solitude

Blank

Daily Prompt: Childhood Revisited

What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.

~*~

“Aunt Sally, what’s your earliest childhood memory?” asked Manda while  thumbing through the pages of an already treasured new horse book. Christmas had been good to her.

“Why do you ask, sweetie?” Sally hesitated. Her memory of those early years were foggy at best. And not all the memories good.

“Oh, I don’t know. I just wondered.” Manda stopped admiring her book and sat back in her chair, arms folded waiting for an answer. She loved her Aunt Sal and was curious to know all about her. Besides, there’d been an assignment at school to discover hidden depths in a favourite family member. For Manda, Aunt Sal was that person.

Sally thought for a moment. Her earliest childhood memory that wouldn’t throw them both for a loop. Hmmm … it had to be qualified. “Give me a moment, please dear.” She stood up from the kitchen table and walked over to the counter to fetch a piece of homemade shortbread from the tin. Her mind was a blank. Searching for memories had always been troublesome for her. She’d spent so much of her life somewhere else. Dissociated. She could recall the cumulative trauma, but that was hardly a memory she could share with a 12-year-old girl.

“Aunt Sally … can you even remember your childhood?” Manda was beginning to feel concerned.

How perceptive she was, thought Sally brushing a tear from her cheek while still bent over the counter eating her cookie. Finally, she turned to face her niece.

“Auntie!!!” Manda squealed, upset at the sight of her aunt’s watery eyes. She jumped from her seat and ran over to give her a big hug. “What’s wrong? I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Sally choked back a sob and cleared her throat. She wrapped her arms around Manda and gave her a big squeeze. “Sweetie, you didn’t make me cry. My lack of memories makes me cry. I wish I could share with you my earliest childhood memory, but I can’t. It’s just too painful and I don’t want to hurt you.” She knew it was better to be honest. A lie simply bred more lies.

“Oh, auntie, I’m so sorry,” Manda pulled a piece of paper towel off the roll and gave it to her aunt whose only tissue was now in tatters. “If I’d known I’d never have asked.”

“But you weren’t to know, Manda, so please don’t worry. I have many good memories, just not too many good early ones. There was too much trauma in my life too soon, which is to say life became overwhelming before I was mature enough to handle it. Traumatized little ones develop all kinds of coping strategies to help them get through life. Often these carry on into adulthood and can be quite destructive if not addressed. My strategy was to check out when my life got too stressful. That’s why I don’t remember a lot of it. Sadly, a lot of grown ups never seek, or find, the help they need.”

“Like uncle Ted?” Manda wondered about her aunt’s ex-husband.

“Yes, like your uncle Ted.”

“What about you?”

Sally sighed. “Oh, I was finally able to get the help I needed a few years ago. That’s made my life more liveable now, but it still doesn’t reclaim all the lost memories.”

“Do you have any nice childhood memory you can share?” Manda asked, her eyes wide with hope.

Sally beckoned Manda to the kitchen table where they sat down across from one another. She thought for a moment, and then smiled. “When I was six years old,” she began, “I lived for a year with my grandmother … your great granny, Esther. Mother was off on a world tour and my father was absent, so I lived with gran. Of course, I went to school ~ grade 2 ~ and it was about that time that my musical talents began to surface. So, for the school play, Bambi, I was given a song to sing.”

“You were! Which one?” Manda was excited to know.

Drip, drip, drop little April shower …” Sally sang what she remembered.

“Oh, I know that song!” Manda squealed with joy, remembering the animated movie soundtrack.

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” Sally grinned.

“Were you happy?”

“Yes, I was happy. Gran had outfitted me in my favourite red velvet dress with gold buttons down the front and put tight ringlets in my hair. For just a little while I was the centre of her universe, so I felt pretty special.”

“What happened next?” Manda was all ears.

Gran took me for a hamburger and milkshake at the old hotel on Main Street. Bit of a dive, but it didn’t matter. I remember her boasting about me to her friends. I have good memories around that.”

Manda was entranced. “Oh, auntie, thank you for telling me your story. You have such a beautiful voice.” And then Manda paused, a look of curiosity swept into her eyes. “Why didn’t you grow up to be a singer?”

“That, my dear,” sighed her aunt, “is a story for another day.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015

 

 

 

Forgiveness …

The pain is deep ~

You put it there.

Not that you knew it,

You were simply sailing

Your oblivious sea

And I, being an innocent,

Was caught in your toxic

Wake; my life line

The place in my Soul you

Could not reach.

*

I forgive you.

I forgive because

Drowning in the pain

Of you hurts only me,

I forgive because

The power is within me.

I forgive to be the peace

I want to see.

I forgive to be

Free.

~*~

Personal freedom begins with forgiveness.

May we all be the peace we wish to see in the world.

Be well,

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015

Not Just Saturday Morning

Daily Prompt: Me Time

What’s your ideal Saturday morning? Are you doing those things this morning? Why not?

~*~

I like quiet mornings and I’m fortunate to be able to incorporate a quiet start to my day every day.

My “me time” starts with a short meditation. About 10 minutes, timed by a nature sounds download on my iPad. My current goal is to be able to take two deep, cleansing breaths without a single thought crossing my mind. It’s a challenge, to be sure. Try it, if you don’t believe me.

It’s really interesting to work on quieting the mind while trying not to run a play-by-play or colour commentary in the process. Every time I catch myself I have to start again!

A fun challenge. The other day I actually did it … two whole breaths in empty space … barely.

Today, “me time” started with a meditative body scan ~ another exercise focused on the breath but this time involving a mental check-in with my body. I do this occasionally to feel where tension is sitting. It’s actually a cool exercise.

With my eyes closed and while taking deep, cleansing breaths, I mentally scan my body from head to toe and back again. I notice any areas that are holding tension. For instance, an unexplained knot in my stomach; a pain in my neck, a throb in my big toe, or feelings even more subtle than that. While focusing on that area, I breathe into it a few times and imagine the tension releasing. If the tension doesn’t release easily I imagine blowing a bubble around it to magnify the area. I then sit with it a moment to see if it has a message for me.

Sounds out there, possibly, but I’ve found that since learning to listen to my body and its wisdom I’ve been carrying around a lot less stress. This has freed up precious energy for more important things like living the expansive life. Tension, as I’ve learned, is energy that’s stuck. The more it settles in the more difficult it is to release. I try to be conscious of the tension I’m holding as much as possible, and release it.

Our bodies speak to us all the time, but most of us are so closed off we don’t hear it. It’s not until we have some kind of massive physiological meltdown that we are forced to listen to what our bodies have to say. In my case, adrenal fatigue took me out at the knees and forced me to pay attention to what my body had been trying to tell me for years. i.e. “This life you’re leading is too stressful. I need a break.” And by force my body took one!

This has taught me to listen to my body sooner rather than later. The other option is simply too debilitating.

After engaging mind, body and spirit in this way, “me time” continues with a shift into creative mode.

I play with my (water)colour pencils in a stream of consciousness meditative kind of way to see what surfaces. This gets the creative juices flowing and prepares me to write freely.

My “me time” is an opportunity to ground my awareness and nurture my creativity. And it doesn’t just happen on a Saturday morning … it happens every day.

Now … time for breakfast …

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Freeze and Thaw

Daily Prompt: Fight or Flight

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

~*~

As someone who’s spent her life surviving the slings and arrows of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the point of almost burning out my adrenal glands, I suppose I could speak volumes on this subject.

To the overwhelmed nervous system almost anything can trigger the heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness of the adrenal rush … and not in a good way.

My adrenalin responses have rarely been justified, but when you grow up  feeling constantly under threat of something you lose sight of what constitutes an appropriate adrenal response. Not that you’re even in control of it. It just is, stimulated by whatever trigger pokes its way into a painful point of subconscious memory.

A life time of living in chronic survival mode is hard on the adrenal glands. (As is a life spent chugging down energy drinks, but that’s a discussion for another day.) They do burn out, and chronic anxiety is one of the results. Until I became aware of what was happening beneath the surface of my anxiety there was no way I could change it.

This awareness was finally raised during a trip to Sarajevo in March 2009, when the war-wounded city reflected the incredibly deep wounds of my own emotional trauma. Anxiety attacks in benign circumstances triggered three flight and freeze reactions during our one-week stay, reactions over which I had no control. Since we were travelling with a group of virtual strangers there was the added stress of shame attached to it.

Yes, you need to know that freezing is also a response to trauma.

In simple, primitive terms, this is when prey under pursuit will drop to the ground and play dead so the predator will lose interest and leave them alone.

My freeze ~ the clamp of anxiety. The desperate need to getaway without knowing where is safe to go. Stuck. Immovable. Traumatized. Invisible. On a continuous playback loop.

Since Sarajevo it’s taken years of therapy to get my frozen emotional core to finally thaw. The experience is a bit like the sensation of regaining feeling in your hands and feet after a bout of frost bite. Years of frozen feelings melt into a stinging liquid form. The pain all too present … but it must be felt to be acknowledged and, ultimately, released.

I’m reminded of the time I attended an NFL game in Buffalo with my ex-husband and his family, maybe 20 years ago. It was December, 15 below and snowing, and I was not dressed properly for the occasion. By the fourth quarter I was in the first aid room with thermal blankets wrapped around frozen feet (and a husband angered by the fact he’d had to miss that last quarter).

The agony of the thaw was indescribable. There were a few moments there where I felt like I’d rather die than endure the grief of feeling my limbs come back to life. However, once the worst of it had passed, and I could feel my feet and hands again, the pain of the experience became nothing more than a passing memory. I can recall the incident now as the source for a funny story or, for that matter, a teaching moment.

Feelings that come up while thawing are painful, but they must be felt in order for us to be completely free of them.

The first step, however, is awareness.

I learned ~ through psychotherapy, naturopathy, hormone therapy, equine therapy and other important sources ~ that the freeze response, which had become my go-to place when overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control (rooted in early childhood trauma), had created a debilitating life pattern affecting mind, body and spirit.

I learned that what we harbour in the way of resentment, fear, jealousy and the like becomes our master and we its slave, and that this plays out in our lives in unhappy and insidious ways. Panic/anxiety attacks, addiction, lashing out or anything else that numbs the mind, body and spirit are all manifestations of the freeze response triggered by overwhelming events.

As horrible as those anxiety-ridden moments in Sarajevo were for me, they taught me it was time to be honest with myself and seek help. The kind of help that would allow the thaw, the healing, to begin and bring to life again the parts of me that had been playing dead.

Freezing was how I’d made myself invisible. If I was invisible, no one could see me; no one would abandon, reject, abuse or hurt me ever again. In the process I had become stuck in the pattern of abandoning, rejecting, abusing and hurting myself. It had to stop.

It’s been almost six years since my rigorous, sometimes hellish and incredibly cleansing journey began. A veritable trip through the refiner’s fire. Still, if I had to choose between who I am now and who I was before the thaw began, there’s no doubt what I’d do. Even knowing how tough it’s been I’d go through it all again to unearth my truth and free myself of the pain that had frozen me in chaos.

My heart and mind are open; my adrenal glands are functioning more optimally and thus my nervous system is becoming more robust. I’m finally able to live my life more on my terms. I’ve learned to live in the moment; to leave the past behind and to allow the future to be what it will be.

Finally, I feel free to be me.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

Useful resources:
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases and coping ~ Robert M. Sapolsky
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma ~ Peter A. Levine
Riding Between The Worlds: Expanding our Potential Through the Way of the Horse ~ Linda Kohanov
In An Unspoken Voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness ~ Peter A. Levine
Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation ~ Dr. Dan Siegel
Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome ~ James L. Wilson

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

A Gentle Sense of Pride

Daily Prompt: Proud

~*~

“What are you proud of, mom? I just don’t get why you’re proud of me.”

For most of my life I’ve had difficulty acknowledging, let alone having pride in, my accomplishments. My therapist tells me it’s because I wasn’t able to see myself. And she’s right, I never could see what the big deal was about anything I achieved.

When people told me they were proud of me it would go in one ear and out the other. It just never registered. Mostly, I guess, because I could never feel pride in myself.

Growing up disconnected ~ through dissociation, etc. ~ does this. I was never really in my experiences, so even when they happened to end well (miracle of miracles) the end result had little meaning. I couldn’t feel it.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I was smart, but struggled to connect with it. There was too much else (of which I was unaware) in the way, so feeling proud was difficult.

My therapist has been working tirelessly to help me change this.  She wants me to be able to see and acknowledge what I’ve done in my life and feel proud of what I’ve achieved in the face of a great many emotional obstacles.

She tells me she is proud of me for all that I have overcome to get to this point  ~  a point where I can truly start to thrive instead of merely survive. It’s only in the past couple of years I’ve finally started to grasp what she’s saying.

A New Trajectory

Last year I made important decisions that altered the course of my life; sent me on a new trajectory of healing that demonstrates just how far I’ve come.

Bear

Completing the six-month Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning certification (FEEL) program in the last half of 2014 was a major accomplishment for me. Certainly I acquired new skills that paved the way to a career as a practitioner of equine experiential learning, but perhaps more important was the personal healing work achieved along the way.

It was challenging work to be sure. Every exercise, every assignment provided an opportunity to step into uncharted personal territory and create a new life map. As time passed, trauma was released; many tears were shed; and a healthier self-image ~ one in which I could begin to see my strengths and personal power ~ began to emerge. Seeing my life through the mirror of the horse gave me the courage to see my Self and do what needed to be done to change my life again.

Of course, that journey continues. The FEEL program launched me into a deeper personal understanding and provided important life skills that I can use going forward. It also showed me how I, with the aid of the horses, can be an empathic catalyst for change in the lives of others ready and willing to walk the equine experiential healing path.

Many friends and family told me how proud they were of me when I achieved my certification. My husband was particularly supportive and thus especially proud.

Still, what really matters is that I recognize what I achieved and feel a sense of gentle pride in that accomplishment. For this is something I have experienced far too little of in my life.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

The Culture of Dumb

Daily Prompt: (Your thing) for Dummies

~*~

I would never label anyone as dumb or a dummy. The term is abusive. The very idea of it makes my head spin.

As a certified Equine Canada coach (Level 1), Bronze certified trainer in the natural horsemanship methods of Chris Irwin, and a recent practitioner of Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning there’s one thing I know for sure ~ treating students as reasonably intelligent beings (or at least giving them the benefit of the doubt) and then being flexible enough to teach each one in a way that gives them the best opportunity to learn is, in my opinion, the best way to go.

Why am I so hung up about the culture of dumb?

My late maternal grandfather was a troubled soul and terrible misogynist. He also had a propensity for declaring that all women are dumb, and reminded my grandmother, my mother and, by extension (though I saw him maybe five times in my entire life) me, of this fact on a regular basis.

Naturally this became a canker in the family psyche and the source of much unhappiness and ruinous despair.

My granny, a petite and demure (but feisty) woman of Scottish heritage and from a good family, struggled under his awful tyranny for 27 years. Just before she left him (in 1961 at age 45) she took a beauty course. Grandpa let her because, he reasoned, it would mean that he, a labourer who never held down a job for very long, wouldn’t have to work so hard if she had a steady income.

After graduation granny escaped with her life (she needed police protection for a while), moving back to Alberta and setting up shop in the area where she was raised after her family emigrated from Scotland. Over time she recovered enough from the abuse to be able to build a thriving beauty business. At age 78 she died with a nicer paid-for home, a newer paid-for car and more money in her bank account than my pitiful grandfather was ever able to accumulate.

He died a pauper in northern Montana.

As for his daughter, my mother, despite impossible odds she somehow managed to turn her passion for singing into an international operatic career. A miracle of achievement if ever there was one. Few are aware of the uphill battle she fought to reach the heights of her career with the “culture of dumb” resonating so cruelly in the background.

I admire both of these strong women and the example they have set as I engage in my own mid-life wrestling match with the familial culture of dumb.

So, don’t ask me to educate anyone as if they’re a dummy. I will find a way to teach a person what they need to know in the way they need to learn, and know, it.

In the words of Forrest Gump … “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015