48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Essay #48: h(om)e

In Love on February 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Om is the whole universe coalesced into a single sound and represents the union of mind, body, and spirit (yoga.about.com); used in contemplation of ultimate reality (Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary)

A few years ago, I was in the habit of going to Woodard Bay a few times a week to swim. Part of a natural reserve, it features a quiet inlet that’s usually people-free. One particular day it was sunny and calm, so I took my time getting in and out of the water, instead of the mad dash and dip I usually do when swimming in the Pacific Northwest.

After I dried off, I sat on the beach a while, soaking up the sun, the salt air, the barking of distant harbor seals, herons grumbling and rumbling overhead, the soft plash of the Sound against the shore. The tide was coming in.

Eventually I got up and headed back toward the park entrance, about a mile away. And I noticed a strange thing. The forest was gorgeous. Each individual evergreen, each bush of salal and blackberry, each nettle was magnificent.

I slowed to take it in. Was it the light? I felt as if I had never seen this place before, never noticed how stunningly beautiful everything is. I stopped and looked around… and realized that there was no difference between me and the trees. None.

It wasn’t a huge gong-like revelation. It was quiet, as if it had been there all along, and I just now noticed. I was looking at god. I was looking at me.

I felt an incredible peace. There is no they, only us, all together. One. I got it, viscerally, and started weeping with gratitude. I knew in my bones (which are leased, at best) that there is nothing wrong — not with me, not with the world, not with anyone. Ever. We are all love(d).

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “It was the most basic of events. It was heaven, yes. It was the deepest love I’d ever experienced, beyond anything I could have previously imagined, but it wasn’t euphoric. It wasn’t exciting… It was just obvious. Like when you’ve been looking at an optical illusion for a long time, straining your eyes to decode the trick, and suddenly your cognizance shifts and there — now you can clearly see it!”

My experience of Oneness lasted an eternity, an hour, three minutes. I don’t know how long I stood in one place, or when I started walking again. I am, now, slightly embarrassed to relate this incident. Don’t intelligent people scoff at the idea of god? I do believe that god is love is god, but I also don’t proclaim it to strangers (or at least not very often). But it happened to me, this experience of the Divine, more than once.

And just to bring the notion home, I have only to read the Woodard Bay interpretive sign again:
Like the scent of saltwater, you are welcome here.

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Essay #47: falling

In Love on January 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Gee, but it’s great to be back home. Home is where I wanna be. I been on the road so long, my friend. ~Simon & Garfunkel, “Keep the Customer Satisfied”

I went to California last week, to see my dad and stepmom. I was scared to go, afraid to fall back into old family patterns and behaviors.

After the snowstorm, however, I decided to let myself fall. Instead of trying to remember to be my (new! improved!) adult self all the time, I gave myself permission to relax and relapse. I planned to dust myself off and try again: be Me.

What a relief. Instead of expending great amounts of energy trying not to fall, I just went with it, like a martial artist. Those smarties assume they’re going to fall, so they practice, learning to land as free from harm as possible. When I studied aikido a few years ago, we practiced falling and rolling a lot, on good thick mats.

My favorite aikido move is rolling from standing, although when Sensei introduced it, I thought he was nuts. A somersault from standing? TO standing? I can’t do that! Scared scared scared.

“You can do this,” he said. “I know you can.” So I practiced it slo-mo over and over. And watched kids and teenagers doing it easily — whoosh!

One day, I just went for it. I stood at the edge of the mat, threw myself forward across the floor, tumbled along my arm shoulder hip — whoosh! and then I was up, on my feet, facing the same direction on the other side of the room.

“I did it!” I said, thrilled to my completely intact bones. Then did it again and again. And found out how much easier it is to do quickly. Momentum can be your friend.

All that week at work, I strutted around, finally understanding the cocky walk of arrogant men. Sauntering to the restroom, to a meeting, to a co-worker’s cubicle, a voice in my head repeated, “Ha! I can roll from standing! I can do anything!”

Oh California, I’m coming home. Will you take me as I am? ~Joni Mitchell, “California”

Essay #46: powerless or powerful?

In Love on January 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Big storm last week, with knee-deep snow. It knocked out power and phone and thousands of trees. The tall locust in the back yard cracked, and several huge limbs crashed down, scraping the house. My next-door neighbor heard it and yelled, “Are you okay?!” A broken branch dangled 15 feet above the northwest corner of my roof. She stood lookout in the front yard while I gathered blankets. I slept at her house that night, frightened.

That kind of fear doesn’t dissipate immediately, especially since the branch continues to hang over the house. I called the landlord (no phone), his son (no response), and two arborists. Yesterday one of the tree men made it down the drive and took a look. “I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” he said, “the branch is hanging by some strong cords. Locusts are resilient, like taffy. But listen to your intuition. If you get scared, get out. And beware of the wind.” He estimated three weeks before he had time to take it down. So relieved to finally have an expert opinion, I started crying. I break down after the catastrophe.

Back in November, I emailed an alleged friend: I am uncomfortable with the way you hug me sometimes. Too intimate. Distressful. Her response? “I am not coming on to you.” No apology.

Because she was out of town, I continued to attend rehearsals for a dance we were both part of. But eventually she showed up. I ignored her and tried to tough it out, but my body was deeply unhappy. I needed to feel safe. I needed to speak to her. After rehearsal, I asked another dancer for moral support. Without mentioning names or details, I said, “I have to speak to someone about something difficult. Will you wait for me?” She said, “Yes, no problem.”

The too-intimate hugger and I stepped out into the hall. “You got my e-mail?” I said. She nodded. But imagine my surprise when she started to tell me how hurt she was. “I was slammed!” she said, hand to heart. My friend Anger started to get up. What? No apology? No how are you? This is the person you protected for several months, struggling with how to preserve the friendship? Anger raised my voice and shook my head. No no no no no! The discussion became heated. A dancer yelled down the hall, “Good NIGHT, Elizabeth! See you MONDAY.”

In other words, shut up and go away.

Since we weren’t communicating anyway, I did shut up and went back into the studio for my street clothes, shaking so hard I couldn’t put my shoes on. Everyone left, even the one who promised to stay. The choreographer gave me a brief hug, told me how to lock the door, and departed. I sat in the dark for a long time, until I stopped crying. Not one person asked if I was okay — not then, not since.

I receive almost daily emails from the collective’s listserv about rehearsals and labs and brunches. I answer none of them, and dropped out of the dance piece.

I shut up and went away.

And took a good hard look at the people I had been spending so much time, energy, and money on. Dance, for me, is about joy and self-expression. But if I don’t trust the people I’m dancing with, Joy takes a holiday.

The power is back on in my house, and the phone works. I am no longer four years old, waiting for the roof to cave in. I can pack a bag and get out.