My recent A-fib event was an abrupt edge that my speeding body encountered on its way into the last third of my life. This particular third is my Wabi-Sabi. Wabi-Sabi is imperfection, brokenness, age and a disheveled appearance that the Japanese consider essential for beauty. I thought I had the answer. It was just a one-time event and if I took the right supplements to nourish the body it wouldn’t happen again – but it did. It happened again last night. In trying to de-stress myself I have become stressed – you have to laugh at the absurdity. I think I stress myself into these events by denying I have that condition and by stressing over de-stressing.
The imperfections and brokenness had not gone unnoticed last year. I knew I was fragile but hid it. I had jettisoned clients who sucked my energy. Television regardless of genre attracts more narcissists than other industries. Thirty five years of narcissistic behavior by 95 percent of my clients had taken a physical toll. My remaining two clients were the antithesis of the ninety-five percent and I thought it was karmic payback for all the insanity from clients and executives that I had had to endure. My faith in adult behavior was restored by their integrity.
I was planning how I would move into semi-retirement. I am endlessly energetic, pride myself on handling stress, able to multi-task and solve problems. My greatest gift in business is my negotiating skills. I had learned over decades of dealing with great people and with horrendous people the importance of nuance, truth when they least expected it and the art of waiting for however long it might take to get what the client wanted. I wasn’t one hundred percent over forty years but I was pretty darn close. I had many failures in my career but permanent failure wasn’t an option particularly in the beginning with two young kids to raise. I went full steam ahead, balls to the wall, up by the boot straps – all the wonderful cliches that hindsight engenders. What I didn’t have much of was vulnerability. In the beginning of my career there were only a handful of women who did what I did. I began my career in the misogynistic sports world. In the 1980’s we didn’t know the term misogyny. We just dealt with what was dished out and moved through it. Eventually all that testosterone took its toll and I left casting my fate to the proverbial wind. The fates served me well through the impossible times and the good times but they didn’t serve up vulnerability. I prided myself on never letting anyone see me cry in business. I dug in and worked harder and let anger carry me into the next phase.
I was heart broken when the company wouldn’t give me the salary I deserved. I worked hard. I couldn’t stay in New York as the kids got older without a significant raise. They gave me a Vice President title and no money. When I quit, they offered to move me to their main headquarters in Cleveland where I was told life would be easier with two kids. I laughed and left but I was sad and heart broken and angry.
My encounter with mortality in May has blown the locked doors off my stoicism leaving me vulnerable, panicky, anxious, sometimes depressed and feeling my age. I have not taken the medical communities full advice as I don’t fall into a one size fits all diagnosis. However, after last night the game has changed and I probably have to be on the beta blockers that keep the heart beat relatively normal when the A-fib starts. In my research and search for answers that fit my circumstances, I have found some alternative and supplemental answers to what had been depleted in my body. As I build up the nutritional resources that were depleted by stress, pneumonia and going off hormones (all at the same time), I have also had to acknowledge and live through periods of anxiety and fear that are the direct result of decades of all the stress, anxiety, fear that is embedded in my cells. My body, my heart, my arthritis are telling me to slow down, breathe, to enjoy aging, to age soulfully.
I am amazed by the periods of anxiety that come suddenly, my heart skipping beats. I have an app called Calm that helps at night. I see a hypnotist to help exorcise the embedded anxiety and fears from the early decades. I stop whatever I am doing when the heart starts it’s thing and breath. I meditate three times a day. I am learning to observe the body rather than react. My ER experience in Edinburgh taught me how anxiety and panic manifest. I have never cried like that in public. I was a vulnerable, physical mess, desperate and panicky. When the nurse whispered in my ear “ to accept the things you cannot change, and change the things you can” and my sobbing response “ and the wisdom to know the difference,” I knew my life and my perspective about who I was and what I wanted had to change or I wouldn’t have much of a life.
Culturally, we Americans don’t talk about failure much except in quick terms. We often hear those who have succeeded say that without failure(s) they wouldn’t be the gazillionaires or successes that they are.
Failures have defined who I am; yet, I never took the time to understand how failures impacted my body and my vulnerability responses. I knew I had courage because each time I failed I moved forward through that failures fear. But those fears and stress stayed embedded in my body and they are now demanding I pay attention.
I create big things in the garden behind the house – the land has always spoken to me in mysterious ways and I speak back by creating big metaphoric symbols that lurk in my brain. It’s the place where I put my fear and anxiety in art form. This year I was captivated by Quan Yin. I spent some time with Master Zhang in Southern California and she kept pointing at a painting she had of Quan Yin and to me. She doesn’t speak English only Mandarin and her translator was busy talking to some other people. She kept pointing and had me take pictures on my cell phone. Master Zhang is a master chinese healer. I had seen her perform what I consider miracles a few years ago and I finally had the opportunity to meet her last March. I started reading the Quan Yin mythology. She was originally a male deity that was transformed in eastern China during an influx of Christian missionaries who had instilled the Virgin Mary into their conscience. China had primarily male deities who were ferocious and bellicose; Quan Yin morphed into the goddess of compassion as she was sorely needed to counteract all that male god strum und drang. Even today she is highly revered.
I pondered the notion of compassion and decided I needed a physical representation of compassion that was spiritual but non-religious. It has taken six months to create my Quan Yin space. Jonathan has done a stellar job of creating my vision in physical form while adding his carpenter magic. Quan Yin is many things now: she is for the faithful, the faithless and those in between, she is a meditation on compassion and forgiveness for ourselves before we can honestly forgive and find compassion for others. Maybe that’s what Master Zhang saw that I needed and why she was so adamant that I pay attention.
The picture of the deer peering through the manzanita window of Quan Yin’s home was an affirmation that kindness and compassion was not just a metaphor but a journey I now needed to take. As I was sitting in the structure taking pictures, mama doe pops her head up looking at me for the longest while. One of her babies is in the background. She was in a vulnerable position, trusting I wouldn’t hurt her and curious about what I was doing. She’s a bit stronger in that area than me at the moment and I think I will follow her example.
Wabi-Sabi – I am the first four elements in search of the fifth