Synchronicity: Before Completion

In less than two weeks I have my final therapy session with L. I have been caught up in a back-and-forth whirlwind of feelings, switching between courage and fear, happiness and grief, adventure and clinging. I cannot exactly say why it is that I know I am done. I just know it in my body somewhere that I am. Yet, I am still sometimes afraid to step into and follow through with the choices I make.

My therapist introduced me to the I Ching some time ago, and I have written about it here before. I do like asking it questions when my mind is scattered in some way, because it helps me to feel a sense of understanding of the greater forces or themes that I can connect with. It helps me to feel calmer, to be in touch with these concepts outside of myself. I relax.

I asked it: “How can I approach the post-therapy phase?”.

It answered with hexagram 64: Before Completion. This hexagram is at the very end of the I Ching, and reads:

above LI THE CLINGING, FLAME
below K’AN THE ABYSMAL, WATER

This hexagram indicates a time when the transition from disorder to order is not yet completed. The change is indeed prepared for, since all the lines in the upper trigram are in relation to those in the lower. However, they are not yet in their places. While the preceding hexagram offers an analogy to autumn, which forms the transition from summer to winter, this hexagram presents a parallel to spring, which leads out of winter’s stagnation into the fruitful time of summer. With this hopeful outlook the Book of Changes come to its close.

THE JUDGMENT

BEFORE COMPLETION. Success.
But if the little fox, after nearly completing the crossing,
Gets his tail in the water,

There is nothing that would further.

The conditions are difficult. The task is great and full of responsibility. It is nothing less than that of leading the world out of confusion back to order. But it is a task that promises success, because there is a goal that can unite the forces now tending in different directions. At first, however, one must move warily, like an old fox walking over ice. The caution of a fox walking over ice is proverbial in China. His ears are constantly alert to the cracking of the ice, as he carefully and circumspectly searches out the safest spots. A young fox who as yet has not acquired this caution goes ahead boldly, and it may happen that he falls in and gets his tail wet when he is almost across the water. Then of course his effort has been all in vain. Accordingly, in times “before completion,” deliberation and caution are the prerequisites of success.

THE IMAGE

Fire over water:

The image of the condition before transition.

Thus the superior man is careful
In the differentiation of things,

So that each finds its place.

When fire, which by nature flames upward, is above, and water, which flows downward, is below, their effects take opposite directions and remain unrelated. If we wish to achieve an effect, we must first investigate the nature of the forces in question and ascertain their proper place. If we can bring these forces to bear in the right place, they will have the desired effect and completion will be achieved. But in order to handle external forces properly, we must above all arrive at the correct standpoint ourselves, for only from this vantage can we work correctly.

Nine in the second place means:

He brakes his wheels.
Perseverance brings good fortune.

Here again the time to act has not yet come. But the patience needed is not that of idle waiting without thought of the morrow. Kept up indefinitely, this would not lead to any success. Instead, an individual must develop in himself the strength that will enable him to go forward. He must have a vehicle, as it were, to effect the crossing. But he must for the time being use the brakes. Patience in the highest sense means putting brakes on strength. Therefore he must not fall asleep and lose sight of the goal. If he remains strong and steadfast in his resolve, all goes well in the end.

Nine at the top means:

There is drinking of wine
In genuine confidence. No blame.
But if one wets his head,
He loses it, in truth.

Before completion, at the dawning of the new time, friends foregather in an atmosphere of mutual trust, and the time of waiting is passed in conviviality. Since the new era is hard on the threshold, there is no blame in this. But one must be careful in all this to keep within proper bounds. If in his exuberance a man gets drunk, he forfeits the favorableness of the situation through his intemperance.

I find it so strange that in asking about the end of therapy, the I Ching answers with the hexagram related to new beginnings. It is true that therapy is ending: but L and I have also talked about new beginnings, paradigm shifts, new ways of approaching both the world, and our journey together, our relationship. We have talked about and have a shared love and drive towards social change, a shift in our ways of thinking and connecting with other people and experiences in the web of life. I have written about this before, the closing of the old, the opening of the new. But I didn’t expect to get this result, now. It feels too perfect. The changing lines also make complete sense. Be persistent with the perilous crossing, but act in moderation. Develop strength, and remain patient. Yes! Celebrate! And do so with sincerity, trust, and proper boundaries in place. Only in this way, can success be achieved.

I also should not forget about the changing lines. The hexagram changes to 16: Enthusiasm.

above CHêN THE AROUSING, THUNDER
below K’UN THE RECEPTIVE, EARTH

The strong line in the fourth place, that of the leading official, meets with response and obedience from all the other lines, which are all weak. The attribute of the upper trigram, Chên, is movement; the attributes of K’un, the lower, are obedience and devotion. This begins a movement that meets with devotion and therefore inspires enthusiasm, carrying all with it. Of great importance, furthermore, is the law of movement along the line of least resistance, which in this hexagram is enunciated as the law for natural events and for human life.

THE JUDGMENT

ENTHUSIASM. It furthers one to install helpers
And to set armies marching.

The time of ENTHUSIASM derives from the fact that there is at hand an eminent man who is in sympathy with the spirit of the people and acts in accord with it. Hence he finds universal and willing obedience. To arouse enthusiasm it is necessary for a man to adjust himself and his ordinances to the character of those whom he has to lead. The inviolability of natural laws rests on this principle of movement along the line of least resistance. Theses laws are not forces external to things but represent the harmony of movement immanent in them. That is why the celestial bodies do not deviate from their orbits and why all events in nature occur with fixed regularity. It is the same with human society: only such laws are rooted in popular sentiment can be enforced, while laws violating this sentiment merely arouse resentment. Again, it is enthusiasm that enables us to install helpers for the completion of an undertaking without fear of secret opposition. It is enthusiasm too that can unify mass movements, as in war, so that they achieve victory.

All of it seems utterly clear to me: move in sympathy with the spirit of the people, and don’t fight against the natural law of things. Embrace it. Move along the lines of least resistance, allow things to develop naturally as they do and will: leaders must adjust in co-creation with the people they lead. Fight: yes. Change: yes. And do so in togetherness and harmony, not resistance to what is and what will be. Only in this way can one inspire enthusiasm: in fact not in war, but in the mass movement of our new paradigm. The new world we want.

My journey with L is not just therapy. Rather, it touches me personally, spiritually, politically, and in some deep way beyond any given action or word in any single moment. A greater shift emerges – I feel it, I let it take me. My journey with L also appears complete, but in many ways it is not. We are facing an ending, and also a beginning. We find ourselves in the midst of a shift (for us as individuals, but also far beyond) that we can only approach with natural, flowing movement in joy and in enthusiasm, with love and unity.

Safety

Today I told L that I need 3 more sessions, and then I will finish therapy. Suddenly I feel as if I have agreed to go skydiving, and the plane is flying higher and higher. I remember that feeling in my stomach: “What am I doing? What have I agreed to?” and the gasp of my breath as I jumped out of the plane, tandem skydive instructor attached to my back. But skydiving was one of the best things I have ever done, so: time to leap out into the wide open air, and fall.

When I hugged L goodbye today, I didn’t want to let go. I just wanted to lay my head on her shoulder forever, and to just breathe. When I am close to her I feel so safe. My feeling of security with her is something that I have never really felt in my life, except with M. I realised as I stood close to her, that even the smell of her skin is safety to me. My mother was a heavy smoker for my entire childhood, and when she hugged me I always felt a sense of unease, a desire to escape, a push-pull feeling of needing comfort from her, and not feeling comforted by being close to her. She often smelled like cigarettes, a harsh and somehow painful smell, and it permeated everything: her clothes, her hair, her breath. I didn’t like it, it made me feel sick.

With L, I feel safe in her gaze, in her presence, in her arms. I feel so strange when I realise that I feel safer with her than I ever did with any parent. I know that it is one of the many gifts of therapy and her work, but it is also more than that. How can it be so physical, how can I feel so safe with her body, when I never felt that with my own mother, whose body I grew within? It astounds me, the difference.

What does it mean, to begin to walk away from that safety?

Difficulty at the Beginning

Change is hard. When we want to change ourselves, our behaviours and our lives, the change can be incredibly difficult; often, we remain blind to the patterns that we remain trapped within. As soon as we begin shifting a pattern, the mind resists. Cutting and hacking a new pathway through a thick forest is a lot harder than driving on a smooth well-known highway. Just facing the forest can be hard, even if the highway takes us to a place over and over again that we don’t want to end up: the forest is dark, difficult to go through, and we can only hope it will come out in a sunny clearing. Many times, we do not choose to begin, for fear of getting lost, or what we might find along the way.

When I first started this blog I had no idea how much work it would take to change myself and my inner voices, as well as my perception of the world. I only knew that I couldn’t live the way that I was. Now as time goes by it gets easier: I still have to hack my way through the forest, but I know how hard it is, and I feel prepared. My machete is sharp and I’m brave enough to face the monsters that inevitably appear in the darkness of the trees. I don’t fight them – I befriend them. I can see how difficult the adventure is, and I started enjoying the challenge. Over time I feel much more certain of my ability to figure things out, to look after myself (or to ask for help), and to feel confident that I will be able to handle whatever comes.

I was reading about this concept of “beginner’s mind”, and thinking about how I can maintain a mindset of openness and exploration, without getting overconfident or assuming that I know how things will go. It has been such an important part of my process to feel confidence in myself and to trust this sense of inner clarity that I have, and now it feels like a task to balance confidence with holding no expectations. I told my therapist L. that I want to finish my sessions in the next few months and that I want to wrap things up. Sometimes when I go to sessions now I feel like I have nothing to say, I just sit there mentally searching for things to discuss. I feel this strong pull inside myself that I want to be alone, I want to look after myself on my own, I want to “test” my competence and see how I go. It feels like I am walking into a new beginning of independence. I have hope that it will go well, and at the same time I am trying to keep it in the back of my mind that maybe without therapeutic support, maybe I go downhill again. Who knows? I am nervous to take the next step. When I told L. that I wanted to be finished, and that I wanted to try looking after myself, we agreed to do some sessions to “double-check” everything that we had gone through, and to make sure that I really am doing okay. And then… I go!

It feels big. And good. And then I keep thinking about how excited I am about everything else I still am working on, and everything that is still to come. What comes next to test my courage, my ability to learn, what will come to open my mind and to expand my world?

Everything That Gives Light Is Dependent On Something To Which It Clings

My children were listening to an audiobook CD of fairytales this morning. The CD kept skipping and stopping, and I listened to them restart the same story (Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein) over and over. They didn’t understand that the CD was dirty and needed to be cleaned – they just wanted to hear the story, so they tried again.. and again.. and again. I took it out and cleaned it for them, and then the story played all the way through.

I started reading In Praise of Risk by Anne Dufourmantelle as they listened to their audiobook.

I am thinking of what it means, to take risks (or not), and how we experience life unknowingly facing numerous risks every day, tens or hundreds of unknown avoided deaths in a lifetime. She writes about intimacy (though not as we typically would think of intimacy), and in one of the first chapters she talks about dependency. I recently told my therapist that I don’t like being dependent on her. She said that I’m not, and that rather, I am just “channeling” through her what I needed to get: the missing emotional nourishment that I needed to grow and develop. I guess dependency doesn’t have to be pathological in its expression, because healthy reliance on others in community, partnership and society is just a part of the bonds of life.

I realised that I took a risk in allowing myself to believe that I will be supported in some way by what my therapist provides, that I can rely on her, that she will be there when I need her. Over the past years I have allowed myself to take on a much more childlike form, to place parts of myself in her hands, not hoping exactly, not asking exactly, but simply doing it, experimenting with the potential of loss, harm, satisfaction, an unknown future. It’s a way of seeing that I am worthy of care, both by the fact that she offers it to me, and by my allowing her to provide it. Even important is that I take that care inside myself, and allow it to take root in my sense of self: I matter to someone. As therapy progresses, I feel less and less “childlike”, and our relationship grows and changes to one of more mutuality in our interactions. I still like it though, that I have gone through this process of regression in some way, a way to tell myself that I can accept it, that the “child me” deserves it. Dufourmantelle writes:

To take the risk of dependency is a sign of friendship for this body from just after birth.” 

I am thinking of the kids and their CD, playing to the same broken point over and over again, not knowing how a CD works, not knowing what was happening, until I came and cleaned it for them. When we are children our dependency is inbuilt – there is no choice in the matter. But as an adult, when we allow ourselves to depend on someone, to rely on them, our choice is a little more complicated. Shaped and formed by previous experiences, we have sacrificed parts of ourselves in our childhood dependency to ensure that we would get what we needed. These sacrificed parts will never stop banging at the door until we see them and allow them to live again in all their glory, whatever they are: righteous anger, joy, curiosity, tenderness, sorrow. We know that in relying on someone else, we form a bond … but it is not always easy to know if the bond will be one that causes us further harm, losses, or require further sacrifice.

I struggle because my experience is that when I rely on someone they let me down. They hurt me, reject me, and they leave. Usually I would get so panicked that I flip between intense clinging, followed by total rejection of the other. My husband, M. is one of the few people who refused to engage, stating over and over that our bond was good, true, and that I could rely on him always. Sometimes it sticks in my mind the number of times I asked him in our first couple of years together “Promise you won’t leave me?” and his response: “I will never leave you.” Over time, I realised that no matter how many times he told me, something inside me didn’t shift. I had to change something inside myself, to really trust his words. So I began again: in therapy I started testing my ways of relating to other people and how I bond with them, and slowly it settles. I already come to rely on myself more and more instead of people outside of myself. I find the “mothering” part inside myself, teach it using my “perfect parent” models (of which I am lucky to now have a few), and use that part to care for the children inside me. I feel supported by myself, cared for, loved, and my childlike dependency on others reduces.

I come to like a certain kind of dependency now. Whenever we trust someone else, we are holding some part of ourselves out to them, risking it. We hope that we can depend on them not to hurt us, a dance of care and trust that is more balanced and mutual: yes, I want to look after you; yes, I want you to look after me.

“Love—now I risk the word, a bit apprehensively to be sure—is an art of dependency.

All Things Stand Out In the Light

I could count the things I know about you
on both hands,
with not one door (but four) between us
and the entire world.

I know that you wear fantastic earrings,
That you are particular about teapots,
And that you have far too many hats
(in my opinion).

I know you have made mistakes,
that your heart is gold,
and that the sunlight sometimes flickers
through your curtains.

I also know that with you 
my life has bloomed a hundred flowers over my whole body,
Sweet
And gathering on your floor.

What The Fuck Am I Doing Wrong?

So, it happened again. Another woman from my daughter’s Kita has feelings for me. And of course, just as perfectly and just as terribly, I have feelings for her too. I saw it months ago: joking to my husband “I think A. has a bit of a crush on me…”, hearing how she talked about me “People are staring at you because you have those flecks in your eyes… and you’ve been cycling.. you look so healthy..”. It was obvious and I ignored it and ignored it because I didn’t know what to do. It felt sweet and maybe (just maybe) like I had imagined it. I talked to my friend M. and said “Am I losing the plot here? She’s just into me in a platonic way, right?” and M. said “Yes, platonic, platonic.”

And no, it’s not platonic. Not at all. A. told me that she’s bisexual, or queer, or pansexual, or whatever you want to call it: not straight. She told me she wanted to go to this club with me…. KitKat. It’s a sex club, a fetish club. We went out for drinks, got drunk, and went there. I couldn’t focus on anyone but her. I wanted her, and I knew I shouldn’t.

After things ended with S., all those months ago, S. and her husband split up. They both reassured me it wasn’t anything to do with me, and that their marriage had actually had problems for a long time. They don’t hate me, they both still talk to me, and as far as I can tell, they are telling the truth about it not being my fault. But I really do not know if I could do it again: I changed my mind, maybe it was a mistake.

So now with A. … beautiful, smart, wonderful A. I want her to like me, I want her to have a crush on me, I want her to lose control and do all the things with me that she and I both know we shouldn’t do. I like her so much, and seeing how S. and I grew apart, seeing how we broke our friendship in the end, seeing all the pain and complication surrounding our lives, I am not sure I can do this with A. It would be so reckless, with foresight, knowing exactly how badly things could end.

I love how she laughs. I love how she smiles. There are so many things about her that I can’t help but feel so drawn to, not least of all that she seems to understand me. I love hearing her talk about her PhD and all the academic stuff she’s working on. At coffee this morning she mentioned something about illuminated manuscripts and I felt my eyes grow wider and I felt my breath catch in my lungs; she’s so intelligent, so interesting, I can’t get enough. Yesterday she tried on some clothes for work, some business outfits, and one of the items was a leather jacket. When she put it on, my body just said “…Oh god..”..

I like her so much. Will it never be realised? I guess one day when one or both of us decides we don’t like each other in that way anymore, it will be the end of a relationship that never happened. And thinking of that, makes me sad.

In all of this, I wonder: what kind of impression am I giving to people. What are the chances that in my kid’s kindergarten, there are two mothers, two married women, who are both falling for me. What am I doing wrong? It’s not supposed to be this way. A. and I did some work together, editing someone else’s document, and the guy had written that to determine the history of an object when assessing it for art acquisition purposes, that one should circle the object first from far away, and then up close: like prey. I joked that a friend calls me a predator, because I always seem to get the people I’m interested in. But I don’t feel like a predator, not at all, rather I feel like sometimes I am so confused and so uncontrolled, that suddenly I am leaping into something completely blind and that it just so happens to work out. And then again, other times it doesn’t. I feel like life isn’t supposed to be this complicated. I can’t help but think that I am making it so… but another part of me wonders if this is just what life is, sometimes: complex, uncontrolled, inconvenient, pleasurable, hard.

The Words We Cannot Speak

“[T]o love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”

– Exit West, Mohsin Hamid

So much of life is about loss, and how we deal with it, process it, keep moving afterwards. I told my friend M. that I love her, and that this feeling scares me because love is like my lungs have been scooped out and replaced with pop-rocks. She told me she sometimes feels as if she loves in a surface way, shallow and never quite getting so deep. When she loses someone, when someone dies, she cries and then keeps on with life.

I feel right now as if someone tied me up with red threads, as if the world is so much tinier than I imagined and all these connections are pulling me in different ways. What do I do with all the loves I have? How do I explain to people: I adore you, I miss you, I love you so much that the base of my spine turns to butterflies when I think of you. I can’t help but feel so alone sometimes with these feelings, like nobody else feels so strong and keeps it all so pushed inside. I store it in my bones, in my blood, and yet when the time comes to actually say the words I can’t, and instead all that comes out is tepid.

The flipside of that coin is that I’m fickle, easily extinguished if I don’t get enough to keep the flame alive. I cannot say that either: if you don’t love me enough, if you don’t show me enough, the fear fills me again and I will leave. I can’t say what I need to say, and the sadness of losing someone makes me feel so scared that I just push it away and move backwards, move away, put something in between us so that the loss will not be so much. But all the feelings are still there, everything still simmers underneath, I just need the right thing to wake it up.

When it comes to my flight or fight response, am I just flight?

I met a girl on Thursday who had a tattoo of a cormorant on her back. She told me that the cormorant stretches its wings out after diving, to dry them. It’s one of the only aquatic birds in the world that does not have fully water-repellent wings.

Platonic

Recently I’ve been feeling something pretty strong towards my best friend here. She’s wonderful and I can’t help but adore her and I feel nothing but joy when we’re together. At first when I started feeling so emotional I would leave her house and think “Oh shit, am I falling in love with her?” (not again!?) and I felt scared that it would tear us apart and ruin everything. But I sat with that feeling and decided to just let it be, to just let it happen. And it kept happening, I saw that I loved her and that I felt this way and that it was okay: how can there be anything wrong with loving a friend?

I usually feel a lot for my friends, but sometimes it goes beyond what I think most people seem to experience, something in that slightly-more-than-just-friends zone. Sometimes there’s attraction too, and when it’s mutual that’s when things can get complicated. But I’ve navigated these strange and tiny ships through big storms, and even though I have a few friend-shipwrecks along the way, most of them survive and make it through to calm waters on the other side.


Another friend of mine moved away recently. When she left I realised that our relationship had been deep in some ways but very shallow in others. We had shared a lot of stories with each other, we had eaten many meals together, our kids played a lot. But I didn’t feel anything for her. If she didn’t message me, I didn’t mind. I liked her, but the emotional depth just never happened for me. With my best friend, when I’m not taking to her I miss her, I wonder how she’s doing. I think about her and her little family with those intense feelings that come with actually loving someone. I want her life to be wonderful. It’s a selfish feeling too, that I want her to be in my life. I want to have her and to keep her, but if she wanted to leave for something that would make her happy, I would want her to go.

When I got here I felt so isolated and scared of being lonely; it was a fear that I didn’t even realise I could experience until I got here. I had been afraid of the language barrier and of the logistics: visas, permits, apartment, kindergarten for my kids… I never thought about how I might not make friends. Everyone who knows me well is back in New Zealand, they know all my quirks and weirdness and flaws, but still choose to be in my life. Here I had to start again and just hope like hell that someone would like me.

After meeting her I felt like everything would be alright. At first all we did was go to playgrounds and eat ice cream with our kids. I don’t know how or when but it gradually became a lot more. It was as if she had grabbed my hand and gave us this shelter from the insanity of moving to the other side of the world. She told us about how when she arrived in Berlin she was so depressed and so lonely, and I felt like she protected me from that pain. I will be forever grateful for that.


With M. and the kids I have my own home that I created, one that travels with us no matter where we actually live. But my friend gave me a home here. Enjoying Berlin and loving Berlin began with having that security and love she gives. She gives the best hugs, and she is free with her affection. That’s exactly the kind of person I need in my life, and up until now I’ve only had a few of them. For all I know things are not the same for her, and maybe things are a lot more shallow in how she feels towards me. But I know she cares about me and opens up to me, at least enough for me to see there’s something beautiful between us. In my life that’s something rare.

Your Body is Not My Body

Your body is not my body
You don’t need to take those rocks from your chest and hurl them through my windows.

Unlike you
I refuse to be afraid of heights

and every morning I get into a hot air balloon and float up into the sky.
That’s joy, flame underneath and bright colours up top
because down below is just a pit of all we couldn’t hold.

My body went through metamorphosis, heaviness into light to save itself,
without doing that

I

just

sink

so I go up, whether you’re with me or not
but you can follow me,
if you want to.

And even if
even if we are on fire, so what?
you can grow many things out of ashes.

You say you’ve been burned before
but you don’t know that time and time again this body has been set alight
then plucked like a dead canary,
feathers ripped off
bloody back, kneeling down prostrate and praying to nobody in a tunnel with no end.

My body always finds new ways of flying,
and it would do you good to realise that no matter how many rocks you hold
I can still carry you.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Tomorrow is the 9 year anniversary of my brother’s death. Discussing it is still so hard for me, and yet I’m increasingly realising that I must find better ways of dealing with it and talking about it. When I recount how he died, when I explain everything, I somehow feel like I have to give people a disclaimer.

It’s a pretty morbid story. I don’t know if you want to hear it.

I tend to avoid talking about it. But when someone starts asking about the scars on my arms, or about my depression, or about being a teenager, inevitably the topic of my stepdad comes up. And then through talking about my stepdad, I talk about my brother, and the whole dark and twisted story comes out. There’s no good way to talk about it all, there’s no simple way to say it. When I push the words out of my mouth it’s like I’m shoving them through a barrier of cotton wool, as if by uttering them, the person I’m speaking to will be so horrified that they will disappear in a puff of smoke.

He drowned, okay? He had a seizure and drowned in the bathtub.

If he was alive he would be 18 years old now. I can’t even imagine what he would be like, what his life would be like, what any of our lives would be like. When I think about him my chest feels tight and heavy, and I feel as if my mother must be consumed by this sorrow so large that she cannot even begin to climb it.

I remember stroking his hair in the hospital when he was in the paediatric ICU. His hair was flattened into a Johnny-Bravo-style peak, from everyone stroking his hair in the same way. It was so soft.

The doctors had to test if he had any brain activity remaining, so my parents could decide if they wanted to switch off the life support or not. The doctor shone a torch into his eyes, and I stared so hard at his pupils just hoping and screaming inside my head: “React! MOVE! JUST DO SOMETHING”. But nothing happened, they turned off the life support, and that was it.

I hated his hugs, because he was always sticky and slimy and he was so skinny that his hugs were bony and painful. He would hug me and say “I love you, Leah”; he’d wake me up at 3am, standing by my bed, wanting me to play with him; my boyfriend and I would babysit him and take him places and look after him as if we were our own little family. But then he was dead and the hugs were gone and I wished with every piece of my body that I could go back in time and love him better, pay him more attention, spend more time with him, make sure he knew in his bones that I adored him even though he drove me crazy.

Four brothers seems like a lot to most people. But to me it seems like such a tiny number, just four.