Forty Days In

[This was written about a month and a half after losing my dad. I took a two-day personal retreat to meditate, read, write, and think.]

There are so many times in these recent weeks when I spontaneously think, "I just don't know what to think" or "I just don't know how to feel." And then the words I've heard from others come back: there's no right or wrong here. Just do whatever you do, whatever comes. Just feel how you feel, no need to think about the timing of this feeling or where it comes from or what it's called. Just do what you do. I am analyzing and evaluation all the time. I don't think I ever noticed it until death came along. Death is so fucked up and awful that any expectation of a logical plan of attack or a reasonable timeline or an ordered progression...any of this is absurd. So this situations sheds that light of awareness on the tendency to constantly think, "Is this the best course of action? Should I have done that? What makes the most sense right now?" And right now, it's a habit that is profoundly unhelpful. In some settings, like at work, this kind of hypercritical thinking might be prudent; in my grieving it only acts as a distractor from the pain of actually feeling-- evaluating and analyzing feelings instead of just feeling. It also adds a dimension of judgement that only makes the feelings more difficult to work through.

This type of thinking is something I often get stuck in. It feels like I keep myself under lock and key. I hem myself in with appropriacy and restrictions. Sometimes this has served me well-- to be conservative, to come to conclusions, to carefully consider. I don't want to beat myself up for this; I just want to notice it, and I want to be aware of these times when it doesn't serve me well.

Today as soon as I was alone and settled into my retreat cabin, I saw a blackish cat stalking in the woods, a squirrel, I thought. But when, after sitting frown for at least five minutes, it finally leapt across the dead leaves, I think it snagged a quail. The other birds all took wing, and a squirrel started scolding-- it was quite the commotion in our little part of the woods. And I had to think of that black cat, death, just pouncing sort of out of nowhere...and all of a sudden there's one less quail headed to the next feeding spot. Though there's a big fuss among the birds, the rest of the forest remains unperturbed, each part doing its thing.

In my first sitting meditation on the porch, it felt like everything was vying for my attention. A mosquito at my eye, a fly near my ear, a squirrel warning me from a branch and then climbing up the porch to peek at me. I kept making motions to shoo it, and it went away only to end up looking down at me from the cabin roof above my head. When I saw it, I was busy looking at a mama deer and two youngsters nosing around, eating nuts. Quite the active backyard!

I don't stop thinking about dad. Well, yes I do. I stop, and then I always come back to thinking of him, of this thing that has happened, of what has befallen us. I don't want to believe it. could it be that his face was so white and he was wheeled through the kitchen? How could he have gone so still...and then turned to ash? How could we have sprinkled him on the thistles on a sunny afternoon? How? And what?! And some other question without a word, some combination of a question, a sigh, and an anguishing groan. I just don't...I can't accept it. Maybe that's just it right now. I can't and don't want to accept this.