Katja Elk Writes

My eyelids feel heavy and I want to sleep all the time. It’s as if all my sensory intake devices want to be left alone, close the doors and keep the outside world outside.

My nose feels stuffy. I can never get enough air. There is a slight tingling right underneath the surface of each breath that enters and leaves the inflamed entrance of my nostrils. If the outskirts of a random thought touch a memory of my mother or my dog, the tingling quickens and flash-floods the space above my cheekbones and the inside of my nasal passages with a stinging heat. Water rises in my eyes. 

Every shallow breath touches the heavy hollows in my heart space.

My arms and legs seem to be filled with lead. I’m lying on my bed. It’s Sunday afternoon. Nothing needs to be done until it’s time to feed the horses in a couple of hours.

I watch TV and flip through the channels at random intervals. The sound is muted and the pictures don’t matter. I can’t bear any words or many sounds right now. The silent moving pictures provide a perfectly meaningless backdrop to the thoughts I won’t let in. Pictures. Flip. Pictures. Pictures. Flip. Pictures. Flip. My cat is snoring next to me on the bed. He sounds like a mosquito that stops flying every few seconds.

I can either be in work-work-work mode, or I want to sleep all the time. It feels like hibernation time. Bears and turtles have the right idea. Take some time and go into a state of inactivity. Slow down your breathing and your heart rate. Let your body temperature drop. Take some time for internal processing. Rest. Recover. Renew. Surrender to dormancy. 

My friend Marty said that my Mom wanted a dog, and that sounds right to me. That’s where I can hold both of them right now. Everything else is making me want to shrink back into my internal sensory deprivation tank.

I called my father in Germany earlier. It was morning here, dinner time where he is.

‘How are you doing?’ he asks.

‘Fine.’ I lie. ‘And you?’

‘Pretty good.’ he lies right back.

‘I’m sorry about your dog.’ he says. ‘Are you going to get another one?’

‘No,’ I say. ‘She was one of a kind. So sweet and smart and funny and lovely. She understood everything.’ 

‘Yes,’ he says. ‘I know what you mean.’ I wonder if we’re still talking about my dog.

‘What’s going on with you, Papi?’ I ask.

‘Oh, I’m going to the hospital tomorrow. I’m getting my eyes fixed.’ 

‘That’s great, Papi! You’ll be so happy to be able to see and read like you used to. Are you nervous?’

‘Yes.’ he says, and I’m glad he doesn’t lie this time. ‘They are my only eyes after all…’

‘Yes, I know. I’ll be thinking about you, and I’ll keep you in my prayers. I’m sure you’ll be so glad when you’re done.’

‘And how are you, Katzi?’ he asks. ‘Healthwise, I mean…’

‘I’m alright.’ I say. ‘Back to work, keeping busy, riding, coaching, taking care of horses, you know…’

‘Yes,’ he says. ‘I know.’

‘I have to go now.’ he says. ‘It’s time for dinner.’

‘Ok, Papi. Take good care. I hold you dear.’

‘I hold you dear, too, mein Katzi. Take good care.’

‘Ok. We’ll talk again soon. Tschüß, mein Papi.’

‘Tschüß, mein Katzi.’

I need to sleep some more.

And so it comes and goes, like ebb and flow, this thing called ‘grief.’ 

I listened to a lecture by Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Zen master, about connecting with our suffering. He was talking about the bodhisattva Avalokite.

Avalokite is well known for his capacity to listen, to listen deeply to the suffering inside and the suffering outside. 

He often goes back to himself and the practice of listening deeply to his own suffering. 

As he gets in touch with his own suffering, understanding and compassion arise. 

Transformation and healing follow. That is why Avalokite is able to look at other people around him and understand their suffering and help them to transform and heal.

This beautiful lecture brought me comfort. It reminded me that it is ok to have a look at my own suffering. As many of us, I was raised not to speak of or to dwell on pain or discomfort.

Getting in touch with my grief over the loss of my mother and my dog helps me understand my physical and mental state of being. Writing about it makes me listen to it more deeply. 

As I listen and understand my feelings and my body’s reaction better during this time of loss, I can surrender more easily to the waves of heaviness that continue to sweep over my being. I am starting to notice the waves of lightness that follow and allow me to open my eyes, move my limbs and breathe with more ease again. The natural rhythm of waves envelopes me in what feels like a prolonged rocking motion. 

As I’m writing about the rocking motion, water rises in my eyes. I blink and take a deeper breath. Of course, the rocking motion makes me think of Mili, my angel mother. And of course, it makes me think of Kelly, my beloved border collie. Pictures and sensations flood my senses. I breathe into the moment, stop writing and let the wave take me all the way.

Ok, there, there. A gentle calm comes over me. I’m still listening to myself. And what I feel is… gratitude. Gratitude to have had both of these precious beings in my life. Gratitude for the many blissful and stormy times we shared. Gratitude for the many teachings I received from both of them. Gratitude for the love we share, the love that goes beyond time and space. Thank you, Mili. Thank you, Kelly.

And thank you — people, horses and other animals — who are holding space for me. I feel you, and I thank you, too.

So much for now. It’s time to feed the horses.

 

 

[First published 10-18-2016]

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