The bolt of understanding, freedom from anxiety and fear, the sense of peace all this meditation and deep breathing is supposed to bring...there was not one ah-ha moment today as I celebrated my perfectly square 49th birthday.
I wandered through some Chinese herbal markets where very few spoke English and all was quite foreign to me. I decided to try the tea that promised to cleanse my liver and clear heat from the body. Seemed like a good choice given the amount of drinking I'd done the previous night. The thick, oily black tea arrived in a small bowl and I observed others bending down low to their bowls to drink without picking the bowl up. One woman giggled at me. The tea was the color of overcooked coffee that had been sitting on the burner all day long, but much thicker and oilier. It contained 24 medicinal herbs I've never heard of and had the viscosity of Hershey's syrup. I took a deep breath and two gulps later it was gone. I fought the urge to gag for a few minutes and then just breathed, my slow dirgha breaths to calm my overactive brain. Inside me, I could feel the goo sliding down my esophagus into my constricted stomach making me feel better, or so I hoped. I had a sudden flash of panic, "What if it has a laxative effect and I'm out here alone in the street and I have no idea where the closest bathroom is?"
During the trolley ride back to my hotel, I'd hoped for some sort of hallucinogenic ah-ha moment brought on by the brew I'd just drunk, but no luck with that. All I could think of was my discomfort. My rumbling stomach, my crazy hair in 95% humidity, figuring out which coin I needed to put into the little box at the front of the trolley, wondering if the reason I felt so wobbly and weak in the moving trolley was because it's just part of being 49 or if I had contracted a Ladies Home Journal disease of the week.
I felt my anxiety level begin to rise, my breathing became shallow and my heart pounded in my ears annoyingly. And I reminded myself for the umpteenth time that my wacky brand of anxiety is entirely learned behavior. It is not how I was born. It's what I learned as a child. It's part of a legacy that serves me sometimes and that I have learned to manage better than I did when I was 7 and throwing up in gym class because I was terrified of attempting anything that would draw attention to my clumsiness. But it still catches me sometimes - even now as a worldly perfect square.
So, I've recently been asked to speak, out loud, about an ah-ha moment, in a formal setting. And I've no idea where to start. I flip through the pages of my 49 years on my birthday, today searching for the right story. The story that won't piss off my family, the story that connects with others, the story worthy of the wisdom of 49 years of reflection. And I come up blank. Is it the moment when I was 7 and I decided I did not believe in God (at least not the way it was being fed to me in the Catholic tradition), or about being laid off from a job and almost losing my house through bankruptcy as a single parent who was too proud to ask for help. Is it the moment my family disowned me when I moved to New Orleans because that's not the sort of thing we do? Or is it the multiple health scares, each time wondering, "Is this the time they tell me I'm beyond help and I'm going to die?" Is it the birth of my daughter 17 years ago, in our apartment in Winooski, the single most profound moment of my life, or is it camping in the bush in Zimbabwe?
I can't find a single ah-ha moment that I want to share, though I suspect I'm working on one now that is not ready for prime time.
I'm looking too hard. I'm drinking strange brews and my body is dizzy and in pain on this, my perfect square birthday.
I shall sleep now. And pray that my dreams will tell me which ah-ha moment is the right one to share.