“Hank,” a friend and fellow stone carver who is also a talented tattoo artist, came by yesterday to drop off some tools I needed. When he held them out to me, I found myself gasping in surprise.
See, Hank spent many years recovering from his gruesome experiences in the Viet Nam war. His body is covered with scars from the beatings he suffered in a brutal POW camp, and the shrapnel from the attack from when he was captured. One of those scars is a long, thin, dark one that runs from his elbow halfway down his left forearm.
Soon after he came home, in a fit of deep depression, he tattooed thin, red droplets of blood running down his arm from that scar. He told me it was to remember his fallen friends, and the misery they went through together.
I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would want to focus on the misery, but never said anything – none of my business, and not my experience, so how could I possibly understand?
So when I reached out to take the chisels he held out, I noticed that the droplets of blood had been tattooed over – they were now little hearts. Eleven of them. At the ends of the thin, red lines.
Have you ever been so utterly moved by anything that your eyes spurt projectile tears? I’ve only had it happen twice in my life before, but this! This was the max. Out they came, as I struggled to catch my breath.
He just smiled, and said softly, “Yeah.”
I couldn’t even speak.
He said, “I was collapsed on the couch last week, feeling pretty bad about not being able to work because of all this lockdown mess. It reminded me so much of being a sick, shot-up, beat-up prisoner, unable to help myself or feel like there was any hope.
“My daughter – you know her, Angela, she’s like a bad-mood magnet, always trying to brighten people up – I can’t hide anything from her. She came and plopped herself down on my lap, and asked me, “What’s the matter Daddy? Why are you crying?”
“I was mortified she’d caught me weeping. But I knew she wouldn’t let go until I came clean, so I told her that I was worried about everything, and it made all the bad feelings I had about the war come back, because I felt so angry and tired and helpless.
“She just looked at me with those wise 6-year-old eyes of hers, and said, “But daddy, didn’t you tell Mommy last night you felt so lucky to be with 2 women you adored and living in a place that was so peaceful and quiet?” She giggled when she said ‘women.’
“I had to take a huge breath in, because she was right. I was thinking about all the things that could go wrong, while I was completely ignoring what I held in my heart and experienced every single day in that place of peace and joy we had created together.
I gave her a huge hug and said, “Thank you honey, you just saved me from weeks of dark worry and depression.”
Because she did. With that innocent question, she yanked me right back from the fear and the darkness and the danger and helplessness of ‘back then’ to my real present – my present, my gift, my fortune – this present reality.
“So I redid my tattoo to remind myself how precious my real life – my here-and-now-life – is, and to stop myself if I feel like my thoughts are drifting back to my hideous, painful past.”
I THOUGHT, ‘HOW CAN I DO THAT, TOO?’
After he left, I sat down and wrote out words that, before he’d come by, defined the ‘drift’ of my own recent thoughts: I kept thinking I was lost, and that I couldn’t figure out what to do. I felt afraid, angry and helpless.
Then I sat back and really allowed the feeling of the Now, my present time, the presentness, to fill me up. It was hard, but didn’t take all that long.
I just listened to my breathing. I concentrated on feeling it come in and out of my nostrils. I suddenly thought, ‘isn’t it amazing how we breathe without even thinking about it?’
I looked at my life now, compared to the way I lived in my last place, and the feelings I felt swamped by there. Truth? Compared to my experience of life just before I came here, things are so much better that it’s laughable to think I’d be complaining or worrying.
So I wrote down, ‘amazed. Feeling grateful, full, in wonder.’
When I opened my eyes again, that feeling of wonder swept over me like a wave – I hadn’t had to process, I hadn’t had to tap.
All I did was to look at what I had been thinking, and then feel how I’d felt, and then reach for words that described that reality.
And then, listen to my in-real-time thoughts, and feel the truth of this present-time reality, and reach for words to describe that. What a difference.
7 ITTY BITTY STEPS TO PEACE
Listen to your mind and what it’s thinking right now.
Write down 3 words that describe what you think is your struggle-reality.
Feel how you feel about that struggle.
Write down 3 words that describe how you feel about that.
Now, sit quietly and focus on your breath. Be aware of it sliding in and out of your nostrils. Look at the colors in the black behind your eyes. Listen to the world.
Breathe it all in, this Now-present-reality. Feel how it feels to just sit and notice.
Write down 3 words that describe your true, real-time, present reality, in comparison to your thought-up, struggle-reality.
Write down 3 words that describe how you feel about that in your real-time, present reality.
Let that feeling hover around and through and in yourself as long as you like.
Did you feel a shift? I hope so, if you have been feeling down or sad or helpless.
•> Remember that you can bring back that same feeling any time or place just by focusing on your breath.
FROM BLOOD TO LOVE
As I think about that 7″ shrapnel scar with the 11 little hearts cascading happily down from it, it’s as if it’s an opening of a sideways love-door, allowing little bright drops of love to slip through.
Having seen what it took for Hank to get his life back from the memories of the brutality of the war and imprisonment, and now, feeling his softness and joy right in front of me like that – all I could think of was, ‘Wow, how good can it get?’
You know I love you!
p.s. “”The secret of life,” said sculptor Henry Moore to poet Donald Hall, “is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is – it must be something you cannot possibly do.”
What is that task for you? Assume that secret helpers are working behind the scenes to assist you in turning into the gorgeous masterpiece you were born to be.
Join the conspiracy to shower all of creation with blessings.
QUOTE of the DAY
“The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”
~ Marcel Proust
IMAGE: Dark Horse, Watercolor. Prints available.
© Angela Treat Lyon 2018