Remembering the rest
A few weeks ago I was subpoenaed to appear as an expert witness in a jury trial. I don’t much like appearing in court, but it sometimes happens. The world of law – when it is most spare and devoid of compassion – believes that it must remove what is thought irrelevant to discover what is considered essentially true. Because nothing is truly irrelevant, I would rather add things in than remove them, to learn instead what amounts to be true.
At one point the prosecuting attorney asked me to describe how anxiety is recognized, and among the various presenting symptoms I mentioned the word “rumination.” The judge interrupted me to ask what that word meant, so I paused and turned to him, saying: “It is good to care about the people that we know and the things that we do – and as issues become urgent it is good to become concerned about the things we care about.”
However, in focusing upon what concerns us, we begin to ruminate, to narrow our perception, overlooking whatever else may be taking place. This, too, is good, and healthy at first; what is not healthy is when our rumination becomes so narrow that we begin to perseverate, overwhelmed by what troubles us, and to lose the big picture. Then, rather than ruminating like a cow chewing her cud for further nourishment, we become more like a dog worrying its bone – where there is no longer nourishment.
There is an old adage that says the remedy always grows near the poison. Isolating a problem to focus upon it as the only significant feature of the landscape asserts the problem, and ignores potential resolutions that may lie nearby. Everything is true ultimately, one way or the other; losing any part only makes it less whole, and so less true. The concept of restorative justice – in countermovement to the arbitrary wheels of a draconian justice – is based upon healing through inclusion and reconciliation, rather than upon scapegoating, exclusion and denial. Denial perpetuates the situation, and solves nothing.
Recently – in an anguish I felt for someone in deep trouble, whom I love and yet cannot help – I stood at the window to watch a family of deer at play in the field below. Farther on, a pair of foxes lazed in the sun, and I was glad to see the foxes in the field. They proved to me that, despite my anguish, I could still carry my breaking heart into this day and into this difficult, complicated, beautiful world. Healing – making whole once again – involves finding a place in all creation for something otherwise incomplete.
As Hamlet famously said to Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The range of our human perception is woefully thin; dogs can hear what we cannot hear, and cats seem to see what we cannot see. Perhaps it’s just as well, in most situations, but I am envious; my curiosity yearns to know more than I now do. The exhilaration of discovering something new is always transformative, for we are changed by what we learn. Life is infinite in scope, as infinite as a cosmos more vast than we can know, though our very human attention remains terribly finite.
What we perceive so poorly through our own narrow doors of perception is only the visible aspect of an invisible force that makes our reality possible. So much more is happening than we perceive. We see only a narrow spectrum of light, from infrared to ultraviolet, and we only hear a few octaves of the sound waves that travel our world. We may have the pleasure of knowing our grandparents and grandchildren, but not our ancestors and descendants – we only have hearsay, and conjecture.
There is a popular sound clip making the rounds of social media (www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/22/crickets-slowed-down_n_4323344.html) of the sound of crickets, slowed to the proportion that a cricket’s life span has to the span of a human life. When musician Tom Waits heard it, he said “It sounds like a choir, it sounds like angel music. Something sparkling, celestial with full harmony and bass parts – you wouldn’t believe it. It’s like a sweeping chorus of heaven…” That may well be what crickets listen to, when we only hear… crickets.
While doing whitewater many years ago I found myself thrown from the raft at the start of a series of serious drops, and was catapulted headlong past precipitous rocks and through roaring cataracts. When I found myself far below, resting on a sandbar uninjured but in shock, I thought how close my death had come, and how severely my life would have been interrupted by my death. I wondered how to make certain that life will not in fact be interrupted by death. Then – abruptly – I realized that if I live completely, every moment of my life, my life will already be complete whenever I die.
We must learn to carry our broken heart wherever we go rather than desert it, leaving it behind – or worse, trying to remain with it back there, ruminating, nourishing the traumas of the past. Neither living in denial nor in overwhelm, we must learn to live with curiosity about whatever may happen next, rather than with apprehension that the difficulties behind us will also lie ahead.
We must understand that the best and only rest available to us in fact – in this long, deep, good life – is the rest of our lives.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also a writer and poet, and the executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com.