Monthly Archives: November 2016

Cleaning Out the House

Robin Botie of Ithaca, new York, photoshops a mandala of an avalanche of papers and books falling from her closets when she cleans out her house.“Don’t give me anything unless I can eat it,” I keep telling family and friends as holidays approach. Meanwhile, the health club hounds me to participate in some program where I can win prizes. “No more stuff. Please. I have too much.”

My material possessions are weighing me down. They’re increasing my carbon footprint. And having cleaned up after several deceased loved ones, I can’t bear the thought of anyone I love having to clean up after me. So I’m unloading the contents of my house.

I used to be a tosser. For every new thing I brought home, I’d toss out two things, or ten. But then they started charging for garbage disposal. I began to stash things. My house, designed to have no wasted space, had closets and cabinets built into every soffit, staircase, and odd-angled corner, for maximum storage capability. And over the years I stuffed them to the gills.

I’ve read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book by Marie Kondo. And each year I’ve done spring-cleaning rituals, but stuff comes in faster than I can remove it. I needed help.

I was embarrassed to ask. Friends think my house is clean and orderly, never having opened one of my cabinets to then be blasted by an avalanche of books and papers. My sister, with brutal sisterly honesty, would accuse me of being a closet hoarder and point out the relationship between hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder. If only I could hire some young adventurous person just starting out in her life, at the collecting-stuff stage, I thought. Someone who was my size so I’d be inspired to give away more of my clothes. Someone who wasn’t afraid of mice. Who could cart away all the things that threatened to bury me. Who’d say, “Why do you need this?” and “Does it really bring you joy?” Someone committed to redistributing and recycling, not simply ditching it all at the dump.

“Do you know anyone I could hire to help clear out my closets?” I asked the guy sealing my windows with shrink-wrap, who had gathered boulders and built a patio next to my pond this past summer. The one who had calmly walked away instead of strangling me during one of my most obnoxious hissy-fits. The Buddhist.
“Yes. Me,” he said. And it took a moment to let go of the image of the young clone of myself I’d imagined, and it took another minute to remember how Buddhists believe that attachment to material things is a major cause of suffering.
“Can you deal with mouse droppings?” I asked.

 

Are you a tosser or a hoarder? Can we gain more happiness from having less?

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Caregiving

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a mandala of the supermoon and trees in a kaleidoscope of tears.It was late when we got the discharge papers and I drove my friend Annette home from Cayuga Medical Center. Even my son was fast asleep by the time I pulled into my own driveway. But I was wide awake, my head pulsing with something like pride. With memories: home from the hospital. It transported me back to the times in and out of hospitals with my daughter during her almost-three years of cancer. Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester is the place I last “left” Marika. The hospital is where I first learned I was a caregiver.

When one you love becomes sick, you become a caregiver. No references or prior experience necessary. You learn on the job. Patience. Attentiveness. Compassion. You learn to let go of what you cannot control. You learn how much there is to lose: breath, balance, mobility, independence, …hope. The certainty of being able to go home.

“When can I go home?” is what everyone asks in the hospital, sitting around waiting, watching the world pass you by while you’re stuck there. The goal is to get out. But for me, for almost three years, my whole world was right there in the hospital. Whenever I left without Marika, my heart was tethered to that place. Maybe it still is.

In the end, I did not bring my daughter home. Instead, I dragged home the heartbroken remains of who I was, and the beginnings of the person I would grow into over the next years: one who loves life and doesn’t discount it by who or how much she’s lost, but rather gauges good living by what she can put right and save.

“It feels good to be needed again, to be able to help,” I’d said, when I delivered Annette to her apartment and she thanked me like I’d given her gold. Then the waning supermoon followed me home across two hills and a valley, peeking through clouds and bare branches. It made a giant mesh of moon-shadows in my driveway. Almost midnight, everything was silent and still. Except for me. I felt like skipping. Dancing in the moonlight. And I don’t know if I was speaking to the moon, my daughter’s spirit, or God when I whispered, “Hey. I brought someone home tonight.” The moon, the branches, my pride, longing, love, and gratitude were all kaleidoscoped by my tears.

 

What makes you want to sing and dance in the moonlight at midnight?

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Making Mandalas for Healing

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a healing mandala.After the election, stunned friends flew to their therapists. The TV flashed scenes of protests across the country. People all over the world were in various stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I was numb, my mind too scattered with other problems: pipes leaked under my driveway, contaminating the water system. The well pump was close to burnout. My mother’s dieffenbachia plant was in trauma. And my closet shelf, once securely screwed to the wall, had torn away and collapsed under the weight of my belongings. It felt like everything was falling apart or failing. So when a friend phoned inviting me to walk in the woods, I said, “Yes, let’s go right now.”

“It’s gonna be slow,” my friend warned. “I want to gather some things along the way to make a mandala.” She mentioned something about needing to “right the world.” Maybe she said “for healing” and “to calm spirits.” It didn’t matter what she said. It resonated. And I was desperate to escape.

In the woods, on the way to locating the creek that would be blessed with our “round symbol representing the universe in a search for completeness and self-unity,” my friend and I collected leaves, ferns, twigs, small patches of moss, and a single red berry.
“We need seeds for the mandala,” she said, something about “planting change and growth.” My previous mandala-making was mostly out of the peas and potatoes on my dinner-plate. So I kept quiet and my friend showed me how to string red and yellow leaves together, threading their stems through their papery skins. She arranged the elements while I photographed leaf veins that resembled tiny trees. She planted a feather in the middle of the masterpiece when it became apparent that I’d stepped on the berry.

Finally my friend was satisfied. She’d done her part to foster peace in the world. So we left the woods and went to my house where she screwed the shelf back into the wall and rescued the dieffenbachia plant. Maybe she said a prayer over the driveway’s leaky pipes and contaminated water too. I don’t know. But things felt a bit lighter, restored to order.Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, Photoshops a friend making a mandala for healing and peace after the election.

The next day it rained. The wind was blowing the trees bare. Unsettled as the weather, I hovered over the computer with the TV on for company. And, thinking of seeds and leaves with tiny trees reaching out to the world, I photo-shopped a mandala of my own. For “self-unity.”

 

Do you have any rituals or remedies for coping with things falling apart and failing? For things changing?

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Light at the End of a Tunnel of Grief

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York Photoshops the light at the end of the tunnel of grief.Online grief counselors say, “Embrace your pain,” “Face the loss,” … “Make friends with the heartache.” Meanwhile, today a friend politely pointed out, “There are different patterns to get over the loss of someone” and “You need to stop all this grieving and be happy.”

I am kind of happy. Life is good, except for my daughter dying. Until this afternoon I had no idea I was particularly unhappy or stuck, lost in a forest of grief.

I see grief as a bridge or tunnel connecting each sorrow forward to peace. Grief is a journey. Maybe a long journey, as some days the tunnel seems endless. One has to walk through the tunnel, carrying the pain like it’s a small child who needs to be rocked to sleep. The ache awakens at times. Sometimes suddenly. You stumble backwards. You whimper. You wail. Then regain your footing and continue the rhythm of your step. And as you traipse on, you notice there are countless minuscule cracks of light and color in the tunnel, where joy seeps through.

If you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, your hope grows more slowly as you learn to maneuver in the darkness. But you love that tunnel, even only dimly lit, because it is still your connection to peace.

 

In difficult times, what has your connection to peace been?

 

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