A reply to: A letter from Newt
So, read your letter. And I’m writing back.
While I was reading, I kept flashing on this story my uncle told me when we were hiking at the bluffs.
It’s about the charnel ground. Have you heard of that?
It’s a burial site. But for Buddhists. It’s also a literal place for transformation. Figurative, too.
See, according to my uncle, that’s where the bodies would be left–above ground, so that vultures and jackals could feed on them and all the flesh and stuff would decay and then the sun would bleach the bones. So when the process is done, all that’s left are clean white sun-bleached bones. But the way there stinks.
My uncle had way too much fun describing it:
“Vultures descending, tearing the sinews, gulping down eyeball. Entrails stretching across the plain. Jackals sneaking in after dark, howling with their strange laughs that sound like a child’s cry, grabbing the muscles, gobbling the rotting fat. Hair, loose, dry, brittle hair, flowing everywhere.”
My uncle is strange. I never know what he’s trying to say. Growing up, I called him “Uncle Obtuse.” He wasn’t going to volunteer the point of the story. So I asked him.
He shrugged. “Life is messy,” he said.
At one of the first group sessions I went to at HoH, they showed a film. The purpose of the film was to show how PTSD is PTSD, no matter from what or experienced by whom. So, they interviewed war vets. They interviewed witnesses of 9/11. They interviewed people who experienced domestic violence. They interviewed refugees.
Afterwards, the group talked about how they felt watching the film.
When it was my turn, I started analyzing the camera angles, which were generally really low, looking up at the person, or really high, looking down, and so the effect was one of disassociation, and then I started analyzing the lighting, which was weirdly bright, and then I started talking about the effects of digital film vs. celluloid. Everyone listened. I thought I was doing pretty well.
Then the group counselor asked, “What did you feel watching the film, Norman? What do you feel now?”
“I don’t do emotions,” I replied.
One woman spoke up, “If you don’t do emotions, emotions do you.”
I stopped doing emotions when I was was a kid. It was a day that started out as the best day of my life, and ended up as the day I stopped doing emotions.
My dad took my sister and me out to see the wind turbines. It was a big day–Dad was featured in all these articles for bringing wind power to Windenburg, and he was making a name for himself.
At the time, I kept half an eye on the sky. I was a big fan of raptors and other birds of prey. When we reached the field below the turbines, I spotted an osprey. At the time, they were my favorites. I had this idea they were lucky. I watched it soar. I was about to point it out to Meadow when it flew too close to the wind-blades. There was a white explosion of feathers. And then–nothing. Not even a trace.
I didn’t know how to respond. Dad and Meadow were talking, facing the other way. I didn’t know how to tell them what had happened.
I decided to not say anything. I stacked the emotions. I didn’t know what else to do. My dad was my hero. He was this big environmental leader guy. And his big project that was getting all the attention was killing birds of prey. The dissonance was too much.
When I took over his business, I still had my emotions shelved. I knew ethically that I wanted us to find a way to do wind power without killing birds. Did you know that some years up to 250 birds of prey were killed? That’s owls, osprey, falcons, kestrels, eagles, vultures, and raptors of all kinds.
After I met Ira, I decided I had to do something. That’s why we switched to solar. It’s gonna cost us. It’ll cost the business big-time. If we encounter any delays or set-backs, we’ll probably have to issue bonds to see the project through. But even if it bankrupts us, it’ll be worth it. I can get a job as a chemist.
We’ve been learning in group about the ways that trauma and stress change the brain. It’s true that if you don’t do emotions, emotions do you. Something got split off in me when I turned away from what happened to that osprey. That’s what allowed me to run the company for so many years.
We’ve also been learning that the heart has its own mind, and just like our brain can influence our heart, our heart can influence our brain. It’s a two-way path.
Ira, Aari, and me, we each learned the same exercise in our groups. It’s called “heart breathing.” For a slow count of five, breathe into your heart. Hold it and rest. Breathe out for five. Pause. As you do this, start breathing from your heart, as if it is your heart breathing in, breathing out.
Don’t think about how it doesn’t make sense. Just do it.
Aari does it when she starts getting mad. Pretty soon, she’s laughing again.
The trick is to remember to do it.
I took Meadow up to the hills the other day. I wanted us to look out and see what it was like without the turbines.
Yeah, I shut the turbines off two weeks ago. They’ve been dismantled.
I looked at the sun. That sky stretched. Next time I see a falcon or osprey cross that sky, I won’t have to turn away. It’s safe. I can let myself feel the thrill of watching those wings spread.
So, here I am writing. Newt, I think it’s probably best if you don’t count on me to help. I honestly don’t know how. I am not the kind of guy who helps other people or who even knows how to be helpful, especially when it comes to emotions and feelings.
You’ve got your therapist for that, thank God.
I’m a friend. I stick. Maybe you can share with me what you learn about doing emotions. I got a lot to learn in that area.
Keep writing, buddy! Keep hanging in there through messy life.