BOUNDARY STORIES 8: By Chants

“There is more to being human than meets the eye
We think we know who we are
But if we fix the image
We will never see our truth”

Edwin received the next message on his doorstep on a grey rainy English day that matched his mood.

In truth, he liked this sort of weather. It felt cozier than any summer’s day with a bright blue sky. A point he viewed with perplexed amusement.

In the light of being solo again, he had taken himself off to a meditation retreat where he had learnt some Tai Chi, practiced Zen meditation and enjoyed American Indian chanting as he had braved a hot sweat-lodge ceremony. A smorgasbord of hippy-ness that fitted his variable mood.

He had forgotten about the anonymous messages, despite the fact that it was they that had provided the original impetus to attend the retreat. Something very different for him that reflected a new found drive to better understand himself.

Two days later he received a call that his mother’s condition had deteriorated and that she was not likely to last the day. After some frenzied packing he drove to the home where she lived, reflecting gratefully that he was glad he had gone to see her more in the recent months.

When he arrived an attendant showed him to his mother’s room and commented that the day had been a difficult one for her. His mother had become unconscious and was having trouble with her breathing. Edwin’s heart went out to her because he knew her worst fear was of drowning and not being able to breathe. It was as if at the gate of death such fears had a life of their own and were purposely confronting her, attracted by such a weakness.

As he sat by the bed his mother, seemingly sensing a change, became more panicked, grasping at her breath as though clinging to the last straw of life. It was then that he received as a gift – he could think of no other word for it – an intuition that he should sing to her. And so he began a chant that he had learnt on the retreat – pitching his voice soft and low, timing his chanting to match the rhythm of her breathing.

It was if a switch had been thrown, providing a light in the darkness. She immediately relaxed and began to breathe calmly as he kept up his chanting. He brushed a stray hair back from her forehead, feeling the wonder of how life changed and how it was that the child became the comforter to the parent.

It was only a short time later that, as if his mother had been waiting all day for him to arrive, her breathing slowly became more shallow and reduced. As he carried on chanting her breaths became less frequent and finally…

Naturally…

Stopped.

He carried on chanting for a few minutes more – rather for himself than for his mother.

When he stopped, his tears came – quietly – matching the peace of her death. They were not angry or upset tears but rather – fulfilled – rightfully placed.

After seeing to the details he walked back to the car feeling somehow more whole, as though this was a moment he had been meant for, a seminal point in his life. He had carried his mother over a threshold, gently and lovingly laying her soul to rest in a safe place where he knew that whatever followed, it would be right for her.

Despite all his shortcomings and self-doubts this was one thing he knew he had done well.

BOUNDARY STORIES 7 : True Colours

“The look in a lover’s eyes
Mask dropped – no disguise
But is the soul truly awake?
Seeing the other as they really are – with the inevitable scar?

It had been one year since the last note.

Ages.

For Edwin it had been a time of Bliss – capital B – with the girl of the gentle blue eyes and the fondness for Earl Grey tea.

But it all came crashing down. She had now left him, informing him that he had been taking her for granted and she had met this new guy…Blah…Blah…Blah.

She was right. He had fallen into a comfort zone of normality – expecting her to be around.

As he read the note his emotions fell into a dead zone that left him sitting at the bottom of the stairs with tears leaking over his cheeks and falling to dampen his shirt. His mind tried to trace out the exact shape of his sadness and of course the left-brain voice admonished him for being ‘soppy’ as it embarked on the well-worn tirade of ‘Pull yourself together man’.

As if that would do any good.

It was only in a moment of calm reflection that he was able to make sense of the words in the second half of the note.

He realized that the relationship decisions he had made in his life had been just plain wrong for him. They were, in fact, just plain wrong for others too, despite the two-faced, self-mendacious blindingly idiotic stories told by his left-brain self to convince him of their validity.

As he inwardly surveyed the barren aftermath of the violence he had inflicted upon his soul, he realized now just how prolonged the activity of self-destruction had been.

The pit of despair was deep, and it had no ready handholds for climbing out, leaving him to wait for a chance ray of inner sunshine to illuminate his squalid conditions. Getting out was a hard won process, only done by digging steps with the bare figurative hands of his soul and crawling – inch by individual feeling inch – out of his sloth.

The War was still on – and it was still Inner.

He saw how it represented a battle between life and death, no less real for being frequently dismissed because it was Subjective – capital S. The Ultimate Insult.

He could now see that he must keep the ‘Inner Eyes’ of his soul wide open if he was going to survive and stop inflicting more self-harm.

But for now he was just going to have to Cope – capital C.

© Charles Tolman 2014.

BOUNDARY STORIES 6 : Imagine

“Your world has been Split,
But can you see it as one?
And feel the stream of Wholeness,
Wash the hurt and conflict away.”

Since his visit to his mother, Edwin’s internal war had intensified as though the revelations about her had caused his whole inner world to fall into a deeper chaotic state.

Edwin was falling apart. He could physically feel the Split inside him.

And then another note turned up just at the point when he felt most vulnerable. It was a dull Monday morning – again. Why did so many of these notes turn up on Mondays? He felt awful and crumpled the note in his hands as feelings he thought were under control hit him like a mobile brick wall. He collapsed against the front door and the tears streamed down his face as his defences gave way.

In a quiet inner space he could actually FEEL the imagination of the truth of the words and the tears echoed his sadness about not feeling Whole for many a year. Not since he was a small child.

After a while a loud left-brain voice berated him, telling him that this must STOP!

And then the doorbell rang.

“Hello!” A hand opened the letterbox. “Is anyone there?”

It was a girl’s voice. Edwin mumbled something approaching an apology and wiped his nose with the back of his hand, dried his eyes with the ever present kitchen tissue he always had, and opened the door. “Yes? What do you want?”

“Err. I live across the way and this letter was delivered to my house by mistake.” A pause as she took in his appearance. “Are you alright?”

Edwin found himself looking into a pretty face with blue eyes and blond hair parted in the middle, which faded to brown at the roots. He stood there mute, managing to blurt out the hastily created phrase “Sorry. Just got some bad news. – Family” to cover his awkwardness.

“Oh. Right. Sorry to hear that. I hope everything will be alright. Well – here is your letter. Sorry – it looks like a bill. I’ll be on my way.” And with that she handed the letter to him, turned and started walking away.

Girls – Oh Hell. Or rather, Oh HELP!

He was useless with girls.

The adolescent voices of derision from the past bloomed in his mind like a crowd of paparazzi appearing out of nowhere. He summoned all his courage, fought back, ignoring them and blurted out “Would you like a quick cuppa?”

YES! He had won!

This was the first time he had ever been able to find some words, any words, to try and extend a connection with a girl. She stopped and looked over her shoulder, raising one eyebrow as she considered the offer, checked her watch, then shrugged and smiled saying “Yes, as long as you have Earl Grey.”

Edwin dashed back into the house, ransacked the kitchen and found some old Earl Grey teabags in a black box at the back of the cupboard. He ran back to the front door and almost knocked the girl down in his eagerness to prove that, yes, he had Earl Grey tea, and yes, this would justify her staying.

He invited her in with a lighter heart and in that time honoured English fashion put the kettle on.

© Charles Tolman 2013.

BOUNDARY STORIES 5 : War Damage

“Peace should never be taken for granted.
The wise never forget this fact.
Frequently the young do – to their cost.
The pain of war passes unheeded through the generations.”

When he first read the next note, he found it difficult to connect to its message. All that changed in the next six hours.

Edwin visited his mother.

His visits were far too infrequent but he had always blamed that on her being Difficult – Capital D – which always sapped his energy. He loved his mother of course but their relationship had always been strained. She was getting on now but still had a big enough collection of marbles. They had a lovely meal and somehow their talk turned to her wartime experiences.

Edwin always liked to hear about these times as he felt it gave him a window on a very different time in history. Little did he know that this story would have a big impact on him.

The subject was the boat trip that her parents, herself and her brother of four years had taken from the Mediterranean back to England in 1942. She had been eight at the time. The ship came under attack from enemy planes and she and her brother were placed in the care of two sailors as the aircraft began to strafe the vessel. As they were climbing up a ladder to another deck her brother and guardian sailor went first followed by Edwin’s mother and her guardian. But as her guardian climbed the steps he was killed by machine gun fire from the aircraft and fell back to the deck below with three red dots on his chest marking the exit wounds from the bullets.

It was at this point that Edwin almost dropped his teacup on the floor as his mother related this fact as if commenting on the weather.

He suddenly realized how such an experience must have affected his mum, only eight at the time, and it was as if a door had been opened onto another room of his mother’s psyche. No wonder she was Difficult. Capital D.

Edwin left his mother’s house filled with a new respect and love for her but with a sense also of loss. Had he ever really known her? Had her experience of an external war somehow unconsciously fomented his internal war?

When he arrived home and re-read the note, his tears fell on the paper as they washed away the scales from his eyes. He now realized how blind he had been to the nuances of one of the most important relationships in his life.

Things would never be the same.

© Charles Tolman 2013.

BOUNDARY STORIES 4 : Wish You Were Here?

Edwin felt like he was fighting for his sanity. Day by day. Step by step.

His new insight into boundaries seemed to start internally pushing him. He felt he was under psychological attack. Just what the hell was going on?

The next note arrived a month later. A bigger delay than normal as though he was being given time to be stretched further and further. But to where?

“The Threshold has been Crossed.
Outer has become Inner.
The War is now Internal.”

It now seemed that his life was in synchronization with the notes. Or was someone watching him? He looked outside the front door to see if anyone was around. Nothing. No one. It needed a distinct effort of will to stop himself becoming paranoiac.

There were a fair few capital letters in this note.

As. If. Every. Word. Was. Important.

His life was becoming more stressed, but since his conversation with Quentin he was finding a calmer way through the tangle of everyday living. But he felt he was splitting apart, the different parts of himself coming away from each other like the segments of an opened orange.

His thoughts were getting a life of their own, and taking wing. His feelings were swimming all over the place. The only rock in this realm of air and water was his will as he learnt to hold it all together by its strength.

Yet the insights in the notes were now starting to give him a glimpse of another world. One that was calmer, more sane – A shining realm of clear thought – like that moment in the pub with Quentin. His experience was starting to connect with the words from the notes. As though the author had already paced along the same path he was walking. And just occasionally, for a moment at a time, he would connect to the light, as if he had been looking at shadows all his life and was only just starting to truly come home.

A Threshold? It sounded a bit dramatic, but it did feel like he was crossing some internal boundary. And he knew instinctively this was going to get worse and he was going to need all the strength of will he could gather in order to hold himself whole.

An Internal War.

And Edwin was the battlefield.

© Charles Tolman 2012.

BOUNDARY STORIES 3 : Squeezebox

“The unconscious path leads to repeating patterns,
until the hard lesson is learnt.
Know Yourself.”

The pressure of the stuff of life on Edwin was building to breaking point.

Then this note turned up on his doorstep.

Great.

Work was getting ever more frenetic. More people asking for more help – same old, same old. He was thankful there had not been any more similar interactions with his boss, probably because he was doing more and more and was only keeping himself together by the sheer power of will. To cap it all he was also having financial difficulties that were making life look darker, bleaker.

The note this time sent his mind into a frenzy of self-doubt. Was he just repeating things? Was he learning anything? Did he really know himself? Perhaps this was to be expected given his introspective nature – he knew that about himself at least. When he confided in his friends, some said that they knew others in the same boat, so it was not just an isolated phenomenon.

Same boat indeed: Up the Creek – Capital C – without a paddle.

He was beginning to see that it was a matter of knowing himself, mainly knowing his limits, and being clear about his boundaries. Once he gained this insight he felt justified in pushing back at people and saying No. He just hoped he didn’t sound like a two year old. Then there was his best friend Quentin. He was as eccentric as his name sounded and, boy, did he have some funny ideas. He said that Edwin needed to do more. At which point Edwin went ballistic.

More! Yes More. Capital M.

Once Edwin had returned to Earth, luckily he had not achieved escape velocity, he managed to calm down from swearing at Quentin and finally ended up sharply berating him for his lack of empathy. As he drew breath, Quentin pointed out that Edwin had to do More Of The Right Things. Activities that gave his self more fulfilment, more energy. He must carve out the time for himself Consciously. Edwin heard Quentin put the capital letter in the sentence.

It was then that Edwin went very very quiet. A mood that stayed with him all the way on the walk home, the previous frenzy of his mind replaced by an ethereal calm. As he walked he calmly breathed in, breathed out, breathed in, breathed out.

The latest note went on the clipboard. This time with more than just the date. At the bottom he annotated it with the following word:

BOUNDARIES.

Capitals.

© Charles Tolman 2012.

BOUNDARY STORIES 2 : Hanging on in Quiet Desperation

The next note arrived a week later:

“As scales fall away from eyes left too long in the dark,
Stunned inaction may be the blind response.
But change will not stop and only the wise will understand.”

The previous day had been Not Good.

Capital N. Capital G.

Edwin had been on the receiving end of a tongue lashing from his boss who clearly knew absolutely nothing about the problems he was daily facing in his job. As the note had intimated, Edwin had indeed just stood there in stunned inactivity allowing the words to roll over him while mumbling something about doing better in future as he left his superior’s office.

As if it was Edwin’s fault.

The company had fired half the work force the previous month thanks to the recession and he was supposed to be grateful to still be in a job. All it meant was that he was stuck with doing twice as much work which didn’t always get done in the way the managers wanted. So much for being indispensable.

This time he did not throw the note away, but made a special place on his pin board for the two notes, and dated when they were received. He pondered whether this was a wise response. One thing he knew was that he didn’t understand.

However he was nothing if not organized.

© Charles Tolman 2012.