Clear Lens Moments

volcanoclouds

It was one of those days when the air was washed and polished like a lens. Everything was crisp and clear. Springtime in California.

I could see each individual leaf shimmering on the tree and was simultaneously taking in the whole tree in its magnificent glory. The colors were more vivid, the wind more meaningful, each breath poignant.

As I drove away from Green Gulch Farm, I felt a natural high like none other. Each moment, whatever it contained, was perfect, abundant, simple and miraculous. It wasn’t until leaving the Zen center grounds after my five-day personal retreat that I realized how much more mindful I had become. I was ultra-sensitive to my surroundings, noticing the details, savoring the natural beauty all around me, more embodied in my body than maybe ever before.

This blissful state of heightened awareness lasted for a good week or two. That was April, 2004. Now, with the gift of retrospect, I can pinpoint a few other moments in the 13+ subsequent years in which my formal practice seeped silently, secretively into my everyday life. Tiny moments of illumination. That time in my bedroom in Guate when I was doing a standing backbend and the epiphany hit me. A voice that spoke from deep within said, “Move to the lake.” I cried tears of sudden joy, because I knew then that Lake Atitlan was where I was meant to be.

Another clear lens moment occurred January 6, 2013, as I was sitting on a hospital bed, listening to Across the Universe on repeat on my headphones, having taken the doctor’s orders to calm down so that he could perform the unexpected c-section. Jai Guru Deva, Aum…. nothing’s gonna change my world/nothing’s gonna change my world. Limitless undying love that shines around me like a million suns… I shifted from fear-fueled sobs to a quiet, tranquil state. When I saw my daughter’s little face and perfect head full of dark brown hair, my mind was empty of anything but love (and morphine of course; thank you, epidural!).

The air was washed and polished like a lens, too, one midsummer’s day in 2001. I was sailing on Lake Travis with my family. I could see the water and sky, could perceive the spectacular sunset and feel that I should be appreciating its beauty and the gift of my life, but depression absolutely blocked any absorption of gratitude, happiness or even okay-ness. Depression distorted the lens, making everything blurry and hopeless.

My most recent clear-lens experiences have been less monumental, more everyday. The little moments, the frequent pauses when I can sit still, take a sip of tea, look around and soak in the beauty. The gorgeousness of the lake and volcanoes never fails to astound me. I can even (sometimes) see the beauty in the disarray in which our household is often found. The stuffed animals lined up in the hammock, the pile of storybooks by Jade’s bed, the muddy paw prints our dog leaves on the wooden planks of the patio.

I am eternally grateful to Guatemala, every human and animal, stone and flower, fire and body of water that has crossed my path in my time here. The breeze has cleansed the air and polished my lens in such wonderfully unexpected ways.

The Forest Cure

Why I’m Anti Antidepressants

Many years ago, I sat on the couch of a stern psychiatrist who informed me that I needed to take prescription psychotropic pills every day for the rest of my life.

That didn’t sit well with me.

But, I was 21, and facing the moment-to-moment reality of horrible depression during every waking moment of my “real” adult life.

I learned that depression is anger turned inward. Self-blame exacerbates a mentality in despair. For me, depression was like endless fields of gray. I only wanted to sleep or die. I was unable to hope and had zero desire to do anything but lie in bed. It was like being stuck in a huge, ugly glob of what’s-the-point! 

Life was drained of all color, fun, and love.

I chose to take the pills. I was told they would take a couple of weeks to kick in, and they did—like clockwork. My ability to function in the world was restored. Once I felt better, I’d stop taking the meds. Then, of course, I’d feel bad again, dragged down into the quicksand of darkness.

So, I’d start back up again with my prescription refills and they’d take longer to take effect, since my brain was building up a resistance. This carried on for about four years, until one day, all the fireworks exploded in my mind and I was catapulted from the lows of cyclical depression to the rapid fire “high-high-high” of mania.

That’s when I was committed for 10 days to the state psychiatric hospital and was prescribed lithium for life.

Teaching yoga at a fitness center the following year, I struck up a conversation with a woman after class about mental health and prescription drugs. She urged me to read up on lithium and its detrimental effects, and gave me a book on the topic. My mom and brother had both been diagnosed with bipolar prior to me, at age 40 and 14, respectively. I was 24 when my manic side emerged, although, in retrospect, it was more like popping topless out of a cake than a gradual emergence of symptoms.

There is the reality that everyone’s brain chemistry is different and influenced by genetic factors outside of our control, and yet our brain chemistry is also affected by our lifestyle and behavior choices. After a few years of taking lithium religiously, I felt ready to phase it out of my system and did so under the care of a qualified psychiatrist—a doctor not much older than me—also named Michelle. She helped me phase it out, and it’s been eight years now with no relapses.

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