Friday, January 9, 2015

Internal landscapes

Everyone has internal visions of themselves. Some of us have an internal vision of our own physical form which may or may not have much to do with how we actually look, others see themselves as a non-human animal. You get it. I'm sure you've played the game If you were a what would you be? This is informative because someone who sees themselves as a lion may have different traits than someone who sees themselves as a dolphin.

I like these kinds of games because they help me understand my internal state and may help me access information that I didn't consciously know. Most recently it's been landscapes.

Let's try something. In a moment I want you to close your eyes and imagine a landscape. It can be any kind of landscape, but what I want is for you to see the first place that comes to mind, allowing for the possibility that this is an image of your internal world. Is it urban? Rural? Wild? Manmade? What lives or grows there? What are the sounds? What aromas can you imagine? Is it bright or dark? Day or night? You get the idea.

Go ahead. I'll wait.
What did you see? Was it familiar? Someplace you'd like to explore? A place you'd rather escape? What does the place and your reaction tell you about your current state of being? Using landscape as metaphor lets us examine our internal state as a visitor, so we have permission to see what we might want to avoid, permission to simply feel safe, permission to explore our own lives without any interference or judgement.

I love the idea of internal landscapes. I always have. While these landscapes may not be places I go to regularly - it's more of a check in - I've always loved exploring them while in meditation or dreams. For much of my life when I conjured a place I would see a forest with a clearing, a big rock in the middle and paths through the trees. I would hear bird song and maybe a creek. The air was clean. Sometimes there was evidence of people, other times not. It changed from visit to visit but was a sanctuary. It was beautiful. Peaceful. The place I would go to rest, think, solve problems, be. I didn't go there often but I knew it was always available.

When Kevin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost a year ago my internal landscape changed. I found myself in a devastated city. The building were in ruins, there were no clear paths, there was little that could grow there. The sounds were wails of sorrow, the distant rumble of heavy equipment or maybe bombers. It smelled like a house fire and dust. I at least wasn't alone there, I could hear and sometimes see others. There were places where I could rest though never be at ease. It wasn't a pleasant place to visit but, as I said, I use these landscapes as a way to check my internal state. It seemed appropriate.

This landscape persisted for some months after his death. I had dreams of wandering through Dresden after the firebombing, through Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fallujah. Others without name. I could hear sirens and then silence. Nothing else. In my waking life I would close my eyes and immediately smell blood and dust, kerosene and rot, the hospital disinfectant an undertone. I did my best not to go there though I understood it was an accurate depiction of how I felt. How I still sometimes feel.

This destruction was an apt metaphor those first few months of grief. My entire context for the world had been undone. I know some of you are thinking that I'm surely being dramatic, that I still have friends and family and other comforts. You're right, of course, but you're also wrong. Kevin gave me a way to understand the world. He provided a stable place that I could branch out from. Without him there was no stability, no rock, no lens that helped me see myself as more than what I fear I am.

My inner landscape has changed again. Now I find myself in a flat, featureless plain that extends endlessly in every direction. There are no sounds other than the crunch beneath my feet. There might be a track in the dirt but it's unclear. The sky is the flat white of a searing summer day but there is no particular temperature. I smell dust and salt.

This landscape, the emptiness and inescapable flatness, is again an apt metaphor for what this part of grief feels like. I get out of bed every day. I work every day. I smile, I may laugh, I have moments when I am at ease. But it is all flat. My world is colorless. There is no clear way through other than simply enduring.

I know this will likely change as more time passes. Eventually I may find a shoot growing or realize the track has become a path. I may find myself someplace altogether different. Maybe someday I'll be back in the woods, in the clearing, resting on the sun-warmed stone. But not yet. Forcing it is useless because the shoot only dies; it will happen in its own time.

Grief has transformed my internal landscape just as love did. And just as it is with real landscapes, it will take time and the gentle pressure of wind and rain, breathing and crying, to transform it further. I live in geological time now.

So it goes.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer

(41 weeks. 41?! This time a year ago I was driving you to work because you were so sick but we still didn't know, we thought it was a stomach condition. There was still hope. I miss you. I love you. I always will. I can still feel your hand in mine, resting on your thigh as I drive. I always will.) Creative Commons License

1 comment:

  1. Such a powerful post! And something I relate to so much. My internal landscape has changed over time. Still changing.


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