Once upon a time, one of my favorite things to do was to stand outside when snow was falling and still myself, quieting my thoughts and even my breath, until I could hear the sound the snow made as it fell – an endless, velvet whisper, both soft and cold. I recall a day over fourteen years ago, before I had children, when I went walking in the woods alone as fat flakes drifted down. I struck an old tractor road and stood in one of the ruts, looking skyward, feeling the crystals settle on my lashes, my eyes, my lips. I was far enough from civilization that there were no other sounds – it was simply me, and the cold, and the snow. I concentrated on that whisper of falling – falling – falling… I concentrated on it and let the cold embrace me until I was no longer aware of my own body except as a conduit for the sound of the snow. After a time, I felt absolutely nothing, not even the flakes as they landed on my skin. It was the perfect disconnect; total escape from the body I had learned to hate. I felt nothing; I was entirely free from physical sensation. Even my emotions were frozen. I had brought my pain out into the frigid air and had walked for hours, trying to leave it behind. That one act of stopping, standing, stilling myself and listening, accomplished what nothing else could. I was empty, and nothing came rushing to fill me up.
I learned to be still. I learned to be quiet. I learned how to empty myself and how to keep the emptiness intact as the world came prying, pushing, trying to fill me. I learned how to contain myself no matter what the situation, no matter what the stimuli. I learned how to freeze and listen for that sound, so quiet that if you even breathe you miss it. But the world finally intruded, as it always does – the world is stronger than anyone’s will. Children, marriage, work, school…the art of being still was lost in the day to day scramble just to get by. My soul sickened. Life ran over and through me, but I had achieved a different kind of numbness – the kind you feel when circulation is cut off and blood just isn’t flowing. I started to die – literally, my body was perishing and I was helping it along with the choices I made. One thing led to another until I was thirty-six years old, three hundred pounds, pre-diabetic, with popping knees, aching arches, and chest pains. The body I hated was almost destroyed.
So what happened? Why did I wake up one day and pull myself back from the brink? Honestly – I still don’t have an answer. Was it a God-moment? I don’t know. I do know that there came a day when I decided I wanted to live. And I began to repair the damage I had willfully done through my choices. Two years later, my body was thriving. My soul was still sick, but I didn’t know it. I had managed another kind of disconnect, one that left me fully awake and aware physically but disconnected from Spirit. And the most tragic thing about it was that I thought I was okay; I read devotionals, wrote them, prayed, read verses each day. But I was like the man who prayed loudly on the street corner – so loudly that I could not hear the whisper anymore. I couldn’t have heard it even if it was a scream.
I made more choices – physically good, spiritually bad. I tore down my life and rebuilt it around someone who was cruel and exploitive, who used me for the affirmation he simply couldn’t give himself. There came a point when I finally managed an emotional disconnect from the situation; once he realized I was slipping away, he added physical abuse to the emotional beatings. He thought nothing he did to me would ever make me leave. He was wrong. I finally woke up and understood his evil and his weakness, and that gave me the strength to break the ties and free myself. It was hard and the apathy I still felt toward myself stalled the process; he begged for forgiveness and another chance and I almost broke. I believe there was another God-moment then; it was January 2nd, 2010, when he called and begged again to have another chance, asking me what I wanted from him. I heard myself saying that I wanted nothing except to be left alone. There would be no further chances. When I hung up the phone that day, I felt free. It was over, and it was time to be about the business of healing.
But it isn’t that simple, is it?
Last year was hell. Yes, I was free from my abuser, I was no longer being hurt, but I was still caged by the memories of the abuse, by the flashbacks that I could not control. I still had not learned how to be on my own, how to be content with myself. It was something I had always had before – solitude was golden, silence was a balm for my soul. But not last year… Last year the silence was gray and thick and dark. The silence was cold and empty. If I could have remembered how to still myself and listen, maybe it would have been better. But I couldn’t, I was frantic for human voices, for the world; I needed to be filled. I was void when I was alone; I might as well have been dead. I filled the emptiness with people and with physicality. I filled it with food and with alcohol. But the pain grew and nothing I tried was helping. I could not find a quiet place to stand and listen. The cage door was open but I was held back by my chains, and by people who loved me but could not release me.
The turning point came on Thanksgiving morning, when I awoke in the darkness and silence, alone, and comfortable with the solitude. My soul took flight – a rushing, streaming banshee -- I found a place outside myself and for the first time in a seeming eternity, I was able to be quiet. To be still.
My wilderness journey has taken a turn into the deepest part of the wild wood. Here there is a long, narrow path, bordered with gray trunks like pillars in a cathedral of stone where only I worship. The quiet is total. The air is cold, the sky lowers. It is heavy with the promise of snow. I am still, even my breath is silent. I am waiting for the whispered sound of snowflakes falling - falling - falling…