Monday, November 28, 2011

Simple Rituals

This is  Nicodemus, one of our cats. (c) RLMT


     As usual for late autumn in eastern Kentucky, the trees stand mostly bare of leaves, only a few scattered holdouts telling at a glance where the stubborn oak and beech grow. It’s rainy, the earth with its moist layer of insulating fallen leaves a near-palpable fragrance in its own way very like the scent of an infant. It holds the promise of change; with change comes so many things necessary of the interactions of life. What photographers call ‘sweet light’ reigns; colorless and without notable shadow, the intricate, spare beauty of a stark landscape ready for winter’s white lies resting. Mountainous areas, veiled in soft clouds, offer gently lit mornings of particular grace. 

I took this photo while working on a Paris, Kentucky, horse farm. (c) 1985 by RLMT


       On days like this, while deer and wild turkey are moving about in the low light they love so well, it  is my habit or ritual to search among my book collection for either a new ‘face’ in the reserve stacks, or an ‘old friend’ from established shelves. The reading material I keep is a decidedly eclectic mix, ranging from Anne Rice’s CRY TO HEAVEN or Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA through Louis L’Amour’s westerns or any number of science fiction or fantasy works. There are also thrillers and mysteries, literary works, nonfiction, purely Appalachian beauties, and reference material waiting there for my questing hands to rifle through. I like to vary my reading according to mood and recent interests. Having the books on hand eases the way for quiet seasonal rituals, including reading aloud to my life’s-mate, Ronnie, near the toasty glow of the woodstove on cold, dark evenings throughout winter. 
Echo Lake in Powell County, Ky. Built by my father. (c) 1990 by RLMT.


        Rituals of daily life surround and comfort us. Simple things, we forget they exist and too often take them for granted. Yet those casual rituals are as much a part of us that to disturb even one sends us scrambling to recover the natural flow of our day or week. Losing ritual, or casual habit, is painful in several ways. 

       To arise in the morning, as I do to precious peace outside the rapid, rabid pace of places abounding with the ‘necessities’ of ‘civilized’ life, is something I now would honestly fight to keep (though that perhaps seems a contradiction, I refer to self-defense in holding onto long-term well-being). A cup of fresh, extremely hot French roast coffee (strong enough that my husband calls it “Hell Juice!” and won’t touch) it is something I want first – and without human company of the vociferous variety. I’ll have a second cup with breakfast, when I’m more coherent. 

        Breakfast, too, is a part of the ritual. No coffee and no breakfast? The day started out in chaos, and hell shall follow after. 

       A yellow legal pad and a large-grip, black-ink pen that writes smoothly rest nearby during every morning’s dietary rituals. Chaos does not particularly inspire me; even my thoughts need to line up and march on, as strong as my treasured two large cups of ‘hell juice’. 

        Age and a body used in years past as a working tool in physical labor add up to pain. Arthritis and otherwise damaged joints can disrupt daily order, crying out for physical and mental hibernation, and even more so in the cold months. The inability to function ‘normally’ (I could argue with what’s normal for a person’s age and lifestyle) or to sleep it away can cause a sort of mental fog. All of these added up are a part of what we now call ‘stress’. 

       Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurt. No time to hurt! Pop some magic pills to make the pain go away and go on doing anything and everything. Curse those torpedoes! HURRY

        Ah, stress. As a t-shirt slogan I saw once said, “Stress is the almost irresistible urge to choke the living crap out of some poor, stupid chump who desperately needs it.” When that crosses my mind, it’s immediately followed by “Who angers me, controls me.”

       I do not like to be angered. It’s a conundrum. 

       Like the proverbial Gordian knot, such a situation remains best served by walking away, severing the wrongful, hurtful connection. One must, however, keep the fine line of self-defense, always necessary, in mind and close by. 

       The trouble with misuse of such specialty tools in the emotional arsenal is that it invariably results in begetting multiplied layers of pain. 

       A person who hurts – be it physical or emotional pain – tenses up. This hurts more, so the person tenses up yet again, and so on. It’s a vicious loop of self-punishing misery. 

      Stress from pain, or is it pain from stress? Breathe. Let go and just breathe. Stop whatever you’re involved in and spend some time in organized breathing. Ask any reputable obstetrician or qualified martial artist and they will tell you that controlled breathing controls pain. Breathe… and walk away from pain. It is as real as any fancy pill, has no side effects, and it works. It works by the simplest means: breathing ‘rituals’ align pulse and blood pressure, calm synapses and reorder the rhythms of the body. 

       Those who do not attend to a day’s most basic rituals cause compounded stress and multiplied pain reactions in others around them. This is true among all animals. One excitable horse in the herd means disorder. One aggressive dog, however small, in a pack however casual, means danger. The most serene of creatures are secure in their reactions to a world filled with chaos; this is where leaders are formed, among the rituals of order. 

       The strongest rituals do not come from external sources, but from within. Call it chi, inner strength, or whatever you will. Faith in self must come first, or chaos follows. 

       Breathe. Our world needs us. One fragile heartbeat at a time. 

Self portrait. Of me, by me, circa 1990.