UP IS DOWN: Escaping the World of NO
Remembering How to Say "YES": The Retreat in Spain
For some reason, I’m being called to begin at the end. Around here, we don’t question the Muse. We simply hear and obey. ✨😍✨
June 24, 2019
It’s the final workshop. I’m running late. We’re supposed to start at the magical 3:33 p.m. and I deeply want to be there on time for that.
And I can!
Three days ago, I got back the ability to inch down the mountainside by myself—slowly. With great care. Yesterday I passed people on the way down! Yes, indeed, I stopped having to one-step (keeping my right leg straight while using the left to do all the work). Before I arrived at the retreat, that’s the only way I’d been able to go down any stairs—besides on my butt. Today, I’m nearly striding down this mountain switchback—with great care. But not all that slowly. Seeing as how they had to drive me down in the jeep only seven days ago, this is quite the miracle.
I round the first bend. Two retreat-sisters are also running late and they are not hurrying. Slow down, I hear in my guts. Walk with them. Drink in these last moments with them while you can.
The Muse is not to be ignored about that either, so I draw up alongside them. We stroll in the cool beneath the canopy of the trees, pause to refill water bottles at the spring, chat, laugh, and then the one on my left asks me, “So what did happen with your knee?”
“Oh, my gosh!” I gush, taking delight in how stable my right leg is as I bend it with every step. “So many amazing things!“
I stroll on with my Cheshire-Cat-grin beaming heavenward in wonder and thanks.
The crunch sounds as a pair feet skid to a halt. The weight of eyes lands on my back. From my right comes the question: “Do you realize what you just said?”
I halt, too. My head tilts. My brows furrow as I glance back in intrigue.
An even bigger Cheshire-grin greets me. “When she asked you that, you didn’t answer with how it got injured, like you usually do. You said, ‘So many amazing things.’”
For the gazillionth time, I am Ted Theodore Logan.
Our footsteps crunch together again as we walk on, sharing matched grins of exhilaration, because things like this have been happening to us all. As promised on the website, this retreat and everything I’ve done here, everything I did to get here, everything I’ve been doing that’s lead me to this moment…
My life is forever changed.
One of the many images that has been with me since re-injuring my knee has been from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. There is the scene where they all run from one side of the ship to the other in order to rock it from side to side. Eventually they reach the tipping point. The ship capsizes.
At sunset, the whole thing sinks straight down. The water drains. The world flips. In one heartbeat, everything has changed.
Up is Down.
This image won't leave me.
In that one moment on the mountainside, I realized: everything had flipped from what I can’t do and a world of NO, into what I can do in my world of YES.
I remember this world.
It’s the world I glimpsed through the mirror the first time I looked into my own eyes—truly looked, then looked deeper, then gazed in as far as I could in the candlelight with the bathtub filling behind me. I was 24.
It’s the world I strode into at 28 after booting down the locked door with a growled, “Watch me!” when I was told I would never be a dancer again.
I lived in this world for those first few years afterwards. I wouldn’t take no for an answer, so all I got was YES. Yes, I can finally load my own dishwasher. Yes, I can brush my own hair—and fully reach the back. Yes, I can shimmy again. Now I can shimmy evenly on both sides when I really concentrate. Hah, FUCK YES, I can even do a backbend, so there and RAWR!
But life creeps infiltrating tentacles into Paradise. A toxic home environment here. A disappointment there. The loss of something I’d really wanted and a door slammed in my face. That bad review. Divorce. Exhaustion. More loss. The credit card locked away in the freezer because someone I’m mutually dependent upon can’t be trusted with it. Another catastrophic injury and another divorce…
Before I know it, I’m living in the Upside Down.
You know that place. The warped, dark reflection of the life you dream about living. The un-fun-house mirror. Perhaps you once basked in Paradise. Or perhaps you’ve only ever heard that, for some people, the world is a bright, glowing place full of color, sensuous scents, and ecstatic YES.
But where you live, the sky is always monochrome. Bleak shades of gray fade in and out of black—except for the raging red storms. A nasty, multi-legged soul-sucker looms over your tiny house, licking its chops. Shredded plastic sheeting trembles in the wind, duct taped over the hole that was blasted through your living room wall last fall, and your only hope is the array of twinkle lights you’ve strung up like a lunatic. Occasionally, even they try to strangle you as you blunder into them in your rat-race toward the door, hucking briefcase, backpack, a child’s forgotten lunch in a hamster wheel of blind futility.
I’ve lived in that place. I’ve escaped it, and I’ve fallen back in. I’ve flashed back to it amidst a seemingly gorgeous day. I’ve been possessed by the Mind Flayer and had to make my body inhospitable—literally with wormwood and black walnut, and all in the mess of my head.
When I returned home from the retreat, Stranger Things 3 was released on Netflix shortly after. Knowing that my parents would want to binge it on the Fourth of July, I rewatched Season 2 as a reminder. I also needed a palate cleanser and a little mindless vegging after such a world-bending trek up (and down and up and down and up) the mountain.
Spoiler Alert: Amidst the Season 2 finale, I was inspired to get up off my butt. We’d done tons of bioenergetic shaking in the retreat. (I hadn’t known this was actually A Thing. I thought it was just one of my weird habits that my weird body has craved for years.) Well, after a week of shaking, trekking, and flow movement, I couldn’t sit still during my binge. I’d already done on-off hours of PT and my muscles were jonesin’ for good vibrations.
Onscreen, as our supernatural she-ro descends into the bowels of the abyss to close the fissure through which all evil things belch…and our hero fam attempts to exorcise the Mind Flayer from our young wizard who has never truly gotten free from being trapped in the Upside Down…and our geekly hero cadre sneaks through the tentacle-tunnels that have infiltrated the ground beneath our entire home city, sending up death and rot like the devil with a case of indigestion…
It occurs to me that this is a really good metaphor for what has happened to my world since my own escape from the Upside Down all those years ago.
If I’m not careful, if I’m not vigilant—and sometimes, even when I am—eh…it happens.
So I did the shaking and breathing practices to purposely calm my nerves for the entirety of that adrenalized episode. (Calm amidst adrenaline—martial arts 101. Yeah!) For forty-five minutes, I shook and breathed and sighed and relaxed. The ecstasy hit. The shake-high reignited that same Cheshire-cat-grin as I envisioned myself doing exactly what I was watching onscreen. I delved into the tunnels of rot worming their way under my ground and set them ablaze. I made myself inhospitable once more to dark, fanged, soul-sucking no-see-‘ems. I sought out the cracks in myself through which the Mind Flayer and its minions could creep, and I sealed them closed.
Is Mister Flayer still there?
Of course. It’s always there. And it’s always here. The Upside Down is always a possibility in the endless number of places I can live. I don’t have some miraculous antidote to acquiring a life free of pain and loss, any more than I know how to obliterate the Mind Flayer from the possibility of existence.
That’s not the point. That’s not even my intention.
Mostly what I have is curiosity:
--I wonder how I can close the gate (again)?
--I wonder what sort of warning system I can put up that will alarm the next time it gets cracked open?
--I wonder how I can blast the tunnels (again)?
--Hmmm…that’s a pretty big network of vacuums…what would I like to fill it with?
--I wonder how I can keep myself as an inhospitable host to nasty Mind Flayers and Demogorgons (again and again and again like peeling an onion)?
The list goes on. It’s a whole system as intricate and infiltrating as the tentacle-tunnels. In fact, it’s built along the very fault lines that once housed the writhing, creeping, destructive things that have wreaked havoc upon my life. It shines through my sealed cracks like Kintsugi.
And just like the season finale of my favorite shows, there is no final triumphant Hollywood ending. There is resolution and then another season.
But if it’s a really good show, isn’t that actually what we want? I hear I’m the script-writer of my own damn show, and I know from experience—without all this cracking open, my writing would get stale and bored. Everything would get flabby. I would never be forced into growing, bettering, strengthening, stretching. I would never be inspired to shake my world and rock the boat until everything flips in the direction of my deepest desires.
I wouldn’t call myself some fist-raised, staunch believer in the law of attraction and infinite possibility. Rather, I am devoted to a deep curiosity about these things, from approaches both practical and woo. And that has made all the difference—curiosity. I just keep wondering. I keep poking at things I’ve never seen before, or I poke at things I’ve seen a million times from a different direction. I turn things on their head to see what’s beneath. I drink coffee with my left hand. I take a different route home. I sit with my pain and ask it questions.
After the crying and the gnashing of teeth—or sometimes in place of it—or even amidst it:
—What are you trying to teach me?
—What is the original root cause, and can I do anything about it?
—Is this really anything that is valid anymore? Or is this something that’s outdated?
—Is this a pattern that is historical and habitual, rather than something active right now?
—How can I find joy amidst the suck?
—How can I experience pleasure amidst the pain?
—How can I feel grateful for a catastrophic loss?
Some days I can’t.
Have I ever asked my injuries, “Why me?” in my whiny voice?
But I have become far less interested in the answer to that question than in some others.
Something else I’ve become especially curious about: “Why NOT me??
I was born with a very specific talent base and skill set, and there are things that I’ve honed, practiced, and developed. There are other deficiencies that I’ve filled in through diligent study and hard sweat.
I have no idea if “everything happens for a reason.” Again, I’m less interested in that than in, “Well, here it is (again), so what can I do with it?”
Right now, I can walk carefully, and not even slowly, down a switchback mountain road with nothing to hold onto but my posture.
Today, that’s a miraculous feat, and noticing that turns everything upside down.
VIDEO FOOTAGE AND PHOTOS OF MY MIRACLE MOUNTAIN:
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: THE TREASURE CHEST(A Faerie's Tale)
--OR WHAT CAN I DO WHEN I CAN'T DANCE?- Ummm...Dance, Of Course!