Memento Mori

Remember your death

This is The Meadow. Michele's biweekly-ish essay for those seeking to be more fully awake and alive in the world.

Had a visit from an old frenemy this weekend. Anxiety jumped into my bed, waking me, as skittish as a feral cat, but still creeping around, seeking escape. What escape is possible when you are working full-time, have kids, and have so many lives that are counting on you?

My heart raced. I paced and busied myself with chores and tasks, wishing there was some literal chill pill I could take that would just settle everything down and bring me peace.

I have learned, from years of experimentation, that neither food, nor drink, nor even magic pills work to help ease anxiety in the long run. What does help is befriending it, but, like that skittish cat, it’s hard to get it to sit still with me.

Sleep, not too much, but enough, helps. As does quiet sitting on my mat, watching the thoughts swirl and coalesce, without form, without words, just a deep sense of being trapped and unable to get out of this stuck pattern.

Prayer helps too, though for some odd reason, when I’m swirling like this, prayer is often my last resort. It requires such a sense of trust to reach out, in my vulnerability, and ASK. Just to ask. To leave the question on the wind, and hope, somewhere, an echo of response will return. I know, from experience, that if I wait patiently, a response usually follows. I don’t often have the patience to wait though, preferring to take matters into my own hands, do X and get my sh*t together, to get back on track, on the path, out of the swirling unknown and creeping fear.

So, here I am writing, and I am still gripped by worry. Yet the prayer is having an effect. There’s a kind of “bottom” under the fear, a place for my feet to land, a place saying, don’t worry, all will be well, this is all temporary. Just trust and do the next right thing.

The next right thing. Shower, self-massage, hot tea. Taking the time to sprinkle cinnamon on my protein waffles because it feels like love this morning (usually anxiety wonders how many extra seconds am I wasting to add something frivolous to my meal). Planning my work day. Then, write. Breathe. Hope.

Lent is fast approaching. For Christians, it’s a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Everyone is invited though. Seasonal fasts and times of greater introspection have a long history in many spiritual traditions. For me, this year, I am going to enter the heart of my fear by doing something I’ve been avoiding, the practice of “memento mori,” or remembering my death. Theresa Noble wrote a Lenten devotional on this topic several years ago:

I’ve been avoiding it, coming up with a million reasons why I don’t need to do this, why it’s stupid, why there are so many other better Lenten practices to try. This year, though, I finally felt like it was time to face the fears head on that plague my middle-aged self: What if my work fails? What if my kids are unable to make it on their own? What if I can’t see my kids grow up? What if I lose my job? What if I become a laughing stock? What if I become seriously sick or disabled? What if I can’t find my tribe? What if I never make another friend? What if no one reads my writing? What if I don’t matter?

So, I’m beginning this devotional on Ash Wednesday, a week and a day from today. As always when I’m embarking on some new adventure, I’d prefer not to be alone, so I’m looking for my own type of “Fellowship of the Ring” to share the journey. If you want to join in this Memento Mori adventure, let me know, and I’ll come up with some way to connect us all (even better, let me know *your* desired way of connecting).

For now though, I close with this reflection on Julian of Norwich’s “all shall be well” vision. In it, she sees a hazelnut in her palm—representing all that exists in the world. She reflects,

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.

That is my prayer for each of us, that we may know that we are loved and we are kept—safe, whole, connected, and protected from all that seeks to disturb or frighten us. Amen, my friends.

Peace and blessings, Michele

I look forward to your thoughts and comments. It feels wonderful to connect with others who share a similar commitment to waking up and living life more fully alive. I want to learn from your experiences, and I hope what I write is of some help or comfort too.

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If you know of someone who might be interested in joining us in the Meadow, I would be so grateful if you shared this with them.