Category Archives: Poetry

Alone in the Cafeteria

Alone in the Cafeteria

Lonesome? Pull up a chair. This is for you.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You sit down. You open your brown paper bag hoping your mom didn’t go too heavy on the carrot sticks again. Next to the carrots and under the sandwich you find a brownie and a folded up note: I love you, sweetheart, it says.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You grow up and alone in the cafeteria changes clothes. Maybe it starts wearing hipper outfits. Maybe it starts only wearing clothes that won’t draw the eye. Or that always draw eyes. Maybe it only ever wears fancy suits. Maybe it would not be caught dead in a suit. Maybe it wears tents and mumus. Maybe it wears mini skirts that couldn’t be minier.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

Today you look around a potluck table. A lucky table it is, covered as it is with pots of this and plates of that, shamelessly eavesdropping on the laughing, the chatting, the music, and spying on the footsies, the winks, the tapping toes. Even though you just arrived, it likes you, this potluck table, and when it asks you to read something you wrote, you do. More, it says, laughing, read more.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You wake up early and find alone in the cafeteria camped out in your chest. You would kick it out but you know it would only come back tomorrow having changed its clothes. And since even in a new purple ruffle hopscotch bikini everyone knows alone in the cafeteria, today you say hello.

Anyone sitting here? it asks.

You are, you say, scooching over to make room.

(c) Heidi Fischbach, 2015

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Ask Heidi: care for a broken heart

Ask Heidi: care for a broken heart

A friend recently wrote me of her broken heart. She is crying every day –heart crushing sobs– and tells me that her tears have absolutely no regard for time of day or place where she might be. Earlier this summer she started trying to date other people but then stopped. She feels terrified of ever being in a relationship again: “I don’t think my heart can take it.”

What follows is my letter to my friend, who told me she’d love it if I shared it. We hope it will help another broken heart, maybe yours, maybe someone’s you know.

Have a question or a matter you would like me to write about here on my blog? Drop me a note by email or by using the “Dear Heidi” boxes located on my blog just to the right of this post.

My dear friend,

I feel for you. So much! What grief, whether from now or from way back when, though I imagine it’s some concentrated combination of both. How hard the cyclical experience of what you describe must be, that yearly repetition of ending and then beginning only to end again… So hard. No wonder you are feeling such pain, and, I imagine maybe even some stiff cocktail of emotions like anger, like despair, like who knows what all, for it certainly is hard to tease a whole tangle of heart-crushing and sob-inducing kinds of emotions apart.

It’s not about anyone being to blame, whether it is he for coming back and sleeping with you each fall only to break up with you again by summer, or you for going back to him each fall and being heartbroken again when he breaks up each summer. Our dear minds get some kind of momentary satisfaction from finding blame, but blame heals nothing for anyone and ultimately serves only to deflect from the thing that truly will help. The more useful and ultimately healing thing to wonder about, and the thing to bring every ounce of your energy to is this: how can I be with this now? Whatever is appearing, at any given heart-rending moment: how can I be with this now?

Maybe you close your eyes and feel and sense exactly how the whole heart-crush of it is in your body right now. Notice where it is. Maybe put your hand there and be with it in that way.

Sometimes when I have a hard time being with something —this is especially true for those very big emotion kind of things like what you are describing— I bring to mind people and beings, imagined or real (it doesn’t really matter) who would be able to be with it. These are people who would be incredibly compassionate and moved by what I am going through, though, ironically, they would also not be freaking out about it, not because they don’t care but because they have a bigger and wider perspective and probably they know something I don’t. Those are the people, in lonely and alone and heartbreaking moments, I bring to mind. Actually, I call it “channeling.” (I like to channel, among others, Tara Brach, Kuan Yin, Byron Katie, my therapist, my teacher and friend, Barbara. Sometimes, these days, I even channel an entire village-of-old wherein the elders take care of me. I do this when I don’t have it in me to take care of myself, and when the part that is upset feels so large it feels like the entirety of me.)

Related to the question “how can I be with this now?” it can also be very helpful to wonder: How would this [heart-broken part of me] like for me [or the people I am “channeling”] to be with it? And then pause and sense what kind of company it wants… Maybe it wants a very quiet kind of company. Maybe it wants a song. Maybe it wants to show you something. Maybe it wants to sit under a tree in the park.Maybe it will let you know it wants touch. Maybe it needs the metaphorical village curanderas to make a witchy brew for it. Maybe it wants to hear the beating of a thousand drums. Maybe it wants you —in your mind’s eye— to sit there right next to it where it can feel you. Maybe it wants you in the same room, nearby but not in direct sight… The point is, find out how IT would like you to be with it.

And don’t forget flesh-n-bones people, my friend. Let people help you. Let them know you need company. Let them know you need a cup of tea. Let them know you need a place to stay. And if tears come in barre class, so be it. Good for you for being at your beloved barre class. And if tears come in the grocery store, so be it. I remember once breaking down sobbing on the side of a street over yet-another-moment in something not unlike what it sounds you are going through. A woman came and asked if I was OK. She asked if there was someone she could call for me. She cared, and in that moment, I was not alone. The people who couldn’t handle it —a woman on the side of the street crying— didn’t come. The woman who could, did. Let the people who care and who can step up to help, help you, my friend. You are not alone.

It’s no wonder you are terrified of being in a relationship again. No wonder. Please know that your next relationship will come in its own good time. Not your time, not my time, but its good time. What a relief, isn’t it? Your next relationship will come when it comes, the timing of which you have no idea about now. Good about that. Its timing is simply not any of your business right now. Whew!

Of course something in you would, right now, be telling you how terrified it is about you being in a relationship again. Of course. Please know that its terror applies to now. Right now your heart can’t take even the thought of another relationship, and with good reason: look at the right now pain you are experiencing over the relationship which you are grieving right now. Try as best you can to resist extrapolating from your right now experience onto your future self. Now brings all you can handle and your only job is to take care of your now-heart right now. And when something in you now shows you pictures of your future-self not being able to handle another relationship, know that that is your now-self dressed in a future-self costume and take it as a signal to be with right-now-you. Resist the temptation to believe or disbelieve what the scared parts of you are saying, and the scary pictures of an imagined future they are projecting on the screen of your mind.

Just as right now brings all you can handle now, right now also bring all that you need right now.

Rumi comes to mind.

Every part of you has a secret language.
Your hands and your feet say what you’ve done.

And every need brings in what’s needed.
Pain bears its cure like a child.

Having nothing produces provisions.
Ask a difficult question,
and the marvelous answer appears.

Build a ship, and there’ll be water
to float it. The tender-throated
infant cries and milk drips
from the mother’s breast.

Be thirsty for the ultimate water,
and then be ready for what will
come pouring from the spring.

[This is a part of Rumi’s poem “Joy at Sudden Disappointment,” translated by Coleman Barks. I found it on page 169 of my beat up and dog-eared “The Essential Rumi.”]

Friend, you are much bigger than all of this. Some of the very upset parts of you are feeling difficult things so intensely that they seem extremely big, so big that it is tempting to believe that those parts ARE you. But you, my dear, are bigger, you are wider, you are older, you are wiser. How do I know? For you are noticing them. See if you can spread the biggest possible blanket for all the parts arising in you to be, to rest upon. For surely they want rest. You don’t have to fix them. You don’t have to make them go away. You don’t even have to heal them. Healing happens. Just spread the blanket and let them be there. They will surely also bring, as Rumi says, what’s needed.

And when some part or another in you expresses some great sense of urgency about needing you to do or fix or make some big decision right now? Notice and listen. Surely it wants relief and it wants you to be OK. Of course. Say, there you are, I see you, but don’t let your next movement be determined from that part, for it is limited and partial. Just be with it and listen. I say “just” not because it is necessarily easy to do, but rather because it is all you need to do. And, come to think, it is actually much easier than all the frantic kind of movement we of this age and time are used to watching transpire all around us. But we do not need to be at the beck and call of urgency.

A practical point, is there any way you can move out of his place? Even though he’s not in town for most of the year, I imagine that living in his place necessarily makes all of this —and ending the cycle you describe— much harder. It is very likely that moving out would shift things energetically. Maybe you move into somewhere temporarily, even just a month or two or three, while you take care and make space for your next place (of living) to become available… Remember that you can ask for help. Sometimes it is only in the asking, in the putting forth of our need, that the immediate next step becomes available. Asking is a powerful practice. Allow people to say yes. Remember, the ones who can’t handle the woman crying on the side of the street, won’t come. The ones who can, will. Give them, give you, that opportunity.

When can you come visit us again?

Thanks for the info on the swimming hole. Two and a half hours was, indeed, too far. The cabin we stayed in was magical. We will go back.

I send you all my love. Please let me know if I can help. If any of what I wrote did not fit or is not welcome, please just give it right back to me, for at the very least, maybe I needed to be reminded of everything I’ve told you.

Heidi



 

Dear blog reader,

Would you like company and guidance while you listen and sense into something difficult of your own? Would you like to learn to be with yourself in the ways I describe in this letter? You can book a session HERE. I work with people in-person at my office in Cambridge, Massachusetts and remotely, via Skype, FaceTime or phone.

Make an Online Appointment


A few of the people I “channel” have been  —not coincidentally— my most trusted teachers over the years. In particular the following three offer a powerhouse of wisdom and support:

  • Tara Brach | Insight Meditation Teacher who has taught me to sit still in an intentional way (some people call this meditation) and how to be with what, then, arises. I adore her. Her podcasts are excellent, free, and always uncannily pertinent.
  • Barbara McGavin and Ann Weiser Cornell at Focusing Resources | Barbara and Ann have turned Gene Gendlin’s Focusing into a very learnable process with immediate implications for how we relate to ourselves –and all our parts– as well as to the people in our world. Focusing is a process of listening to the body and being with hard things, big or little. Some of my hardest and most stuck inner places of struggle have changed as a result of listening and being with myself in this way.
  • Byron Katie | When I am stressed out, there is at least one untrue thought I am assuming to be true. Before I notice that I am in the grips of a stressful thought or story, I am at its mercy. But when I meet that thought with the kindness of inquiry, it has a way of unraveling. I never know exactly what will come of asking Byron Katie’s questions, but invariably I end up in a place less stressful, at the very least, and sometimes my eyes are opened to possibilities that turn my stressworld on its head.

Until next time, take care of your dear self and remember to ask for help if you need it.

Heidi

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Volver a los 17. A translation.

One of my favorite songs of all time was written by the late Chilean poet Violeta Parra and made famous by the now-also-late belovèd Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa, who was affectionately known as “la negra”. This song makes me incredibly homesick: homesick for Chile, homesick for Latin America, and homesick for smells and sounds I can only, maybe, find in dreams. It even makes me homesick for places I’ve never actually been. (Honey, I think we call that last one “longing.”)

Over the years, I’ve played “Volver a los 17” a few times for people —usually lovers at that point in the relationship when they show you theirs and you show them yours (I’m talking music, people, music!) — who don’t speak Spanish. Invariably I end up feeling tongue-tied and rather inept at the prospect of simultaneously translating its rapidly flowing metaphors, and certainly not without detracting from the melody and the kick-your-heels-up Chilean folk-dance (“la cueca”) rhythm, which the song springs into every time the chorus comes around.

So usually I just end up mumbling something about how it’s about going back to being 17, and then I sigh and drift off to a nebulous place of homesickness and longing for the length of the song.

But, back to now…

Finally and actually having given its translation a whirl, if you were my lover today and it was my turn to show you mine I’d tell you that yes, it’s a song about going back for yourself at 17. But also it’s about the moment —so fragile and powerful at once— and about how an instant can change everything. Also I’d tell you that while the whole thing is about love, it’s not about the shiny and brand spanking new ‘oooh baby I’m so in love with you’ kind of love that seems to get all the airwaves’ coverage, but rather the giant and gnarly kind that we actually end up living, the kind that includes the shiny bits, sure, but no less of the heartache-y dark stretches between the shine. Also? I’d tell you that there are many words and turns of phrase whose beauty get lost in translation, if they can be translated at all.

I tried to translate the poem in a way that allows you to read in English to the meter of the Spanish verse, so you can, if roughly, actually sing along. A few times I favored that kind of flow and meaning over literal accuracy. I press “publish” with a bow of apology to Violeta Parra for what is lost in translation.

One last thing… I chose this YouTube version of the song not for its recording quality but because of the gorgeous energy of these five belovèd Latin American singers: Mercedes Sosa, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento and Gal Costaand. There are many heart-melty moments –many!– but my favorite might be when Caetano softly reaches for a high note and finds his voice cracking (at about minute 1:35 or so).

Volver a los 17 (Violeta Parra)

Returning to being seventeen
after living through a century
is like deciphering signs
without advantage of wisdom
to be suddenly once again
as fragile as one second
to feel things as intensely
as a child in front of God,
that’s what it feels like for me
in this fertile instant

Chorus:
Gathering moss so the stone rolls
like a thick ivy on the wall
sprouting and sprouting so it grows
like tender moss covering a stone
like tender moss on a stone ay sí sí sí.

The steps I take all go backwards
while its steps continue advancing
the arch of our alliances
has penetrated my nest
in all its colorful swagger
it’s taken a walk down my veins
and even the hardest of chains
that destiny uses to bind us
is like the finest of diamonds
that lights up my calm soul

What feeling can bring about
knowledge never could,
nor the clearest course of action
nor the grandest of all our thoughts.
Everything is changed by a moment
like an affable magician,
it sweetly steers us away
from bitterness and from violence
only love with its science
turns us into such innocence.

Love is a swirling whirlwind
of primal purity
even the wildest of animals
will whisper and trill its sweetness,
it stops pilgrims in their travels,
it liberates those imprisoned,
love, with the tenderest of touches,
turns the old (wo)man into a child
and only the most loving care
turns bad into pure and sincere.

Eventually the window
was flung open as if by enchantment,
and love entered with its blanket
to give cover like a warm morning
to the sound of its lovely reveille
it made jasmine burst into bloom,
and taking flight like an angel
it hung earrings upon the heavens
and my years of 17
were transformed by the cherubim.

[Translation (c) Heidi Fischbach, 2014]

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