The phone rang this morning somewhere between measuring out pills for the dog and dressing Captain’s wound.  “RED ALERT!” woooop!  woooop!  wooop!  (The ringtone for my parents is the Star-Trek battle alarm)  I turned off the ringer, having learned decades ago that buying myself a few moments to prepare for whatever is about to fall in my lap is well worth the delay.

Message: “They’re coming for your father with the ambulance.  We’ll be at St. Alban’s.  I’ll probably need an ambulance myself.  Just thought you should know.”


Rather than return the call, I phoned the nurse at the retirement home to get the scoop.  I asked her to relay to my parents that I’d meet them at the hospital.

I’m quite sure that the color drained out of my face and puddled on the floor.  The Sunday of “rest” that I had promised myself was about to become the Sunday of fear.  Breathe…

When my father is stressed, his memory becomes very poor and he can become quite mean and belligerent.  That’s probably normal at 91, but it certainly brings flashbacks.  And she…  she loves a good crisis.  What if he dies?  I’d need to postpone feeling anything at all about that, and rally all the strength in the world to deal with her screaming and carrying on.  I’d rather have my skin peeled off.

Breathe….  Breathe from deep in the belly.  This is only thinking.  I’m still safe, here at the farm.  The horses need to be fed.  One foot in front of the other to the barn.  BE. HERE. NOW.  The squeak of a stall door.  The smell of hay.  The white goo of the antibiotic cream for Captain’s leg.  The wound is warm and rough to the touch.  “Easy, Darlin’,” I whisper.  “I’m right here (and I am) and I won’t hurt you.”

Back in the house, throwing on a blouse and clean jeans, the walls start closing in, and I dash to the window to inhale the summer green.  I observe the pounding of my heart in my ears, the light-headedness, the clenched muscles, and consciously relax.  Picking up a horse shoe from the table by the window, I feel it’s heaviness, its hardness, its coolness – these things ground me, for a moment.

Shoes?  Wallet?  Keys?  One last sip of coffee, heavily laced with adrenaline and cortisol, and I crawl woodenly into the car.  A one hour drive is a long way on twisty back roads, longer still when you’re fighting dizziness and the overwhelming urge to dissociate.

Turn up the radio!  Roll down the windows!  This helps.

I’m watching all of this, observing it, allowing it.  “Don’t run away!  Be here, in this moment, with the fear.  There are countless people in your position at this very moment.  This is the human condition and the great soup of life.  You aren’t special.”

As I watch my body screaming out warnings, I send out waves of strength and solidarity to all who are afraid at this moment.  And simultaneously, I’m just driving – driving on a country road on a Sunday morning.  May all beings know happiness.  May all beings be free from suffering.  “We can do this.”  I say aloud.

Ultimately, it was all rather uneventful.  He was released.  She behaved herself remarkably well.  I drove them home, then I drove home, feeling like I’d been run over by a bus.

Why all the fuss?  Well, this is PTSD.  Despite one’s best efforts, the mind and nervous system insist that you are in an earlier place and time, and they react and respond accordingly.  It’s a little like being stuck in a nightmare from which you cannot awaken (or perhaps a nightmare through which you can awaken).  No amount of deep breathing helps, any more than “putting your past behind you”.  It’s just what you have to work with.

I have found one tiny crack in the PTSD monster’s armor though – one tiny place for some air to get in: (whispering) I don’t believe in it.  The body can spew whatever chemicals it wants to.  I’m going to keep breathing.  I’ll sit with the terror.  I’ll hold its hand.  I’ll do whatever it takes, but I do my best to stay present and observe, in compassion, what’s happening rather than buying into the story line and fanning its flames.

Sometimes, I succeed.  Sometimes not.  I do my best to have compassion for that too, when I can.

It’s suppertime.  Time to start the evening routine of pills for the dog and horse care.  There’s a summer storm rolling in.  Thunder rumbles to the west.  The air is thick with heat and rain.  “May all beings be free from suffering…


72 Comments on “Mindfulness: The Graduate Program

  1. Yes…May all beings be free from suffering. There must be solace, dear Zen, in knowing you have a whole community of people silently listening

  2. How beautiful the awareness to send out compassion for all who may be afraid in the same moment! I tucked “I don’t believe in it” in my metaphysical pocket! Hope the poop shoveling helper arrived 🙂 Peace to you – grateful for your sharing!

  3. So sorry to hear you are going through such a difficult time. And for your wonderful description of what its like when we are taken over by fear and how to just keep breathing and knowing that we can get through it and be there for others, physically and energetically while we are also suffering. And good to hear your Mum and Dad also survived the day, in their own ways.

  4. there is a small prayer from St. Julian of Norwich–I kept it on my desk at school…
    “all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well”
    May all things be well with you……………..

    • Thank you, onemindful. I wrote this post for a friend who is having a really hard time. I hope she’ll see it, and see herself in it. I’m so very glad that you saw something good in this post. It’s meant to convey hope.

  5. A stressful time, hope it’s got some stablity now. ‘This is only thinking.’ Thanks for reminding me how effective it can be to notice this.

    • Thank you, tiramit. There’s a gentle rain soaking the earth today. Things are always quieter with rain. Slept very well last night listening to it. So, feeling restored.

  6. Brave and beautiful post. I too have found that being able to stay present enough to connect compassionately with others who are having a similar experience is a very effective way of grounding in a crisis, as well as being kind and gentle enough with myself that I only ask me to get through it – nothing more. I don’t ask myself for miracles or extras, just do what needs to be done to get through. Thanks for sharing this, and blessings to your friend too, with whom you wrote it in mind. I’m glad your dog is there, taking her meds.

    • “I don’t ask myself for miracles or extras…” That’s beautiful advice, harula. There IS something incredibly grounding about connecting with others who are in the same boat. Good to know that you do that too. peace to you…

  7. Dear Zen, I think you must have written this for me, your handling of panic, fear and control under extreme stress, has been my life for a couple of years with ambulance journeys every couple of months, then my beloved son home again. You have written it out, something I couldn’t do, couldn’t bring myself to go through it again, and again, putting each time behind me. I am grateful for your very real account of how the body goes into auto-pilot of panic, and how we manage to pull back and say, I don’t believe in it, all will be well, whatever happens, all is well, here, now. This is the only way I can manage to take the action necessary each time. Bless you Zen Doe, bless your parents, your friend, and all who need it.

  8. ((( Native ))) It’s heartbreaking that you have these ambulance rides so often. All my love to you. Stay strong, mom. Part of me (a big part) didn’t want to write such a downer of a post, but I took the risk, thinking that someone might see themselves in it. Each of us in our own way… This is life.

  9. Lovely, lovely post. Amazing how the past can sometimes have us by the throat. And I think you’re right: best to give our PTSD a hug. Peace, John

    • John, thank you for your kindness. I like the imagery of giving our ptsd a hug. Over the course of the years, I’ve tried punching its lights out, ignoring it, and burying it. None of that helped a bit!

  10. Beautiful and heart-wrenching. Your entry brought back the memories of dealing with my parents. The feelings one experiences were described with excruciating accuracy.

    Many calming hugs for having dealt with this and for all of you having gotten through this incident!

  11. You made it through. I hope that each time, and yes, there will be many more, you make it through with a little less stress. Keep practicing.

  12. Oh! I was so with you on that drive to the hospital. My Mom is 96 and I have made that drive in fear and trembling more times than I care to count! Glad your parents are okay and hope your patients at home are improving. May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free of fear.

  13. Thank you thank you thank you thank you… more of that won’t make it more clear,will it? 🙂 ‘Mindfulness’…sounds so easy sometimes, and it just isn’t always. I found myself panting along with your stress…feeling it…’PTSD’…yes, yes it is what it is… and sometimes that’s god damned hard. You got through the day, though, and it wasn’t so bad…says so, there at the end… and strangely, I am crying, not from fear or sadness, but from relief… and not even my own… lol. So much to learn. Thank you for taking time to share, and to teach. 😀

    • Oh, E.H., THANK YOU for posting this. Gathering you up in a huge (oh-so-gentle) hug. We’re all gonna make it.

  14. Thanks for this. You have the gift of making others realize they are not alone in their suffering and that is so comforting….like someone resting their hand on your shoulder and you know its going to be ok. I love your posts.

    • I’m so glad that you find something soothing here. That’s why I write. Thanks for your beautiful words.

  15. PTSD awareness month, and I never knew! It’s from reading your posts that I’ve come to understand what it is when sometimes I feel like I’m The Incredible Hulk – when I lose my grip on reality and turn into something monstrous and out of control for what looks like almost no reason. Thank you. Understanding helps!
    Two things: Captain seems accident prone? And, are you sure that having the Startrek battle alert is the right choice for that particular ringtone?! !

    • Vet thinks Captain cast himself and tore up his leg with his own hooves trying to get up. Last time he was hurt, one of the mares kicked him in the head. Oy…

      Yeah, the battle alert is a bit much, but it gets my attention and tells me NOT to answer the phone. LOL!

  16. You know these words are precious diamonds with which you break through our darkness and heal us:

    I’d need … all the strength in the world to deal with her screaming and carrying on. I’d rather have my skin peeled off.

    … fighting dizziness and the overwhelming urge to dissociate.

    It’s a little like being stuck in a nightmare from which you cannot awaken (or perhaps a nightmare through which you can awaken).

    • “Awakening through the nightmare” and awakening though a lovely sunset are not so different.

      Thank you for your sweet encouragement.

  17. Wholly smokes, when it rains it pours for you doesn’t it. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I was reading this. I am glad you remembered to breathe, I think I might of held my breath until I dropped. The most amazing thing to me is that all through this you managed to be so eloquently articulate. Man, NICE writing! “The great soup of life”..I love it. Take care Zen Doe the sun will shine again for you…..cheers..

    • Thanks for the encouragement, WTF. Yep, the sun will shine again. It’s shining now. I just can’t quite see it! 😉

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