AKA Undressing Petunia, Part 5

Well that sucked.

Anyone following this nutcase journey of a recently unemployed, middle-aged woman restoring a vintage travel trailer knows these three things about me:

  1. I’m on a journey of reinventions: Petunia’s and mine
  2. I fell through the roof a few weeks ago
  3. I have more guts than brains

Falling through the roof was a bit of a low point in this journey. I didn’t get hurt, really, but losing that fight against gravity took any remaining fun out of this project.

I’d battled discouragement, frustration, sore bones and aching hands during the “undressing” of Petunia, as I took off her aluminum skin, piece-by-piece, to expose and repair the wood rot underneath.

In equal measure, I’ve experienced joy and deep fulfillment on this project.

While I was sitting on the floor of Petunia, however – having dropped through the roof whilst trying to drape on a tarp one night to shield her naked body from the coming storm – I was PISSED. And perhaps the teensiest bit embarrassed.

I certainly wasn’t calm about the whole thing. I’m not known for hanging out in the eye of the storm. You’ll typically find me on the extreme edges, flailing about and wreaking havoc on the land and its inhabitants.

I’m not usually hanging out in the calm eye of the storm. But I’m learning to navigate there.

But I’m learning to do better. I’m figuring out the hard way – like I do most things – that feelings aren’t facts. The emotions of the moment aren’t stuck to me like the pink linoleum tiles that were welded to Petunia’s floor. And I don’t have to say or do something about every feeling that rattles around my heart.

To help me navigate towards the calm eye of the storm, I’ve re-embraced the practice of mindfulness through meditation. The degree to which I can detach and witness the hurricane in my mind, is the same degree to which I can control it.

Someone once told me to take a deep breath and witness – with curiosity – where the emotion “lives” in my body. Sounds woo-woo, I know, but try it sometime! This practice has the ability to completely diffuse the overwhelming emotion. It’s weird, but I swear it works.

For me, emotions typically start in my gut, rise up through my heart and explode in my head.

20 minutes of meditation every morning is like doing pushups for my mind, helping me stay centered when emotions threaten to clobber me.

Breathing helps. When I can witness myself from this detached perspective, then I can consciously CHOOSE another, better emotion or state of mind.

Patience, for example. Forgiveness. Compassion. Trust.

It’s an ongoing process. It takes conscious effort and force of will. I think of it as doing pushups for my brain. The more I “workout” my mind this way, the stronger it gets. (And the fewer vases get broken. Just sayin’.)

I’m reminded of one of my favorite poets, who wrote:

Go to the limits of your longing… Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

This isn’t exactly what came to mind when I was sitting in a heap on the floor of the trailer that fateful night. But I’ve circled back to this notion over the weeks, during the dark night of the soul that followed. During which time I stopped writing anything, vacillated regularly between anger and tears, and ate buckets of ice cream.

The one thing I didn’t do, however, was give up. Not on Petunia, not on myself. We’re on this journey together, she and I. She, feisty and inscrutable and I: Up, down and endlessly optimistic.

But poor Petunia. She was left out in the harsh elements of the environment – without shelter or care – for 25 years. No wonder her bones creak and her heart is rusty.

We’re all subject to harsh elements from time to time. We live in an often tempestuous world, with hurricanes rising and falling, scraping across the landscapes of our hearts.

Which brings me back to mindfulness. One of the greatest gifts I have is my ability to choose better. So I choose forgiveness. Compassion. Trust.

I pick myself up off the floor. I navigate the dark nights of the soul, and learn to face – with some amount of dignity – the coming storms that are an inevitable part of life.

In equal measures with joy and deep fulfillment.

In doing so, I’ve discovered that I am more than I knew possible. And so are you.

Petunia is naked now. All the aluminum has been removed, cleaned and tucked into the garage. The old ratty fiberglass insulation is gone. New framing has replaced the old wood rot.

As recent winds and rain, smoke and fire has swept through Oregon, Petunia has been safely under wraps, snug under that unwieldy tarp and battened down with bungee chords.

Petunia’s thermal underwear: Lavender foam board insulation, measured and cut piece by unwieldy piece.

She needs new underwear, though. In her case: Foam board insulation in the color of lavender.

That project so far has been like building a 3-D puzzle with mind-boggling shapes and irregular measurements.

And if that doesn’t describe this journey, I don’t know what does!

And we press on, ever forward.

With that, I’ll close with Rilke’s poem, Go to the Limits of Your Longing, in full, sent from my creaky bones and rusty heart to you.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I 59