Before the internet I lived alone in a little cottage with 3 Siamese cats. A family of possums lived under the front porch and raccoons used to visit the backyard nightly to drink from a bucket of standing water in the garden.
I read lots and lots of books, drew and painted, cultivated a large herb and vegetable garden, and never watched the nightly news. I lived there for 5 years and they were the happiest 5 years of my life.
A couple of weeks ago I injured my lower back at the gym and soon after discovered that I could no longer sit for long periods of time at my computer desk without incurring a great deal of pain and stiffness. This coincided with a growing realization that I have forgotten much of what I had learned and the wisdom I had acquired during my time at the cottage – which now feels like a weary million years ago. I wanted to engage with that feeling of happiness and contentment again.
I’ve been spending some time lately thinking back to my years at the cottage – trying to decipher why I was so happy then, and what has changed in the ensuing years. Obviously not having the internet 24/7 news cycle was one very important point. But it was more than that.
When I lived at the cottage I reconnected with my childhood self in a way that I had never done before or since. It was during my time there that I wrote and illustrated my Children’s book, WIllowMouse.
As a young child I spent most of my time playing alone in the forests of the Adirondack mountains. I was an only child and my parents, who suffered from a combination of mental illness and alcoholism, rarely spent any time with me. I was left, for the most part, to wander and play in the forest during good weather and in the harsh winter months I would play up in my room, coloring and drawing, making up stories about all my little plastic animals and people. My play time was often interrupted by the screaming and yelling of my parents fighting downstairs. Although I was never physically abused I never felt safe or particularly wanted. We were the only ones who lived on the lake year-round, as my Father was a bush-pilot, so there were no neighbors to speak of. My only interaction with other children came when I attended the one room schoolhouse in a nearby town – if I recall correctly the town’s population was 12. I do remember our phone number from that time was 315.
I often joke with people, when talking about my young childhood, that I was a feral child raised by chipmunks. (Actually not too far from the truth)
I did know very early on ( maybe 3 or 4) that I was in the wrong body and I also knew there were no words for it and no one to tell had there been words for it. This “knowing” culminated in a series of 22 suicide attempts that began at the age of 9 and ended when I was 25.
My time living at the cottage was where I healed all of that. Where I reached-back across the years and held that little suicidal child – and became my own best version of a loving parent. It became the demarcation point where childhood pain ended and my life as a complete, fully formed adult began.
There is an exquisite feeling I cannot describe to you. A feeling I first felt as that little child alone in the forest – and felt again while living in the cottage. It is partly a knowing, partly a surrender, partly an acknowledgment. In a 1927 letter to Sigmund Freud, Romain Rolland coined the phrase “oceanic feeling” to refer to “a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling of “being one with the external world as a whole.” I think that best describes it.
The only way to access that feeling is to pull-back focus, away from all the external chatter, away from all the internal chatter, all the way back … to that of a young child experiencing the forest for the first time without benefit of social overlays. To surrender the ego’s need for control and pull focus all the way back, away from the mental/emotional chatter to get to that internal oasis of peace – the soul. To view life from this vantage point alters everything and its side effect is that “oceanic feeling.”
This is what I learned at the cottage. This is what I forgot over all the years since. This is what I am remembering once again.
Until next time …