Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More from the archives: Exercise in remembering.

This is the last of the old myspace stuff that I'm saving. It is interesting to go back and see how much has changed and how much remains the same, to be reminded of where I was when.  

Monday, December 25, 2006  
A Christmas Prayer for All of Us
Current mood:  awake
On this beautiful morning, many celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Whether you accept him as the redeemer of humankind or not, there is something to be gained through contemplation of his example. As you reflect upon his birth—may you be renewed by his Spirit of Love and Compassion, both in thought and deed. May it move you to a new commitment to serve your fellow humans as he did—regardless of creed, race, or social status. May it put peace and forgiveness in your heart, free it of hatred and judgment, and open it wide.

This holiday season, I pray for you to be moved by the example of Jesus, to live free of hatred, to give of yourself to others, to not think of "the less fortunate," but of your brothers and sisters in need—for we are all in need of each other. Jesus showed us the miracle and the power of a higher Love. Let that Love fill you today, and stay with you all the year through. Let the "Second Coming" come through you by your acts of service and love to all Creation.

The world does truly fill me with wonder, humble me, and fill me with gratitude. Jesus' story for me is a story of radical Love, of a man whose heart was stretched so wide, that one might come to see him as divine—we often give that word to things which inspire awe in us or that, in their greatness, seem beyond this world. But many "divine" things happen on this Earth. Each day new things grow, death is resurrected in to life, a broken heart is healed, one hand reaches for another, asking nothing in return. In this spirit of wonder, humility, Love, and gratitude, I wish you a joyous Christmas day.
9:47 AM

 Friday, December 17, 2004
Awake too late again...
Current mood:  discontent

It is early Friday morning. I'm restless. I'm tired. I'm not taking the drugs that are supposed to make me sleep b/c to take enough to make me sleep makes me want to sleep like 12 hours, and who has time for that...not that my recent days have been pictures of productivity, but when I wake up after 9 AM, I feel like the day just slips through my fingers in seconds.

I'm in therapy, and I don't like it. I don't think that you are really supposed to "like" it. Thankfully I'm not being reborn or uberanalyzing whether my mommy loved me enough for some critical fifteen minutes when I was four and a half, or talking to pillows representing my father about my abandonment issues, but the task at hand is not easy nor pleasant. Who the hell wants to acknowledge the sh*t that is f*cked up about themselves, let alone go about trying to change it after you've spent 30 years getting good at it?

My instinct is to bolt, but we all know that doesn't work because you take yourself with you. This is why the drug addicts are on to something--they run away and leave themselves behind. Suicide is always effective, but you know, there are strings attached to that one too.

It's these early days that are the most ambivalent--on the one hand you are presented with an opportunity to radically change your life in a way that promises to be most positive. On the other hand, it hurts like hell. It feels overwhelming. The path back you know too well--that suffering has been had. The path forward is to the unknown, but first you have to walk over the hot coals to get to the sharp rocks to get to the smoother gravel to get to the soft grass. And that really is the way it is.

A therapist who will remain unnamed says: "The way out of hell is acceptance. The catch is that the ladder is aluminum, and each rung burns until you get far enough away from the fire." So I have to keep lurching forward...despite the overwhelming desire to...not.

So here I am, trying to stay the path. Forgive me if I seem a little weird. I feel a little weird, and it wasn't the Kool-aid.
    Currently listening: Martin + Me by J Mascis
4:08 AM

Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Current mood:  relaxed
The snow hangs in the air like floating feathers from some great cosmic pillow fight. The sun peeks through from time to time brightening up the whitening world outside my window, and I am left in the glorious peace of solitude. I just finished a seemingly never-ending and rather arduous job. My body is reverberating from the work, and my mind is relieved. A long list of thing that might be done scrolls through my head, but none of them have any staying power, save the making of coffee and food. My brain feels scattered, but not in a stressful way. Time to go wander...

Currently listening: Lost in Revelry by Mendoza Line
6:47 PM

Monday, December 13, 2004
Another late Sunday night
Sunday creeps in to Monday and I find myself here instead of in bed with the man who is supposed to be my lover. But here I sit...pondering. The wind is rattling my window despite having shut the storm windows weeks ago when the temperatures started to drop. There was talk of snow on the TV news this evening--perhaps tomorrow we'll wake up inside a little snowglobe and perhaps we'll be enchanted, if even for a moment. Sometimes even when you know you should sleep, you just don't want to. Tonight it is not the dread that tomorrow brings, it is just the heaviness of my brain. I need to box up the excess and put it on the shelf for awhile until I am ready to deal with it. We can only do that which we can do. And what doesn't get done, doesn't get done, and that is just the way things are. "I beg you...to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer..." (Rainer Maria Rilke) Living in the moment... If you fail to give your attention to that which is in front of you at the moment, you will lose the moment at hand--its opportunities, its lessons, its joys, its sadness. The problem with being "lost in your thoughts" is that the information you have about the situation at hand won't be accurate. You will forever be dwelling on that which was or that which might be, but all of those moments shall be empty too because you didn't stop to attend to the now. The past will continue to be created and the future will come, but now is only here for a fleeting moment, and focusing on it will increase the liklihood that this moment can be effective. The mind begins to bend to body's will, and to bed I shall go, hoping to take my own advice and lay my burdens down before pulling up the covers around me. Namasté

Monday, November 22, 2004
Peer pressure.
Current mood:Quiet
It is late on a Sunday night. I should already be in bed, but I'm chatting with a friend and letting the disappointment of a much-anticipated weekend dissipate. Is it truly promises unfulfilled that create this feeling, or is it the cause of too lofty expectations? It is funny how when we do not want to do what we must the next day, we drag our feet like small children asking for a glass of water, then another story, and another trip to the bathroom...constantly postponing turning off the light and resting, no matter how tired we might be. So here I sit. It is late on a Sunday night. I should already be in bed, but there are things awaiting me in the morning that I do not wish to face. And so, with no mommy to pester, nor a daddy to tell me "That's enough! Time for bed!" I sit here typing at my computer as the minutes slip by. I have to, for my mental health, practice mindfulness. Some of you are not fortunate to be as damaged as I am, and thus you do not need to practice mindfulness, or you at least do not need to be so mindful of your practice. On the one hand, I'm certain most of you who are unaware of this fact about your lives, would be pretty pleased with yourselves were it to be brought to your attention. On the other hand, many of you are ill and do not know what ails you, nor what it is that might help you. I, however, am fortunate enough to know that I am damaged goods, and, as such, I have to give a goodly amount of attention to my life. My mental well-being cannot tolerate the abuse and stress that some of yours can. I must attend to my physical health, as well as my mental, because health is a holistic state--all aspects are interconnected. I also know that mindful living is the lynchpin to acheiving and maintaining this health. Thus, I am forced to draw myself into the here and now, in to this moment, to give it all my attention and my love. To be no where else. What do I get out of such a way of life? Aside from a chance to remain alive, it means a chance to live in a way that many others will never even think about let alone attempt. Yet all of us can do it. It requires no membership, no initiation fee. No special equipment, no textbook. You came with all the parts you needed when you arrived in this earth. Not that I'm particularly good at this yet. Just trying to keep my brain in today is hard enough, let alone attending to one thing at a time. Especially in this broadband multi-task world we live in, to disconnect a bit, step back, and pay attention to what we are doing instead of using every moment to think about the next seven moments ahead...it's not easy. But a lot of rewarding things aren't. Welcome to my journey.
4:02 AM

 Sunday, September 26, 2004
Consciousness in the loony bin.
I feel like I am walking through the shadow of a dream I once dreamt, but somehow I know this is my life and it is supposed to be real. Reality, however, seems a lot more fluid in between the crevices of my cracked skull.

Here I am in the thirty-second year of my existence, and all that I have known, and the seeming pointlessness of it all comes to a head in what? a revelation? I don't have any sense of an oncoming epiphany, but if this drudgery is all there is, then what is the point?

People say that this is not how it is supposed to be, and I believe them, and take their drugs, and do all the things that "I'm supposed to," but it still feels like playing Russian Roulette with my neurochemistry.

But here's the kicker, guys--even if you ARE right, and I feel like this because of some bloody neurotransmitter getting too happy in the wrong receptor--if you can't fix it, is life worth living? I can know that existence is not despair, but if I can't ever feel it, then put this dog to sleep!

More of this, less of that...there goes my job, fluttering away like a napkin snatched from the sticky fingers of a child eating ice cream on a windy Spring day. I am the ragged old lady on the park bench that no one wants to sit near--looking just a bit too shifty for other people's comfort--little do they realize that the shiftiness is my own discomfort in my skin, not any simmering malice toward mankind...though I suppose on somedays I am a bit misanthropic.

They put people in solitary confinement as a punishment, as a form of torture. What if being in your own brain feels like that--like solitary confinement. Yes, we are all separate from the rest, each of us never truly able to know another due to the limits of space and time, not able to crawl into another's body, mind, soul, and feel as he does, know as she does, think as another does...but there are times of connection--I have often watched, and occasionally felt that sense of knowing with another. But now I just feel alone inside my skull, running 'round and 'round and 'round and 'round and 'round....
11:54 PM

Friday, September 17, 2004

I need to see more movies.
And read more books. How does one do it, really? How do you manage to go to work for 8 hours a day, keep your house together, get your chores done, keep your sanity, keep your friends' sanity, look after your family, tend to your garden, listen to music, follow the news, keep in touch, stay healthy, eat your veggies and exercise? More than anything, I need to paint my office, so that I can get my office out of my dining room. It will only shortly after be replaced by my kitchen, but we can call that progress. *smirk* I'm trying to be a better Buddhist, but I don't even have time to read the book that tells me how, let alone to practice. I mean, I know the time is there, but the concentration isn't. I keep trying to pull it together, but it feels like it takes a strength I currently lack, and without a sangha it is hard to know how to gather it. I've been thinking about philosophy lately, most likely because I've crossed paths with another philosopher... I can feel the evil tug of the sickly Muse. Mike--you are right, she is a cruel mistress. I keep my back firmly turned to the Ivory Tower, though I climb its stairs each day. The inside of my skull feels shattered, and it makes me want to break on through to the other side, and then help comes from the most unlikely of places. I thank you, dear. You did so much more than you realize. So many things tugging at my skirt. I try to remain placeful, but I feel myself being moved inches in all directions...going nowhere, but never sitting still.
1:32 AM

More from the archives: Softening.

(Originally posted to myspace Friday, February 03, 2006)
Current mood:  tired
Category: Religion and Philosophy

We try so hard to hang on to the teachings and "get it," but actually the truth sinks in like rain into very hard earth. The rain is very gentle, and we soften up slowly at our own speed. But when that happens, something has fundamentally changed in us. That hard earth has softened. It doesn't seem to happen by trying to get it or capture it. It happens by letting go; it happens by relaxing your mind, and it happens by the aspiration and the longing to want to communicate with yourself and others. Each of us finds our own way.

--Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are
I have been learning the truth of this in my yoga practice.  I often find that the best way to reach my mind is through my body.  I have been doing a "gentle yoga" practice, which, on the surface may seem "easier" than a basic yoga practice, but what I have come to really enjoy about it is the depth of the practice.  I have been learning to let go.  To trust my body to do its job and hold me up.  The bizarre irony is that when I let go of my muscles, stop trying to control everything, gravity and bone are there to hold me, their presence revealed as though someone abruptly pulled back a curtain.

When my muscles are grabbing they are not working.  They are tense, rigid, imbalanced, unfocused.  My legs and arms shake, fear enters.  But then, with the gentle guidance of my teacher, I learned to direct energy through my legs, engaging the muscles without causing them to grab.  Directing my weight through my bones and into the ground.  Grounded.  Stable.  Strong.  Fearless--even though falling is still certainly an option.

This doesn't happen all the time, but the "a-ha!" moments have started to come more often, and some difficult poses have become more relaxed.

More importantly, what I have gotten out of this class is the ability to begin with the body that I have, as it is, with gratitude for its strength and compassion for that which is does not do so well.  Learning this has been the greatest gift to my soul.  The ability to sit and be where I am--no expectations, no judgments.  Those who know me know my critical mind--it is exactly what you want when editing a paper, but it is a formidable enemy when turned inward.  A sentence can have perfect grammar, but not a human life.

Finding balance in Warrior poses, figuring out how to "engage my arms" in Bridge pose--"use your arms for support"--letting go of my lower back and trusting my legs to hold me--learning in a tangible way that I am supported.  Even with all its imperfections, my body holds me up.  Bends and reaches as best it can when I ask it.  Treating it with gentleness and compassion has begun to soften it.

And so the triceps and quadriceps teach the mind to soften, to let go, to ask nicely--to let the rain sink in, slow and deep.

More from the archives: talking too much; rumpelstiltskin.

Interesting to come across this again. So much still rings so true, and sorting it out continues to be a struggle...
At times, one of the most difficult things about living with a poorly understood illness like fibromyalgia (FM) is figuring out how to be sick in a healthy world. In her book You Are Not Your Illness, Linda Noble Topf explains how illness has a way of exaggerating our sense of "being different from others, of being special or unworthy, and of ultimately being separate and alone." Nevertheless, the experience of feeling connected to others is vital to both our physical and mental well-being. 
The sense of isolation people with FM may feel is exacerbated by the fact that our illness is invisible. As FM sufferers, most of us have probably heard the phrase, "But you don't look sick!" more times than we can count. Even when intended as a compliment, this simple statement can touch off a cascade of emotions: anger, confusion, shame, and self-doubt. It seems that no matter how long we've lived with FM, innocent comments like this from friends and strangers alike have the potential to touch a wound that at times feels surprisingly raw. 

Often the question people with FM most dread hearing from a friend or acquaintance is "How are you?" This seemingly innocuous ritual of polite conversation can be fraught with complexity and emotion for FM sufferers. We may long for the days when we could reply, "Fine thanks," without a second thought; but when overwhelming pain, fatigue, or other symptoms render us vulnerable and disheartened, this simple response may feel like a lie.
We might find ourselves trying to justify our activity restrictions or insisting on the severity of our symptoms—after which we may feel guilt or anxiety about being seen as "complainers." Desperately wishing we weren't sick, yet wanting clear signs of illness to validate our experience, we're left with a sense of confusion and self-doubt. It can be difficult to know how to act because we're caught between contradictory wishes: wanting to appear normal and wanting to be understood.
Many of us have always prided ourselves on being self-sufficient achievers. With the onset of FM, we may have to rely on others in new ways; it can be difficult to acknowledge these needs to ourselves, let alone communicate them to others. We may feel deficient, embarrassed, or frightened; perhaps we're afraid others will be resentful of our neediness or that they cannot understand.
I'm not adjusting to my "new normal" with much grace and aplomb.  I fight--mean and nasty, yet knowing that, ultimately, I'm the one who will lose. I don't want to talk about it, but I want you to understand.  And the friction from that Catch-22 is a constant source of irritation.

Yet, still I rise. If all those who have ever accused me of being whiny, miserable, or negative knew how much optimism is required for me to get out of bed every day, maybe they'd be the ones shutting up.

(Originally posted on myspace Tuesday, May 01, 2007)
talking too much.
Current mood:  tired
Category: Life

"You looking good," said Sethe.
"Devil's confusion. He lets me look good  long as I feel bad," said Paul D.

---From Beloved by Toni Morrison

Fibromyalgia & Friendship by Lisa Lorden Myers

This article talks a little about the difficulties of dealing with invisible illnesses and other people. I've been talking about what it's like to live in my body lately because of getting the diagnosis, reading more, trying to figure out what this thing is, what it is tied to (apparently everything) and trying to make sense of my experience. Not to mention the fact that I've been in a lot of pain.

I've suffered a long time, with no explanation. After 25 years, someone named my torment. No, I haven't talked about it much--what was the point? I just look like a cranky whiner anyway. I'm "negative," "irritable," "flaky," whatever the adjective du jour is...

So, I'll shut up again in short order, because people don't want to be bombarded with "bad news," even if that is the daily paper of your life.

(Originally posted on myspace on Thursday, April 19, 2007)
Current mood:  tired
Category: Life

Like the queen seeking to save her young child, I have scoured the countryside trying to find the name of my tormentor. One week ago a man gave name to the pain I have lived with for over 25 years. Unlike the queen, I was not delighted to discover the appellation of that which has eluded me for so long. A first, I found myself descending into despair, as though I was being sucked through a whirlpool. I told myself that this feeling made no sense—this name changes nothing—if anything, it offers hope.

I shake, but the tendrils of despair cling to me.

I cannot accurately describe my emotional state—nothing quite hits it spot on. I want to know everything. I feel stuck in the fog of war. I feel wounded in a different way than I have all of these years. I feel vindicated, but with no sense of victory. I feel weary, and as though I am at the base of a mountain that must be scaled. I feel at once alone and as though I want no company.

I keep telling myself that in a name there is hope, but I have yet to feel that hope in my soul.

One worth saving -- The depths.

Originally posted on myspace on Monday, October 08, 2007  

The depths.
Current mood:  contemplative
Category: Life

My body has always been a very instructive tool. It will tell me things I will not tell myself--plunge me into places I do not wish to tread.  No therapist could ever hope to be half as effective. Today, as I lay on the mat in physical therapy, my body slowly being crushed by the frigid air conditioning to the point that I wanted to both throw up and cry--I went there. To that place behind the hard spot. I was forced to sit in the soft space beneath my carapace, feeling all the emotions that came from that moment of helplessness and despair.

I don't let anyone into this space. There are a few people with whom I can be when I'm here. They never try to get in. They just let me be. Sit with me until I can come back. Their quiet presence makes me feel safe, like I won't get lost. Some of them don't even know that is what they are doing.

The body knows everything, stores everything. The brain is good at disconnecting from the body, ignoring it's pleas for attention, pushing it to perform in ways sometimes good, sometimes damaging. All of the emotions we experience do not just shoot through our hearts and souls--they shoot through our muscles and bones. Especially the ones that do not make it to, or that are rejected by, the brain.

Whenever we mindfully and consciously delve into the body, whether to repair it, tone it, build it, master it, we find ourselves faced with everything we've stored in there. The less mindfully you've been living otherwise, the more shocked you may be.

It sometimes feels like I can't get through that hard spot inside me; my body reminds me I can, however, get underneath it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How do you relax?

The Pittsburgh Center for Complementary Health & Healing and it's webdesign company, Plumb Media, are having a contest to win a free one-hour massage. To enter, you have to tell them how you love to relax using a variety of methods.

There are a number of things that I do to relax.  My initial response was that I go down into the Nine Mile Run restoration area and walk or bike or just sit.  Sometimes I take a camera to document what I see, sometimes a notebook for my thoughts. Sometimes I take nothing and I just rest in the world and am free.

Sometimes, especially if my body is a mess, a yoga class is just what is needed. Getting out of my head and into my body can get the brain to calm, and the stretching and movement helps to undo some of the many knots through out my muscles.

When time and money allow, massage is fabulous.  Trying to work out my own tight muscles usually causes other muscles to tighten or fatigue, so having another set of hands to release the tense spots is luscious and allows me to completely sink into the table and just let someone else take care of me.

Any day, at any time, I can always turn in and spend a few moments in meditation, whether at home in front of my altar, incense burning and candles lit or on the bus on the way to work. The breath is always there and free...

So, how do you relax? Feel free to tell me, PCCHH and Plumb Media (links above)--maybe you'll get to experience the healing power of the laying of hands yourself!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer walk.

I want to know this place better than I know the veins in the backs of my hands. I want to know its names, its light and its dark places.

I come here scattered, broken, heavy, and with each step the wounds fall away.

The valley is what it is--never striving to be more.  I come a stranger, but find myself; no more myself--finally at home, wanting no more than what is.

Come to me
as I go
into the fields and forest:
free of expectation,
pregnant with possibility.

In the dissolution of the self
everything attained--
the only loss,
impediments to vision.


Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.