Sickness & Health, Writing, Writing & Reading

The Wisdom of Narrowing

A few years ago at a Sheep and Wool Festival amid stalls of colorful yarns of all kinds, my mom and I stood there and agreed: weaving was off the table. At least for this lifetime, this was one fiber art we were going to forgo.  Though we both found looms and their products tantalizing, we knew that, for us, there simply wasn’t enough time for it.

I have made more decisions like these lately—especially as I have trying to pare down my belongings. I am not, by any means, a hoarder, but I have often had difficulty getting rid of a thing because of the fear that I might someday, in the vast unknowable future, need or want it.  Reading Marie “KonMari” Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Cleaning Up (like just about everyone else) earlier this year, gave me the impetus I needed to try again.  I liked the idea of not being weighted-down by objects and of surrounding myself only with things that, in her words, “spark joy”.  Did I follow KonMari’s method to the letter?  Uh, no.  But I did, almost three years after I moved, finally open every last box I had stowed in the garage and edited many crafting supplies and several books.

As I contemplated each piece, I again felt the familiar tug of anxiety at my chest. Am I being stupid getting rid of this? What if I want it later?  I don’t have a lot of money and it might be expensive to replace.  In these moments, I did not hold the item quietly and ask myself if it sparked joy as KonMarie would have had me do.  Quite frankly, I forgot all about that.  Instead, I thought about what I was giving up by holding onto any given item.

I, like all of us, have a limited amount of time on this planet. If I choose to do X, say make rag rugs from old fabric, that will take energy and time away from doing Y, say writing.  Is making rag rugs important enough to me to take time and energy away from writing.  Would it help me in any way?  Well, the answer for me is no.  Like weaving, rug making could only be considered a backup plan to the other things I am more passionate about in this life.  And, the problem with holding onto the fabric that would be perfect for rug making only keeps the possibility of doing it, however faintly, alive in my mind.  One could say, (and I have) okay, you don’t want to do it now, but maybe in the future . . .  So the idea gets still more life, a tiny trickle of energy gets siphoned off to maintain something that, in all likelihood, I am never going to do and, for which, I feel only a minor excitement for anyway.  I don’t know if there is any physical truth to my energy drain theory, but there is sociological research that indicates that people who commit fully to a goal are more motivated to fulfill that goal than those who have “backup plans.”  It makes sense, I mean, how committed to something can you be, if, somewhere in your mind, you are still entertaining other options?  Plus, I think most of us probably have enough anecdotal evidence that single-minded people tend to be the ones who get the most done.

focus-narrowing-my-focus-dianaklein-com

Narrowing one’s focus is effective in writing, too. When I was 15, at Oprah’s urging, I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the first time.  It was my initial foray into reading contemporary literature and, holy smokes, what an introduction.  Considered by many to be the best novel of the 20th century, its narrative about slavery and love is as brutal as it is beautiful.  I felt breathless as I discovered how amazing and powerful prose could be.  How a mere 95,000 words, strung together like a magical incantation, could change me so profoundly.  Shortly after reading Beloved, I saw an interview with Toni Morrison in which she explained that her purpose, in writing the novel, was to examine slavery in a way that she had not seen it done before.  So many books had tried to capture the immensity of the American slave trade, but she felt their scopes were too wide.  She decided to go narrow and go deep. By telling the stories of a few individuals with whom a reader could feel a sense of intimacy, she was able to convey the horror of slavery so much more poignantly than by rattling off numbers that, no matter how big and atrocious, had difficulty making it past the mind and into the heart.

Go narrow and go deep. I think of this when I am confronted by the huge swathes of possibilities presented to me each day.  When I open my email account and see a plethora of urgings to go in any number of different directions.  I can’t do it all, and trying to will likely mean that I end up doing nothing.  So often when we think of investing in our futures, it’s about obtaining something—classes, books, materials—which, in many ventures, is important.  But, for me, right now, narrowing my focus is the best form of self-investment.  As I say no to many things that are not quite right for me, I am making my yes to those things that are most significant to me that much stronger.

This is becoming my practice: I look at each item in my life—physical and psychological—and I ask myself, Is this what you want to spend your life on? It’s tough when it’s something that looks cool, when my anxiety flares up that maybe I’m missing something (which is ridiculous since we are always missing many things!).  But it’s wonderful when, for example, I am hugging my niece—her buoyant spirit flowing out to meet mine—and the answer is like a chorus of bells all tolling, “Yes!”

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CFS, Mindfulness, Sickness & Health, Writing, Writing & Reading

The Power of Small

I crashed last weekend—exploding pain, unforgiving tiredness, the works. It was particularly disappointing because I had been starting to feel like I was building up a head of steam—moving in the direction I wanted to go.  I had plans.  I had thoughts and ideas sprouting and multiplying.  There’s so much I want to do!  And then plop—the other shoe drops.  It happens to all of us—we feel energized to make exciting, positive change and something happens that we didn’t plan for or something reoccurs that we should have seen coming.  A fly gets in the ointment.  A wrench is thrown into the works.  Our best laid plans go so infuriatingly awry.

When this happens, my instinctive reaction is to do a post mortem: What happened? What did I do wrong?  What did I not do?  This picking apart usually takes place in the presence of my mother, who listens patiently and then says, “Or maybe it’s none of those things.  Maybe it’s just the cycle.  Maybe it’s just what’s happening now.”  At which point, I take a deep breath and grumble, “Yeah, maybe.”

Of course, she’s right. Most of what’s going on is beyond any sense of my control, and I just need to ride it out.  My struggle with it, however, has to do with my expectations.  They have a tendency to get away from me.  I do one thing and then want to, or feel I should, do more and more.  Some years ago, a member of my then writing group brought up the notion of setting a deceptively small goal.  I took to the idea and kept telling myself to “start small”.  However, in the hands (and mind) of a Type A personality, this mantra developed a major flaw.  I might be willing to start small, but all too soon, my mind says, Hey, we better put the pedal to the medal if we’re ever gonna get anywhere! Which, of course, devolves into a wild attempt to do more, which in turn tires, overwhelms, and frustrates me to the point where I am ready to throw in the towel.

start-small-snail-dianaklein-comIn light of this, my new motto is: Start small—and then keep going small until you get whatever the thing is you need to do done. It doesn’t quite trip off the tongue, but, when I think about it,  it is pretty much how I made it through college.  When completely cowed by the mountain of writing I needed to do and the soul-crushing fear of not being able to do it, I would start by opening a document, forcing myself to add one sentence (more if I could) and then, moving to the next paper, do the same.  I would rotate through all of my current projects in this fashion.  Write a line, switch, write a line, switch.  After I had a draft down, I could go back and check for cogency and fix any problems, but it was getting that first layer down that was the biggest challenge—which I overcame only by taking it piece by piece, sentence by sentence.  I still write this way when I am stuck.  I ask myself, What’s the next line? I don’t think about what will come after.  I only have to write one sentence.  And once that’s done.  I do it again.

It can be hard to commit to small steps like this because societal norms so often tell us that if you can’t have the thing you want by tomorrow, you’d best not pursue it at all or worse, it’s not worth having.  I mean, why even bother?  Many of us, when we decide to turn over a new leaf, want to jump in feet first. You see books on lifestyle makeovers and they are all about making wholesale changes to one’s life.  We tell ourselves, we will do everything according to this new code: eat better, sleep better, do yoga, meditate, be creative.  And we forget that our lives are still our lives.  I think people feel either: that they want to change everything all at once without regard to whatever else is going on in their lives or that they are too overwhelmed by their lives to make any changes at all.

do-the-thing-you-can-do-the-power-of-small-dianaklein-comThere is an alternative. Start small.  Do the thing you can do—this is advice I have given myself regularly over the past 20 years (when I haven’t been busy trying to outsmart myself).  If you can meditate for two minutes a day, then meditate for two minutes a day.  If you can eat more vegetables, but can’t eat less sugar, than eat more vegetables and don’t eat less sugar.  And, *this is key*, don’t let your mind sell you a bill of goods that you are somehow falling short!  The saying A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step is, perhaps, a cliché, and, of course, you do have to take all the succeeding steps after that first one if you want to get to your destination, but if you tell yourself that that first step is not, won’t ever be, enough, you will never take the second.

I have big goals. I don’t know if there are enough steps in this body to get me there, but I want to keep walking towards them.  I want to do the thing I can do, consistently, and be proud of each step, giving it the recognition it deserves, because, in a one million-step journey, step number 45,682 is no less important than number 999,999.  Without either, small, seemingly insignificant movement, you will never reach your goal.

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Art & Crafts, Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Invoking Saint Frida

I spent a lot of last weekend in doubt. This is not an unfamiliar place for me.  I frequent the land of doubt on a regular basis.  The source, this time, was my last two posts on running.  Should I, as a CFS sufferer have written about that?  Should I have admitted that I can run now and again?  That right now I am choosing to run, even when there are many other things I cannot do?  When, on a good day, I can only work about four hours?

I felt strange when I started running again in August. I almost didn’t want to see my sister on my run because I was scared to admit that I was able to do it again.  The fear came from two places 1)I didn’t want anyone to think that this meant I was all better, and now could do anything and everything, i.e., I didn’t want people to expect more from me, because I knew I couldn’t give it.  And 2) I was ashamed.  I was ashamed that I was choosing to run rather than do something that might make money or make someone else’s life better.

And when I shared my two posts about running on this blog, I again felt conflicted and scared, and yes, ashamed because I am always scared of what people will think of me. I am scared that they will think I am weak, stupid, free-loading.  I am scared other CFSers will get upset because they aren’t able to run, and my posts might give the impression that they should be able to.  Or maybe people will think that I don’t really have CFS or any other illness since I can exercise at all.  CFS is a highly variable—not only among the afflicted population, but also in an individual.

On Sunday, I listened to a wonderful dharma talk from Tara Brach about how we try to control so many aspects of life and how these attempts ultimately remove us from those things that most make life enjoyable, namely connection and presence. I realized that (once again) I was trying to control what others think of me—my family, my friends, and all the good people of the internet.  And the truth is: it’s a fool’s game.  There is no way to win.  No matter what any of us say or do, no matter how perfectly we curate our feeds and our public lives, someone—perhaps many people—are going to take issue with some aspect of our behavior.

And it’s not always about us. As a senior in college, I took a class that was meant to integrate all that a student had learned within his/her major.  At the beginning of the semester, we were given a list of about 75 names and theories which we were instructed to look up and study independently.  At the end of the semester, we would be given a test on the information—20 questions, matching.  We were warned how challenging it would be and that often students did not excel at it.  I (for some inexplicable, bloody-minded reason) decided to attempt to ace it.  I spent hours looking up the names and making notes on whatever I thought the professor might think was pertinent enough to test us on.  And then I carried my little index cards everywhere, pulling them out whenever I had downtime.  When the professor gave back our tests, he told all of us that someone—not naming any names—had gotten a perfect score—something he hadn’t seen in a while.  I didn’t show anyone the 100 at the top of my exam paper, but as we filed out of the classroom, the other students looked at me knowingly.  One woman, who I had hitherto considered a friend asked, “Did you sleep with him?”  I didn’t even know how to respond.  I was so horrified and confused.  “How could sleeping with the professor have helped me on an objective test?” I wanted to ask, at the same time wanting to demand, ”How dare you?  Is that really what you think of me?”

I am convinced now that it wasn’t what she was thinking of me that caused her to lash out in that moment. It was what she was thinking of herself, how she was feeling about whatever grade she had or had not gotten.  In that scenario, I did everything right.  I worked hard and I achieved success.  And somehow, my behavior (or her reactions to my behavior) still caused pain.  If I were to get it twisted, I would think that I maybe I should have dimmed my own drives and accomplishments to make her feel better, but I think we can all agree that that would have been ridiculous.

What’s the answer then? I don’t know what it is for others, but for me, it’s to forget about trying to control others’ perceptions, and, instead, whip up as much daring as I can in order to be authentic—because I think that’s one of the ways we help each other (and ourselves)—by being vulnerable, being honest, and sometimes, admitting that which is difficult to admit.

invoking-saint-frida-dianaklein-comAs I think about these things, my eyes fall on a candle that lives on my desk. It’s from a line called Secular Saints by philosophersguild.com.  It looks like the regular seven day prayer candle with which most Catholics would be familiar, but instead of featuring the Sacred Heart or Saint Jude, it bears a portrait of Frida Kahlo.  I have long felt a deep connection with this Mexican artist, not only because she composed fascinating and bold paintings, but because she did not shy away from letting people know what she was feeling—the physical and emotional pain that walked with her throughout her life.  She did not try to be perfect—if anything, she exaggerated her perceived faults.  And though she is not a saint in the Catholic sense, I feel myself wanting to invoke her audacious spirit.  There’s a “prayer” on the candle which I like well enough, but my personal petition goes something like this:

O feisty Frida, help me to embrace my flaws and everything that is wrong with my life. Help me to know my true self and to show that self no matter who is watching.  Help me to be brave and bold and to act with resolve and passion.

 What keeps you from being authentic? Do you call on a saint (secular or otherwise) to help?

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Running, Sickness & Health

Interval Training with Runkeeper

I love running, like love it, love it.  I love the sense of freedom I feel when I’m trotting down the road, an easy breeze in my face, a powerful playlist in my ears.  I love it.  But I also have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  As you may imagine, the two things are somewhat at odds with one another.  That being said, it’s important for me to stay active.  Though doctors don’t know a lot about how to help CFS patients, most agree that regular exercise is vital.  So I walk every day.  I’ve noticed that although I don’t always feel good doing it (and sometimes I feel downright awful), if I don’t do it, I won’t necessarily feel any better, and often, I’ll feel worse.  So there has been many a day when I have shuffled through my neighborhood getting blown past by friendly, speed-walking grannies and gazing jealously at runners bouncing down the street.  But there have also been times over the last 20 plus years, during which my body has been able to run and—praise all that is good and wonderful—this is one of those times.

When I began in August, I determined to do it slowly. I have the tendency to go whole hog on things.  I always want to push myself to do more, achieve more, but my long experience with this stuff has taught me: that way ruin lies.  In light of this, for the first few weeks, I simply ran on the days I felt up to it for between 10 and 15 minutes and then walked home, always making sure that I was covering at least the same amount of ground that I would have during a regular walking day.  I was using the Nike app to track my runs, but after several annoyances in the past and a recent update that caused still more irritation, I finally threw in the towel.  I decided it was time to shop for a new workout tracker.

After looking at a few, I finally settled on Runkeeper. It tracks my runs via GPS and gives all the statistics one would expect—time, distance, pace, calories burned, etc.  There are even a selection of fun voices to choose from to give you those stats and to cheer you on—such as Boston Fan (think Good Will Hunting) and Yinterval-training-with-runkeeper-dianaklein-comour Conscience (somewhere in the realm of a goofy Tony Robbins?).  My favorite is Mademoiselle—a spritely French lady who tells me that I am fast (though, clearly, I am not) and maybe not completely helpfully encourages me to “Think of all the pain au chocolat now you can eat!”(I have thought about it—a lot.)

Runkeeper also offers a series of challenges to help motivate—one of which was that if I did a mile workout in the following two weeks, it would give me a month free of its premium service.  As I generally walk more than 2 miles a day, this was not too difficult.  Among other things, the premium service offers a series of workouts for each week based upon your previous running experience and the goals you are looking to achieve. Cool, I thought, let me try this.  It only took a quarter of the way through a 30-minute workout, for my thinking to change to: Argh!!! It wasn’t the length or the intensity of the workout that had me swearing, it was its interval nature.  What I hadn’t realized prior to the “run” was that each minute I would be alternating back and forth between walking and running.  I would just be getting into a nice groove with my running when a signal would come though my ear buds telling me that it was time to walk. Never again, I thought.  And then, Yeah, this kind of sucks, but maybe you should just keep with it and see where it goes.

I did stick with it. In the last four weeks, I’ve been following the prescribed four workouts a week and doing my regular walking on the other three days.  As I have progressed, the intervals of running have generally become a bit longer, while the walking intervals have stayed the same and while I don’t particularly like having to stop and walk, I think it’s been good for me.  It’s demanding that thing that I am so often reluctant to give myself—rest.

When I began running as a chubby middle-schooler, things were different. Those first few weeks of cross country practice our coach would lead our team of seven, five girls and two boys, over the lovely grounds of a local college campus.  I huffed and puffed at the back of the train, knowing I was holding every one up and hearing about it once or twice from the cute eighth grader with the floppy brown hair—as if my face hadn’t been red enough from the exertion.  It got better.  I got faster and stronger, and though I never made it to the front of the pack, I ceased to feel embarrassed by my every step.  The problem was that I always seemed to be dealing with some pain or other—knee, ankle, what have you—probably because I had gone from doing nothing to running somewhere between nine and fifteen miles a week.  That’s the way they did it back then.  You started running and just expected the first two weeks of training to be a hell during which you hobbled everywhere as your legs continually screamed about how mean you were.

In contrast, interval training eases a person into the process of running. And, as I’ve said, it seems to have been useful to me as I attempt to rebuild my running practice, but a few weeks ago, I discovered there might be even more to it than that.  I found out that the Runkeeper training program is based, in part, on the work of Jeff Galloway—an Olympian who trained with all the greats in the seventies during the last golden age of American men’s distance running (though, if the last Olympics are any indication, we may be on the verge of another).  Interestingly, despite the fact that the old school version of training dictates that walking during training is a fate worse than death, Galloway’s Run Walk Run Method advises one do just that.  He claims that not only does it help to reduce injury, but it also produces faster times.  He even suggests walking during races.  Doing so helps physically, by allowing the body to recover slightly, instead of going deeper and deeper into oxygen debt, and cognitively, by giving the runner a series of smaller goals to reach (just run these next two minutes, then you can rest) rather than an overwhelming one (run a whole 10k).

My month of free premium service on Runkeeper ended last week. Will I continue?  I’m not sure.  I have to admit, I would get a little excited each Sunday morning waiting for the notification that my workout schedule had been delivered to my app. What’s in store for this week? I’d wonder, What’s next? The drawback for me is that I fear the workouts will progress too quickly for me—demand too much.  As I am not a regular healthy adult, I can’t just expect that I will be able to continue upping my mileage and exertion.  There will be a cap, and I have to be careful that I don’t get caught up in the excitement and do too much.  It would be nice if the app offered a maintenance program or that a user was able to indicate how fast he/she wanted to increase.

Regardless of this, I think I will stick with the interval training. It seems to me that I am running more than I would have if I trained the old way.  I am certainly running faster—which hopefully improves my muscle development.  The big test will, of course, be longevity.  I am hoping that the interval training—if I’m cautious with it—will help me keep my compromised body running (and walking) for several weeks (months? years?!) to come.  We’ll see.

Now, about those chocolate croissants . . .

What about you? What running apps do you use?  What do like and dislike about them?  Have you tried some version of the Run Walk Run Method?  What do you think of it?

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Louisiana, Running, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

A 5k in Southeastern Louisiana

a-5k-in-southeastern-louisiana-wwwp5k-dianaklein-com

This week, I took part in the World Wide WordPress 5K, during which bloggers are encouraged to complete a 5K and blog about it.  I walk, and sometimes even run, every day, but I don’t always quite get to the 3.1 mile mark.  Yesterday, however, under the guidance of the Runkeeper app (more about this next week), I went for a 3.5 mile run/walk—alternating a half mile of running with a quarter mile of walking.  Here is an approximation of that excursion. 

I start just after 6 am. It’s gotten a little cooler lately—only 73 degrees.  Of course the humidity is still at 95%, so I know I will be doing some serious sweating.  As I run out of my apartment complex, it’s still quite dark.  Only a few people are stirring.  I bounce across the squeaky wooden bridge that is slowly rotting away as everything wooden here does and into the business park car lot.  I am grateful for the street lights that light my way.  I like the flurry of insects dancing in their golden glow.  But I also enjoy the mysteries of the shadows—how everything is transformed by the dark, becomes more or less than it appears in the light of day.  I find the darkness comforting.  I feel held by it.

I cross the boulevard along which I will continue my jaunt. It’s a quiet artery, connecting several domestic subdivisions.  I take up the path—a few yards from the road—that will lead me alongside the street.  I am grateful for the trees that accompany me on both my left and right—the towering ponderosa pines, the flowering crepe myrtles, the sturdy live oaks, and all those others whose names I do not yet know. I glance briefly at the first drainage pond, often home to various water birds, but it’s still too dark to make them out.  During this first half mile, I groove to the strains of Lady Gaga and Rihanna flowing into my ears and delight in the slight rush of air my movement through the predawn causes.

As I reach each subdivision, I inspect the decorations hung on their signs.  It’s football season and they are mostly decked out in Saints black and gold and LSU purple and gold.  The combinations often come off as a bit funereal, once prompting my mother to amend the Saints slogan from Who Dat? to Who Died?

I’ve past a few other early exercisers already, but it’s three quarters of a mile in before I see any of the regulars: The speedy woman walker whom I often come up on and to whom I gently call out, “On your left.” She always squeezes her arms into her body to take up less space, preparing for any onslaught I might bring.  “Good morning,” I say as I pass her scenting her gentle baby powder aura.  Good morning,” she always beams back—as though her eighty odd years have done nothing to quell the joy that determines to exude from her body.  I want to be like her—not when I’m eighty, but right now.

I also see the adventure dog and her owner. She’s a small terrier mix (I think) who always seems to be moving forward toward a thrilling future.  Her real name is Jazzy.  She typically walks with an older retriever-like dog, but I guess she’s home resting her hips today.  Their owner—a fairly fit man in his fifties—usually has some wisecrack to lay on me.  To which, I all too often, I pull out an ear bud and reply cluelessly, “Excuse me?” making him have to repeat the joke.

I walk some and run some more until, almost a mile later I see my sister at the bus stop, where she has just sent one of her children off to school. We chat for a few minutes.  I love when I see her and my nieces and nephew when I go out in the morning.  I love those unimportant accidental meet-ups that can only happen because we live in the same town.  I turn around at the 1.75 mile mark.  My teenage niece and I exchange smiles on my return trip.  I let my hand rub against her back as I trot by.

It has become much lighter by now.  The streetlamps still smolder, but the sun is rapidly making them redundant.  I greet a few elementary school children in their navy blue polo shirts and khaki shorts.  I gaze at the vines that have conquered wooden fences.  I note the progress of the kumquats and satsumas on their respective trees.  I spot another older woman across the street with her spoiled, little brown poodle, also called Jazzy (we’re just outside of New Orleans).  I wave and she lifts her cane at me.  I see the grey minivan that every day conveys a golden retriever, his head protruding from the open window, proclaiming how wonderful everything is.

As I approach more high school students, an habitual debate resumes in my mind: do I inflict my hellos on them? I often wonder if I am being annoying to these teenagers who have plenty of other irritants roiling in their sensitive brains.  I usually settle for a smile and a quiet blanket good morning as I travel through the groups of students—though I tend to hold my breath a bit when I get to the cloud of cologne and body spray emanating from one particular gaggle of boys.

It’s not long before I return to the second drainage pond and see the various geese and ducks. Right next to it is a gazebo where the Catholic school kids gaze at their phones while waiting for their bus.  During my final walking interval I look up into the sky to find a great egret flying over me.  It looks as though its wide wings are flapping just past the moon whose face still shows in the now light blue sky.  I search the trees’ green leaves for the barred owl I spied a few days ago being chastised by crows, but no luck.

I begin the final bout of running and think about the day ahead.  There is breakfast to make and food shopping to do.  Oh, and let’s not forget a thorough shower.  My predictions were correct.  My clothes are soaked, my body is glossy, and my face—thanks to my Swiss heritage—is a feverish red.  As I run back through my apartment complex, I am passed by several cars leaving, people on their way to work.  I startle a bevy of birds and one squirrel who have been taking advantage of one of the tenant’s birdfeeder.  The white cat across the way peers enthusiastically through her window as they scatter before me

My app informs me that my “workout is complete”.  I stop and stretch a little.  I allow my face to cool a bit. I let a weeping willow tickle my shoulders as I walk toward my apartment, and I look around once more.  The world has come completely alive in the last 40 minutes.  The veil of mystery is lifted and the sun begins to burn in earnest.

Have you done a 5k recently?  What was your experience like?  

Reconnect Little Art Card | dianaklein.com
Art & Crafts, Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

Reconnect

Reconnect Little Art Card | dianaklein.com

This is a little art card (a part of a larger project that I plan to post about in months to come).  I made it a few weeks ago and subsequently tore it up some days since. Why?  There’s no very good explanation.  It was mostly because I was having one of those moments in which I wanted to lash out and this is the part of the universe that got it.  The card wasn’t precious.  Just an inexpertly made little piece of almost nothing made from cheap supplies and leftovers.  It wasn’t  big deal.

But I was a little sad. I had liked the little piece of almost nothing.  And the irony of my destroying a card bearing the word connect was not lost on me.  I have had some difficulty connecting—particularly here on this blog (it’s been almost a year since I last posted) and even more in other venues—especially considering the current political climate and the fact that tomorrow is the anniversary of the terrorist attack that took the lives of almost 3000 people—including my brother.

I often feel that talking about my brother’s death is self-indulgent (though this may be untrue), and I’m not even sure how many of my social media friends even know that he died on 9/11. I don’t want to burden them, or bring attention to myself, so I say nothing.  On Facebook this morning, I began to see the commemorations, and I thought, “I guess I’ll be logging off for the weekend.”  Some people will use this anniversary as a call to arms, a reason to be angry, to exclude and to hurt others.  Some people will aggrandize their own connection to or participation in the events in order, perhaps, to make themselves feel bigger somehow.  I usually stay silent about these things, too.  I reason that everyone has their own viewpoint; I cannot dictate how others should feel or react.  People should not have to tiptoe around me and my feelings.  Even if many of the posts in my feed make me nauseous and angry and sad, I say nothing.  I don’t want to fight.

And that’s still true. I don’t want to fight.  What I want to do is connect.  Yesterday, I dug the four shards of my little piece of almost nothing out of the garbage, and I sewed it back together with black thread and ugly stitches.

Reconnect Little Art Card Back | dianaklein.com

This is how reconnecting happens: with small, awkward steps, with the knowledge that damaged ends will never match up perfectly, and with the acceptance that you may always see the place where the break occurred.  The funny thing is how strong my little piece of almost nothing is now.  The stitches have reinforced it, making it, in some respects, both more durable and more flexible.  Also, I like it better than I did before I ripped it up.  Which again, is funny, because I was ashamed when I did it—that I had let my temper, my grief get the better of me.  I feared it was a sign that I had not progressed as far as I had thought or hoped, that I was less than, once again.  But I remember now, that we all have those moments—and we can all rebound from them.  We can, with a soft and open heart, rescue those precious bits we think we have lost, come home, and reconnect—if only, but possibly most importantly—with ourselves.

 

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

How to Celebrate an International Day of Peace

Every year, beginning in 1982, the UN has observed today, September 21, as an International Day of Peace. Peoples in conflict, all over the world are called upon to cease combat, if only temporarily, so that, in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, we may “create space for lasting peace.”

For those of us who are not intimately affected by war, this kind of plea can sound very far off and inapplicable to our daily lives, but for me, it could not have been more apropos.

Just last night, I once more looked at myself disapprovingly in the mirror, seeing all the faults, the failures, the could-have-beens, the wrinkles, the fat . . . falling deeper and deeper down into the abyss of self-hatred.

All of a sudden, I couldn’t help wondering, “Why do you insist on making war on yourself?”

The answer is simple: It’s a terribly misguided attempt to protect myself from the pain of others’ possible condemnation and to spur myself into life-changing action.

But it doesn’t work. Heavy rain cannot intimidate seeds into growing faster. It will simply wash them away. And harsh sun will only dry them out. It is only with the gentle encouragement of these elements that a seed may eventually find its way to blooming.

So last night, I vowed to make peace with myself. To be kind. And today, realizing the significance of the date, I make the vow again. Because sustainable world peace is an inside job. Each of us needs to decide to stop fighting—not only each other, but ourselves.

Deep peace of the running waves to you.|How to celebrate an international day of peace| dianaklein.com

Nature & Spirituality, Prose Poetry, Sickness & Health

The Sighs of a Little Grey Cat

Sometimes, I think I live only for the sighs of my little grey cat.

I breathe solely for those moments when she creeps cautiously onto my tender abdomen as I lie on my bed, worn out and vulnerable.

And she discovers that the crevices in my body meld perfectly to her own. She finds that all boundaries between us are purely artificial.  Her fur, my clothes, our skins become completely permeable. She relaxes her muscles into mine, allowing her very essence to seep down into my being. Our blood vessels become a greater network, somehow effortlessly pumping through feline and human without care for the difference.

She feels all this and she knows that she is home. She knows that she is safe. And because of this, she exhales completely, allowing every, last, tiny cavity of her body to be emptied. She saves nothing. She holds back no secret store to guard against some future scarcity. She lets it all go. All that she needs, all that she will ever need is here in this moment, on my belly.

She tells me this with her sigh, and I cannot help but be moved and awed by her trust, her faith—in the whole of this kaleidoscope universe—and also in the subtle rising and falling of one human stomach.

CFS, Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

Make Way for Compassion!!

I think I’ve probably written this here before, but I’ll say it again: I don’t like to talk about my being sick. It feels like I’m making excuses or just complaining. I find myself extremely boring and self-conscious when I do. But it’s a fact of my life, so, in order to be authentic, sometimes, I just have to suck it up and do it.

This happened recently when I met up with a friend that I hadn’t seen in some 18 months. It was uncomfortable, but I decided to tell her a little about how hard the previous 6 months had been—that I’d been having trouble stringing together more than two okay days in a row. She paused, looked at me deeply and said with great sincerity, “Diana, that’s terrible.” I felt myself start to squirm in the face of this expression of true compassion. For that moment she had placed herself into the trenches with me, feeling the mud and the cold and all the nastiness. I was both awed and made uncomfortable by her reaction. I could feel my defenses starting to rise. Defense against compassion! I realized how ridiculous that was, so I deliberately attempted to relax into the feeling, dissolving the walls that thought they were keeping me safe, but were, instead, cutting me off from kindness. I tried to allow her compassion to wash over me, to touch the parts of me cowering in the hidden caves of my psyche.

A few days later, in conversation with a new acquaintance, the fact that I have health problems again came up in passing. With little information and without asking for more, the woman I was speaking to offered the same kind of compassion my friend had—open and encompassing. Again, I was awed, but this time, I didn’t try to brush it away. I just said, “Thank you.”

A week ago, I was able to “pay it forward”, so to speak, when the young woman who was dishing out the prepared salads at the deli told me she had been suffering from insomnia. When I expressed concern, she replied, “It’s okay. I’m young.” “No,” I countered, “it’s not okay. It’s lousy!” I don’t know if it made her feel cared about or, in any way, better, but we shared a smile that felt genuine and heartening.

These experiences taught me two things: 1) Expressions of compassion do not have to be longwinded or elaborate. They just need to be made with earnestness and presence. And 2) All the compassion in the world won’t do you any good, if you’re not willing to receive it.If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Teresa|Being Present with Compassion|dianaklein.com

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Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

Lessons in Self-Compassion from a Little Grey Cat

Lean into kindness--Lessons in self-compassion from a little grey cat | dianaklein.com

My cat looks up at me as I enter the room, hope in her slitted eyes.  Luna’s half asleep, but there’s a chance, however tiny, that I might come down to the tan, shaggy rug and cuddle with her.  “Meow?” she asks.  “Sure,” I say, and lower my comparatively large mass to her diminutive form.

“Yes,” her nuzzles say as my fingers find her soft, grey fur.  “Again.  More.”  And even, perhaps, “I love you.”  I think she does love me, though I’m not sure what that means to a cat.  Some have claimed that feline affection is merely a way of making sure there’s no interruption in the food supply.  But, in my experience, she relies on much less appealing means to make sure I keep feeding her—those evermore demanding meows that tell me how mean and stupid I am that I haven’t yet figured out that she needs more food.

But, back to the petting: as Luna fervently swipes her cheek once more against mine, I think, “Well, if she likes me this much, I must be a little special.  I must be really sort of okay.”  I lean into the notion—though it’s a foreign action for me.  I, like so many of us, have often felt it so much safer, easier, and yes, God forbid, more virtuous to think less of myself rather than more.

Last week, I listened to a dharma talk given by Tara Brach (a meditation teacher, psychologist, and author) that speaks to the idea that much of our suffering blooms from this source—the belief that something about us is not okay, sometimes fundamentally and irrevocably so.  And the antidote to this poison is that we find compassion for ourselves in those moments when we feel that self-hatred.  So, I ask myself, “Would you speak to your niece this way?  Or to anyone you loved?  Or to a stranger?”  And then I can remember that I am someone’s niece and someone’s loved one and many people’s stranger, so really maybe there is room for self-compassion in my heart.

One of the quotes Tara related during her talk was from Rumi: Whenever some kindness comes to you, turn that way, toward the source of kindness.  Lately, I’ve begun to pay more attention to my reflexive reactions in the face of kindness from another.  The other day, after sampling a cake I had made for her, my mother informed me, “You sure are a great baker.”  I can’t tell you how astonished I was to discover how ridiculously hard it was to say, “Thank you,” instead of “Well, I just followed the recipe,” or “It’s not like it’s hard,” or “Anyone can do it,” or “You’re just being nice.”

Instead, I tried to turn toward the notion of my goodness—not just the part of me that’s able at baking, but also the essential, limitless part of me to which I so rarely pay attention.  I tried and—keep trying—to lean into a sense of kindness toward myself.  I imagine myself like my sweet (and annoying) Luna, yielding her small head into the tenderness of my hand, knowing it is safe there, believing in my innate goodness, even when I am still unsure.

Please note: You can find a catalog of Tara Brach’s talks (all free) here or on iTunes.  The one I have referenced here is from 4/22/2015 and labeled (Retreat Talk) Loving Yourself to Freedom.

🙂