Mindfulness, Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

Taking a Nice and Easy Day

2017-02-10-taking-a-nice-and-easy-day-dianaklein-com

Yesterday was a busy day.

So was the day before.

And the day before that.

Life has been piling up. Mostly it’s been good things.  It’s been me taking steps in the direction of my goals.  It’s been me investing in my family and my community.  It’s also taking care of my ailing cat (who is completely recovered now, by the way!).  And unexpectedly having to take my car to the garage.  It’s been a lot.  And, somehow, there always seems to be more.  One more thing I must do today, this week, this lifetime—just so that everything will turn out the way I want it to.  Do you hear God laughing at me right now?  Yeah, me too.

I still have several things on my to-do list for this week, but I know I’m not going to get to all of them, so I am making accommodations. For one thing, this was not the blog post I had planned for this week.  I was going to make a video and write about making art every day.  I was excited about it, but it’s too much.  A part of me says, Hey, just push through. It’s just one more thing.  Pour another cup of coffee.  You can do it!  And that part of me is right.  I probably could do it, but at the cost of becoming more energy indebted and less, well, me.  Does that make sense?  Have you  noticed that when you overextend yourself for too long that you turn into an ugly, ungrateful, wretched, slobbering monster?

Or is that just me?

Anyway, the biggest problem with my monster is that she invariably makes things worse. Every little molehill becomes Mt. Everest.  Every tiny slight becomes a gaping wound.  Every mistake becomes life-threatening.  This attitude perpetuates a cycle of unhappiness and, ultimately, under-productiveness.

A few months ago I read a blog post on Kris Carr’s website titled The Myth of Finding Your Purpose. She says it’s her most popular post of all time and I can understand why.  In it, she begs the question, “What if finding your purpose is about . . . nurturing yourself?”  At first, I felt a little perplexed by this.  How can that be a purpose? Isn’t that just something that happens when you pursue and achieve your true calling(s)?  But when I thought about it, I realized that my callings—literally, the things that call to me—are simply things I do in service to my purpose.  And my purpose is to be the best—the healthiest and happiest and kindest—version possible of this particular conglomeration of cells and spirit that my parents happened to name Diana.  My purpose is to spend as little time in the monster skin as possible.

So today, I am taking a nice and easy day. Not a vacation day.  Not a sick day.  I thought about both of these options.  I thought about not blogging, but I realized this is one of the things I do that feeds my spirit, and I didn’t want to rob myself of that.  A nice and easy day means being honest with myself about what I can and cannot accomplish.  It means not expecting too much.  It means reminding myself that even though all those things on my list seem imperative, probably none of them are actually life and death  It means going slowly, taking the most important thing first, and letting it take however long it takes.  It means remembering to breathe, to release my shoulders from their defensive stance next to my ears, and to enjoy the sunshine flowing through the window.

 

Mindfulness, Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

How and Why I Give Myself a Little Credit

bear-witness-to-your-own-goodness-learni-to-give-myself-credit-dianaklein-com

Where am I losing energy? I ask myself this question a lot.  I want to know what is draining me, what is pulling me down.  I want to minimize those influences.  Sometimes these things are, partially or completely, beyond my control—doctor’s appointments, conflicts with loved ones, stores with disturbing fumes.  In these cases, I can take deep breaths.  I can take it slowly.  I can limit my exposure to necessary, but distressing situations.  But, in the end, I really just have to shrug my shoulders and go through them (Squelch! Squerch!  See last week’s post about this.)

I’ve been realizing recently though, that there is at least one way in which I am losing energy that is completely within my control. It’s the way that I talk to myself.  I know, this is not news.  Some 2500 years ago, the Buddha was warning folks that “what we think, we become”.  But I’m speaking very specifically here about my attitude toward how I am approaching any given task.  I have noticed that very often I am telling myself that I am not doing a good enough job.  The song goes a little something like this: It’s taking me too long to shop. I am paying too much for this box of granola bars.  Why can’t I write faster?  Why can’t I always make the perfect egg?  I’m not learning fast enough.  I should be making better progress.  I can’t believe I spent so much time playing games on my iPad today.  I should have been nicer to that stranger.  I should be getting more done.  I should have gone to bed earlier . . .

You get the idea. If I let it, my dissatisfaction with myself becomes a constant drone behind all my other thoughts.  It’s not fun.  And it’s been kicking my ass.  It’s been me, kicking my own ass, draining my energy, allowing my power to squirt out every which way.  Not cool.

So what’s the antidote? Well, of course, there is the wonderful practice of mindfulness in which I catch myself having these destructive thoughts and counteract them by expressing self-compassion—maybe with a hand on my heart and an internal assurance of, “It’s okay, Sweetie.”  If there are any casual observers of my behavior out there in my town, they can vouch for the fact that I have my hand on my heart, a lot.  It works. But, what if I forget?  What if my mindfulness is not working very well, and I get to the end of the day, and find that not only have I been disapproving of myself all day, but I didn’t even notice I was doing it?  Well, that’s when I get out my gold stars.  You think I’m joking.  I’m not.  gold-stars-learning-to-give-myself-credit-dianaklein-comI now have several exciting sheets of congratulatory stickers (like the ones used by kindergarten teachers) and, as I record the events of the day in my journal, I think of at least one thing I accomplished, write it down, and I plop one of those stickers down next to it.  Sometimes it’s for doing something I was scared to do—like expressing myself honestly even though I feared retribution.  But the bar is not always that high.  Sometimes I give myself a gold star for vacuuming.  Sometimes it’s for self-care, like say, napping.  You’re laughing right now.  I get it, but the truth is that if you’re like me, you do a whole bunch of things during any given day for which you give yourself no credit, whatsoever.  Why?  Because “You’re supposed to have done that.  You don’t get a gold star for brushing your teeth, or feeding your family, or hugging your kids when you’re an adult.  That’s ridiculous.” finished-productivity-stuff-learning-to-give-myself-credit-dianaklein-com I agree, one hundred percent—but ONLY, if you are asking for that gold star from someone else.  I can’t expect other people to get excited about my taking good care of myself.  I can’t expect them to reward me.  But when I acknowledge to myself the things that I am doing—even the stuff that I “should” be doing as a matter of course—I shift my self-attitude from a person who’s failing all the time, to someone who could maybe do some things better, but who is also doing a heck of a lot of things absolutely right.  And that chick, definitely has more energy than Perpetually Failing Woman.  Plus, she’s a lot more fun to be around.

P.S. If you like the opening image, you may want to follow me on Instagram or Facebook. I post new art images daily.

CFS, Reading, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Coming Home to My Body

curiously-smiling-attentively-coming-home-to-my-body-dianaklein-comMy mother and I are walking together this morning. It’s already apparent that it’s a tough one for both of us, but we still do our daily check-ins.  “My legs are hurting a lot,” she tells me.  She knows that the pain in my legs have been a merciless for several days now, so she adds, “Maybe your legs said something to mine, and it spread.”

She’s making a joke. I know this.  But this morning, I am not in the mood.

Despite the pre-dawn darkness she senses my chagrin. “Not you,” she assures me, “your legs!”

“My legs are me,” I explain.

This is a fairly new admission for me. I have spent many, many years dissociating from my body, talking about it in the third person, distaining its weakness.

There’s an interview with Toni Morrison from about a year and a half ago during which, because of chronic pain, she talks about her body in a similar way. “I did so much for you, body, why aren’t you helping me now, when I need you?  I was so nice to you.”  When asked if making peace with her body was hard, she confirms “I do feel like I’m under attack.”

It’s easy to feel this way: My body is failing me. My body hates me.  I hate my body.  I felt this way for a long time.  Oh, I paid lip service in yoga classes to “listening to my body”, but my subconscious was really thinking: Listen to my body? Are you kidding me?  That bitch doesn’t know shit!

Then, in my mid-twenties, a hypnotherapist told me to “Be in your body. You want your body to be there for you, so you need to be there for it.”  I was a little confused.  What does she mean, be in my body? I am in my body, aren’t I?  But then I started thinking about The Robber Bride, a novel by Margaret Attwood I’d read some years earlier.  In it, one of the female characters describes being repeatedly molested as a child, and that her response to this was to leave her body, so that she wouldn’t feel everything that was happening to her so intensely.  This is one of the things I love about novels—they teach so much.  They teach you things you don’t know you need to know.  I had thought, at the time, that Attwood was speaking metaphorically or at the very least, metaphysically.  People don’t really leave their bodies, and if they do, it happens very infrequently.  It took a few years for me to realize that Attwood and the hypnotherapist had it right.  We do leave our bodies.  We hover around them because we have so much about which to think—or so much from which to escape.

My departure from my body was mostly because of the pain. I couldn’t understand why meditation teachers kept wanting me to scan my body.  I knew what my body felt like.  It hurt.  A lot.  I didn’t need to know anything more about it.  I didn’t want to know anything more about it.  I wanted to feel something different, something better.  So I took off, without realizing it, without meaning to, I just left.  It seemed better that way.

But it wasn’t. My retreat from pain was also a retreat from my life.  I became less connected to myself and to everything else.  How can you truly taste an orange if you’re not really there?  How can you taste any of the fruits of life, if you are constantly running away?  Though perhaps, I wasn’t experiencing as much pain, I also wasn’t there for myself.  I had less agency in my life, less ability to accomplish things because I was taking refuge in fantasy and a future that might never come.  Leaving can be okay for a while.  Sometimes we all need a break from reality, but I came to realize that for me, giving up the pain meant giving up everything.

And even then, the pain chases me. Without my attention, my body becomes tenser, harder, unforgiving.

I have taken to doing body scans again—nothing formal, usually it’s when I lie down to take a nap, and I often fall asleep before I finish. But I try to feel the full weight of my body falling into the bed.  I start at my feet, feeling them, expressing some appreciation for them.  I work up my body in this way.  Relaxing into the pain.  Filling the entire volume contained by my skin with my presence, flooding the space between my cells with my being.  Some months ago, without really thinking about it, I started telling myself: This is my body.  It seems kind of silly to remind myself of that and as anyone who has spent much time going to a Catholic church knows, those words can’t help but remind me of the mass.  It seems appropriate somehow, though—that here be an inherent holiness to those words.  That fully inhabiting one’s body could be a sacred act.

When I do this, the pain does not go away, but I feel more relaxed. I feel like my body and I are in this thing together.  We are not at odds.  We are not separate.  I believe, I know, that I am more than a body, but I am also this body.  This body is home.

The artwork for this post was inspired by the work Austin Kleon and Cindy Shepard. If you like it, you might want to check out their stuff, too.  Also, if you enjoyed this post as a whole, please consider sharing it.  🙂

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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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, Writing & Reading

Learning How to Trust Myself

Trust Zentangle

One of the things I love about writing are the little gifts—the spontaneous pieces of wisdom—that sometimes arrive from seemingly nowhere.  Are they born of my (much) wiser subconscious?  Or are they endowments from some outer source that chooses (thankfully) to take over my brain once in a while?  I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.

What I do know is that when I was writing my first novel, one character decided to tell another, “. . . the best life is not one in which one struggles to be good all the time.  It’s when a person believes in her own ability and desire to do good, and allows those positive actions to just happen on their own.”

This is a lesson I have been trying to learn for several years now.  After college, I spent a summer flailing at massage school.  I attempted to bolster my morale and failing health by making signs with construction paper and magic marker that said things like FAITH and TRUST in big block letters.  At the time, I think I was telling myself to trust in God, but even then, I think I knew that that meant trusting myself as well.  This was not an easy task as I knew what all I had gotten up to in my life.  I knew the stupid things I’d done and the smart ones I hadn’t.  And I didn’t feel very trustworthy.  Older now, I can recognize good reasons for my actions and inactions—many of them related to being hopelessly human—and I can also see how in trying to do the “right” thing, I was getting it all so sorrowfully wrong.  I got so constricted trying to get it right, there was no room for my creativity and love of life to breathe.  I was strangling the very parts of myself that have the most to offer.  I knew I needed to trust myself, but I couldn’t do that because I thought the only way to be trustworthy was to be infallible—something I am most certainly not.

But going back and reading those serendipitously generated lines reminds me that I don’t need to trust myself to be mistake-free or be ceaselessly industrious or know how to handle every problem in my life.  What I need, is to recognize that even though I am human and prone to blunders, my desire to be a positive force in this world is real and that, if I let it, is likely to yield some surprising and delightful results.

Thank you for reading. 🙂

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Just a Moment

Curiousity

Before I got sick in high school, I ran cross country and track.  At the end of each season, there would be an awards night, invariably during which a slide show of pictures of the student athletes would be shown and Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” would be played.  I had already sat through a lot of these presentations during my older sister’s very successful running career, and I remember yearning for the day when my picture would be up there.  More than that, I ached to fulfill the song’s message: to have that special moment “when I am more than I thought I could be”, so that I could “feel eternity” and “be free”.  It didn’t have to be in running.  It could be in whatever field I chose to pursue, but I was sure, with that silky, soaring voice egging me on, that, one day, it would happen.

I think a lot of us live this way—waiting for our lives to start.  We train ourselves to do this with the stories we tell and the ones we consume.  After all, how many movies or novels are there about someone living their lives from day to day as best they can?  A few perhaps, but most of us find them unbearably boring.  We crave adventure, love, excitement.  We meet our favorite protagonists when they have been tasked with a great struggle and we leave them when they have found love or have met some elusive goal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love those stories.  Heck, I’ve written those stories, but I think they, like the song, can confuse us about how we might want to live our lives.  For a long time, I thought “One Moment in Time” was such a great, inspirational song—and it is.  It tells us that through hard work and determination, we can become whatever we dream.  And, history has borne this out.  It can be true—but not for all of us.  Sometimes we fail.  Even when we try with all our wits and might and heart, sometimes we can’t capture the brass ring we believe will make our lives whole.  And, I for one, would like to believe, that’s okay.  As Mick Jagger has told us countless times: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need”.  Our job, a part from trying, is to recognize what we need when it arrives.  But here again, I’m talking about waiting.  Living for some time in the future.  For that time when I’ve lost the weight, when my body works the way I want it to, when I get this job or have that relationship.  We put our attention on hold until that magical time when we feel like all our ducks will all be in a row and the euphoria induced by this knowledge will keep us sailing through life.

I’ve been frustrated again lately about my lack of outward accomplishment in this lifetime and haunted by fears that I will never have my one moment in time.  And I realize that even though I am doing a lot of things to achieve my goals, a part of me is just waiting.  Always waiting.  And you know what?  I don’t want to wait anymore.  I don’t want to think of my life as unfulfilled because I haven’t won an Olympic gold medal or gotten a publishing contract.  And, come to think of it, I don’t want just one moment in time—hoping and believing that that instant will carry me through the rest of my life on clouds of ecstasy.  I am determined to have many moments—like when one of the little song birds comes for a visit on my window ledge, or one of my nieces gives me a hug for no reason, or noticing the crazy vivacity of acrylic paints.  Or recognizing how beautiful my harp sounds even when I am struggling to learn a hard passage.  Or feeling how just how soft my little, grey cat is when she comes to greet me in the morning.  Or sensing the subtle trickles of honeyed relaxation that seep through my muscles whenever my mother touches me.  Or remembering how grateful I am that my legs are capable of mobility, even when every step is painful.  Or, or, or.  The truth is I could go on for days.

When I was a kid and my family would eat something particularly delicious, my parents, both native German speakers (though different dialects), would instruct us, “You have to eat this mit verstand.”  I instinctively knew that this meant it was so good, it would be criminal not to savor it, but the literal translation for the German is “with understanding”.  We were supposed to eat with understanding, with gratitude, and with an attentive curiosity about what it was all about—every facet of it.  That is how I would like to experience my many one moments in time.  I don’t always do it—a lot of times I forget—but, I think for me, this is where eternity and freedom truly lie—in realizing the saturation of life in any sort of time—whether it be joyful or dull or difficult.  These are the moments I am living for and that I am resolved to live in now.  And if I get a publishing contract or somehow jump into an alternate universe and win a gold medal, I will endeavor to meet those moments with understanding, too.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

I Shall Not Live in Vain

  Some days, being part of the solution does not come easily.  I am tired.  I am scared.  I am in pain  Or, I’m just grumpy.  It’s on these days that I contract my expectations down to a single goal: to not be a part of the problem.  On those days, I am not going to be doing any mind-blowing activism.  Heck, I may not even be smiling at people.  In fact, I probably will be in my bed, under the blankets, hiding—even from my cat.  So yeah, no making the world a better place—and that’s okay, so long as I realize, that if I’m not careful, I might be making it a worse one.  How?  By telling myself—for whatever insidious reason—that I am a loser, a failure, a waste of space.  By becoming a black hole of negativity that is just yearning to suck the light out of the rest of the existence.

  On those days, I do my best to be kind to myself—if not for my own good, then for everyone else’s.  I think it’s hard to argue with the notion that we are all connected.  We may not understand the nuanced workings of those connections—if they are physical or psychic, or both, but whether we like it or not, we affect each other and all the other life on this planet as well.  According to Chaos Theory, a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the earth can cause a hurricane in another part.  So, if I, if any of us, abuse ourselves with nasty thoughts, even for one day, how much damage does it cause?  And not just to those around us, but to the world at large?  There are a great many sources of malice in this world and I don’t want to work against the good people who are making inroads against these ills.  I hate the idea of adding—no matter how faintly—to the darkness.

In one of my favorite poems, Emily Dickinson writes:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain,

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

 Which is great.  A worthy way to live.  But if I can’t do any of these things, then let me start my charity not just at home, but in my own heart.  If I can’t be part of the solution, please, at least, let me not be part of the problem.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Nature & Spirituality, Sickness & Health

Real Work

Being Here

“This is the real work.”—my words to my mother as we sat the dining room table a few nights ago.  I felt like I was about to spin out.  I’ve been more tired this week and my tasks have become overwhelming.  I was getting scared—and when I get scared, my body freezes in place, and my mind tries to run away.  But this time, I didn’t want to do either if those things.  I’ve been down those roads.  I know where they lead.

Some years ago I had a dream in which I was walking in the woods near the house where I grew up.  Traveling uphill on an autumn day, I enjoyed the colorful leaves decorating the trees.  After a while a car drove slowly past, and it occurred to me to become nervous.  Some yards ahead of me, the car stopped, and a man got out and hid behind a tree as if waiting for me.  My inner alarm blaring, I turned on my heels intending to flee down the hill.  But as I did, I saw a second man step out from behind the first, pointing a gun at him.  Already in flight and frightened by what might be done to me, I didn’t stop to examine the scene any further.  I fled down the hill and formulated a plan of where I might go to hide.  Suddenly, I found myself swamped in cold water and snow.  It came up to my waste or higher as I struggled to make my way through and escape the torture that seemed to pursue me.

When I related the dream to my mother at the time, she replied, “Well, you won’t like what I have to say about it.”  “What’s that?” I asked, steeling myself for her answer.  “What came to me is that you were supposed to witness, and instead, you ran away.”  It’s taken me 10 years to figure out how she was right.  Of course in a physical showdown, the most preservative thing to do is fight or flee, but this was my subconscious—no physical danger, just the warring of inner demons and gremlins.  When you run from those guys, there is no escape.  And going hand-to-hand with them is less effective than one might think.

Psychiatrist and mindfulness expert Daniel Siegel tells a story in his lectures about what happens when a person is bitten by a dog.  Say the dog has its teeth clasped around your hand, your innate response is to pull away from the pain and danger.  And the dog’s response is to strengthen its hold on you, clenching its teeth and digging them deeper into your flesh, thereby causing more pain, more danger.  But, if you were to relax, and allow your hand to move further into the dog’s mouth—in effect giving your hand to the animal, its gag reflex will kick in and expel your hand from its mouth.

I don’t know if this is true in practice, but the idea, on an emotional level, is sound.  That is why, as I stated here last week, I want to embrace my illness—as well as whatever part of me is healthy—and let it all just be as it is.  Not that I don’t try to feel good, but that I don’t consume the moments of my life with conspiring or running away.  I want to come home to my body, come what may, and know that I am safe here—even if it is painful and scary.

One of the many health practitioners I’ve consulted over the years once told me, “Be in your body.  You want your body to be there for you, so you need to be there for it.”  It has taken me at least 10 years to understand what that meant (Apparently my learning curve is a nice and gentle decade-long slope!).  Now, even when I don’t feel all that good about myself, I remember that the organism that is my body is still beautiful and amazing—like a tree or a flower or so many of the other living things that I respect and cherish just because they are alive.  I have spent so long running away from pain, but now I am leaning into it, paying attention, allowing whenever I can, for as long as I can.

And this is the real work I was talking about a few nights ago—being there at the dining room table and saying to myself, “I feel like I’m about to spin out,” and letting that be, without judgment and without trying to change it.  These moments of sitting with difficult emotions or thoughts and not acting on them is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  It feels so much easier to start howling, or throwing dishes, or binging on donuts or TV.  But I know that if I do any of those things, the second I’m done, those thoughts and feelings will still be there—all the moldier and nastier for my having tried to ignore them.  But if I stay with them, or as the Buddhists would have it, offer them a cup of tea, it gets better—maybe not right away and maybe not exactly in the way I think I want it to—but it does get better.