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.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing with a friend!

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?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with a friend. Thanks!

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?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with a friend. Thanks! 🙂

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

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with a friend, or even, subscribing. Thanks and have a great day!

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. 🙂

Sickness & Health, Writing & Reading

Improving Work Space Happiness

I live in an apartment, so my office is also my bedroom, music room, and art studio.  I am lucky that it’s a decent sized space into which I’ve been able to fit two desks, two large bookcases, a filing cabinet, my harp, music stand, and chair, as well as my bed.  It’s not ideal, but it works—sort of.  Lately, I’ve noticed that my body mechanics at my writing desk—a lovely, old, hinged slant top—have left something to be desired.  I didn’t have enough leg room and, because of the height of the desk, I was continually leaning forward—good for my abs, but terrible for my neck and shoulders—and made even more crippling when my little, furry writing assistant demands to lend her brilliance by sitting in my lap.

One of the problems with being sick with CFS (or as the Institute of Medicine has now termed it, SEID), is that time becomes even more precious.  On a typical day, I usually have 2-4 hours during which I feel somewhat normal.  Even though I do tend to have pain, my brain and body still function with reasonable ability.  Anything that requires any kind of physical or mental stamina must be done during this window.  It’s hard not to feel like shopping for a new desk is a lousy use of that time, but given the amount of time I spend (and hope to spend) at my computer, and the amount of pain I already feel due to my ill health, I decided that a new desk would be a good investment in my future wellbeing and productivity.

So, after a lot of online research, a lot of measuring, and a lot of miming my typing habits at various work surfaces, I picked my desk.  But just as I was ready to inform the lovely people at my local office supply store, I realized that there was no way my laptop was going to fit on its pull out typing surface.  What to do?  Give up?  This was the desk—the one that was going to fit in the space allotted, the one that coincided with my price point, the one that seemed to meet my needs in the best way possible.  I thought about it for a minute and decided to go look at the wireless keyboards.  What if I bought one of these as well and basically just used my laptop as a monitor?  It seemed like a good solution, but the thing about me (one of the many, many things) is that I tend to be scared to spend money.  I don’t have a lot of it (who does?), and I am just about always nervous that I am spending it wantonly.  I was already a little trepidatious about the desk, was I now just overcomplicating the situation to the nth degree?  Was I trying to force something that didn’t fit?  I wasn’t sure.  But when I sat with it for a moment, it kinda seemed like the right thing to do.  So I took a deep breath and handed over my credit card.

When I got home and put the desk together, I was relieved to be delighted with how it fit into my space.  I also noticed that when I pulled out my new keyboard, I discovered that having the screen farther away from me was much more comfortable to my neck.  I found a workspace body mechanics illustration online that confirmed that one’s screen should be 18 inches or about arm’s length away.  So, by making the uncertain purchase of the wireless keyboard, I had actually solved another problem of which I hadn’t yet been aware.  Looking more closely at the ergonomics diagram, I also realized that my computer was sitting too low on the desk.  My natural gaze fell higher, so I was having to make continual micro-corrections that was tiring to both my eyes and my neck.  I solved this by placing a favorite book of fairy tales and an air mat (for keeping the machine cool) underneath my computer. Fairy Tale Support I love seeing the book there as I type away.  It reminds me of my deep love of stories—one of the main reasons I started to write.  And now, as I am slowly arranging my workspace, I find it becoming more and more inviting.  Even as I enter the room and glance over, I find myself thinking, “Oooh, I like that spot.  I can’t wait to get over there.”  This was a another goal I had aspired to some years ago—reasoning, that if I wanted to get myself to spend long hours writing, I better make the area in which I am doing it a place I really want to be.

Work Space

I am sure there will be more adjustments to make as I go forward.  For one thing, I still have to train myself to keep sitting properly—keeping my feet flat on the floor, leaning back into my lumbar support (a small, lavender-filled pillow given to me by my mom) and reminding myself that my shoulders aren’t actually meant to be next door neighbors with my ears.  For another, I have to keep my resolve to get up, stretch, and get a drink at least once a hour (even if it means offending my writing assistant), but I am excited to have a more comfortable and pleasant space from which to tackle some of my goals.

Writing Assistant

Thank you for reading. 🙂