Monday, November 4, 2013

It's Simple

I've noticed that the world is primarily composed of two kinds of people:  Blamers/Complainers (let's call them the "Venters") and the Cheerful Optimists (the "Smilers").  When I say venting, I mean perpetual, habitual venting.  This habit of loathing and lashing out can be quite toxic to everyone and does no one any real good.  To maintain their sunny dispositions and peace of mind, "Smilers" occasionally feel the need to avoid or limit their exposure to "Venters" and all that negative energy.  I have observed and experienced a feeding frenzy of "Venter" upon "Smiler," and I believe it doesn't do either party any good.  The "Venter" steps away, feeling either more agitated or only temporarily pacified.  The anger resurfaces a short time later with a repeated need to vent.  The "Smiler" escapes to their sanctuary, falling onto their bed in utter exhaustion. They've been tapped and drained like a spring time Maple tree.  I think it's a co-dependent relationship. I really do.  At some point, for each person's mental health and development, either the "Venter" has to stop or the "Smiler" has to stop listening.

It is for the angry, resentful "Venter" that I write this blog entry today, not for the kindly person who occasionally and under extremely stressful or critical circumstances turns to another for guidance, nor is this blog entry for those suffering great loss or at some traumatic crossroads and desperately in need of a hug, a kind word, a listening board for our sorrow.  It's the angry venter, the blaming venter that causes more harm than good, and that's the kind of behavior I'm talking about.

The anger is the big difference here.  Angry venting helps no one.  I'm pretty darn sure of this because I was an angry "Venter" once.  And on occasion that lesser part of me still peeks around the curtain of my soul, threatening my peace of mind with a sinister sneer on its face, eager to blame and scream.  Blaming and complaining to others became so habitual I didn't even realize I was doing it until it was over, and then I never felt any satisfaction.  In fact, I inevitably felt guilty and remorseful for spitting poison like a viper in the presence of someone I loved and respected.  Still, I did it again and again, as a knee-jerk reaction to life's perceived troubles.  Mostly everyone else was venting, using popular catch phrases, like "shit happens."  Once, that was a joke, but people, including me, rarely laughed when they said it any more.  So why was I venting if it didn't help me feel any better?

Luckily for me, the inescapable cause and effect and natural impermanence of life was at work, and I suffered a major physical injury.  I told myself, oh so dramatically, that I had "lost everything!" I  found myself falling faster and faster, deeper and deeper into a depressing tailspin.  I was heading for nothing but darkness and misery.  I had to make a decision, one that I believe has changed my life.  I chose to be happy.  And then, lo and behold... I was happy.  It was and is that simple, folks.

You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be miserable.

Yeah, "bad" stuff is going to happen.  But once you really look at each change or event closely, isn't "bad" really open to interpretation, based on one's determined perception?  Some Buddhist masters say there is no problem unless you view it as a problem.  I agree with this completely.  Even people facing the worst crisis, such as terminal illness, have testified to experiencing a self-discovery and contentment with a renewed zeal for life.

When we face trouble or obstacles, illness or injury, we can make a choice to face each one with grace, to appreciate the experience for whatever it offers, whether it's a lesson or a new perspective that brings us closer to others.  We can choose to keep our minds open and to feel gratitude for life, to see the positive side to any situation, to see the good in all people and be happy!  We can live today in this very moment, no matter what it is.

Or you can choose to be miserable by complaining and moaning and regretting and wishing for more or for different.  Interestingly,  some"Venters" gravitate toward other "Venters," seeking a sense of camaraderie.  It's then about taking turns, one day one person vents, the next day the other one vents.  Even if one person wanted to stop venting, learns a better way to cope, they may feel responsible for listening to their friend's venting because their friend listened to theirs once.  It's a never-ending cycle of negativity, unfortunately, and not productive for either.  This is common, and I believe that's because no one realizes this dynamic has developed between them.

When "Venters" find a non-Venter, who has a blissful spirit, they either vent or habitually focus on the negative aspects of that other person's life, and encourage venting.  In other words, they love venting and truly believe it is a therapeutic practice (I thought so once, too), whether they are venting or being vented to.  It's strange, but true.  I think this is because they need to feel needed.  All potential trouble appears like a blip on their radar, and once found, they can fix you or offer solutions.

I try to avoid labels so let me clarify that there are myriad personalities in this human world, and we all undergo changes throughout our lives.  My reason for these labels here are to simplify for the sake of this blog entry only.  I won't use them again.  What is more -- most of us could be venters or vent-ees or great listeners or terrible listeners or optimists or pessimists from one week to the next.  In general, we are all human beings with flaws and negative, as well as positive tendencies, especially when life throws us curve balls.  But we can make a choice to be happy.  And I know a big part of that is deciding to focus on yesterday, in the future or right now.

I think the reason so many people complain and vent and blame is because they need to identify or label every event as either good or bad.  That's the first mistake.  It's their way of setting things in order, an attempt to make "sense" of things.  And of course, they want the problem to stop or go away as soon as possible.  Finally, they search desperately to identify the cause so they can prevent it from ever happening again.  But we can't control the universe.  It can't be done.

Let's face it:  Shit does happen.  But that's what makes life so great! That's the zest, the spice, the mystery that keeps us in awe.  We can view "trouble" as the natural product of the ebb and flow of life or call it "bad luck."  We can accept it and go with the flow or we can scream and bitch at everyone around us until it's over.  Meanwhile, the "now" still exists.  Will that "now" be fun?

I truly believe the best thing we can each do is accept the chaotic, unpredictable nature of life.  In time, we can even celebrate it and embrace its constant change.  Everything has a hidden treasure if you look closely enough. The Taoists believed this, and I think they were spot on.

Most of all, I think we can stop focusing on ourselves, especially during rough times, and instead, take a deep breath, smile and say, "Thank you for today.  Today I am alive."

Life is a beautiful, precious gift.  Isn't that enough?  Isn't that more than enough?  I tell you it is.  Be happy!  Celebrate being alive each and every day.  Smile more.  Dance more.  Laugh more.  Stay awake for the ride.  And yes, be there for each other.  Trust a friend with your pain and offer your shoulder for them when they collapse, then help them up again with positive words of cheer.

Loving each other is the greatest gift we can give to the world.  But I think it's important to be mindful enough to ask yourself if those tears you are crying are bitter, resentful angry tears or sorrowful, exhausted tears?

Ask yourself:  Am I poisoning or watering the world with my tears?  And am I exposing myself to poison or pain?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Walking The Path

Yesterday I bought a pound of incredibly overpriced coffee from a boy scout named Aidan.  The twelve-year-old was also selling batteries and Christmas wreaths to help him become an Eagle scout.  I had to put a smile on little Aidan's face so without hesitation, I bought a pound of coffee.  This surprised me.  I don't know Aidan.  I don't know most of our neighbors.  But I'm connected.  I know that now.  If Aidan is smiling, so am I.  This is new for me, this luscious feeling of altruism and brotherhood.  In the past, I would not have even gone to the door, unless, of course I thought the person ringing the doorbell had seen me inside.  I would have huddled in the back of the house, waiting for whoever it was to leave.  Don't bother me, I'd think.  I didn't have kids for a reason, I'd think.  Why should I pay for someone else's kids... in fact, some kid I don't even know.  But I do know Aidan, on a spiritual level.  Aidan is me.  And I am Aidan.  We are all Aidan.  And Aidan is all of us.

For over a year, due to a severe injury, I suffered from a lonely isolation, physical pain and disability, hopelessness and fear and blinding anger.  Today and everyday, my life is truly blessed with joy.  How did this happen?  Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hahn, said something which describes my story perfectly:

"In the ash of suffering a Phoenix can be born."

I am that Phoenix.

I have at last found the right path.  I have become a realist.  Some call it Buddhist.  Some call it Love.  I am love.  I know it sounds mushy, but it is true.  We are all love!  It is our true nature.  Most of us just haven't realized it yet.  There, again, is the connection, the deciding factor... REALIZE REALITY.  Until I did that, I was hopelessly lost.  I guess everyone has their own version of reality.  But I really love Buddhism.  As for me, I've always been a part-time realist.  I have always run like hell from any preaching, altar worship with or without idols, praying to someone else or something else, some deity beyond my reach, far up in the clouds. If I can't see it, prove it scientifically, it remains to be proven and I just can't buy into it.  I'm certainly not going to change my ways based on "faith."  Buddhism is fact-based and all of its tenets, save for the afterlife or reincarnation, can be easily proven by just observing life.  I have observed it and now I know this is the path for me.  Without a doubt, I'm 100% committed.  Of course, my closest friends and family have been saying I should be committed for years, but they were talking about something else entirely.

Here I am, over a dozen Dharma books and two months of intensive study and practice later, and I can honestly say, "I am a part-time Buddha."  You see, that's part of the attraction.  In the original Buddha's eyes and his own words, anyone can be a Buddha.  You don't have to have any special qualifications or be born into a select lineage.  Enlightenment is possible for anyone, from a tiny gnat to a human being and everything in between.  All sentient creatures can attain enlightenment.  The original Buddha or "Awakened One" (Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni), as well as a number of spiritual leaders including His Holiness, The Dalai Lama said this is so.  This is no men's-only club.  Enlightenment is open to all.  And you are not forced to speak through some robed figure standing above you.  You can speak to the Buddha directly.  Because the Buddha is YOU.

I am laughing more, seeing the big picture of life, listening better (to myself and to others), having genuine moments of joy and appreciation for every day, the sunshine and the storms!  I am so crazy in love with the whole philosophy of Buddhism that I simply MUST write a blog entry about it in more detail.  If you are interested in learning about Buddhism, read the rest of this blog entry.  If you are bored silly or on an entirely different path, that's cool, too.

What is Buddhism?  For me, it teaches how to let go.  One of my favorite Buddhist Masters, Ajahn Chah, said:  "If you let go a little, you a will have a little peace; if you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely, you will have complete peace.”

The original Buddha said, "I teach only two things:  Suffering and the end of suffering."

We need to "let go of what causes suffering."  What do we mean by suffering?  It doesn't mean physical pain, but emotional such as dissatisfaction, confusion, anger, fear, addiction, restlessness, boredom, etc.  Also, any kind of emotional stress only heightens the pain or sense of debilitation felt from an injury or illness.  I know this from direct experience as I went from taking strong painkillers around the clock to just one before sleep at night.  Physical pain of any sort doesn't frighten or agitate me any more.  Wisdom helps me bear it, even to feel gratitude for pain because it is my body working normally as part of the natural alarm system.

And as for emotional suffering, how does one end this?  First off, let's distinguish between pain and suffering.  Pain is unavoidable.  Suffering is not.  Remember that there will always be pain, trouble, challenges, injury, illness, etc.  People we love will die, and we will, naturally, be sad for a while.  It doesn't mean we cannot feel.  All of these are part of life.  But the question is:  Will we let these situations cause us to suffer greatly, to dismantle us or destroy us?  Or can these experiences make us stronger?  More fully alive?  Will suffering help us understand and to develop compassion for others when they suffer?  It is how we deal with these troubles and challenges that prevents further internal suffering, ie. anguish, anger, jealousy, etc.  Without exception, the answer can be found on the inside, within each individual.  You have to take some time alone and focus on the very suffering you are avoiding or running from or clinging to, whatever it is, a person, a situation, and all the feelings it evokes.  With practice, you begin to see that suffering, again, without exception, is caused by aversion or attachment (clinging) to something or someone.  With deep meditation, we can let go of these causes of our suffering and be truly FREE.

In our relationships with others, it is challenging for most of us (it is for me) to be honest about what is causing our suffering.  We like to blame everyone else, but is that true?  Really?  When the inevitable conflicts arise, and I get "hooked" (the preface to drama), I often ask myself this question:  Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?  This has helped me a lot in my life, to be the water and not the rock, to try and go with the flow.  Buddhism helps me stay serene despite any chaos around me.  I am more mindful and open to the suffering of others.  Meditating each day gives me clarity so I can observe and feel compassion for the suffering of others.   Then it becomes possible to let go of my resentment, anger (aversion), etc. toward them, or my expectations (attachments).

Here's a great video of Tibetan nun Thubten Chodron about the topic of relationships from the Buddhist standpoint.  It's humorous and illuminating:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qfS9vK35UA.

A large part of Buddhism is in the awakening.  This comes from meditation and mindfulness, learning to still the constant drone of noise in our minds, the distractions that keep us from our true, content and compassionate selves.  It comes also from learning to be fully present.  An awareness begins to develop.  It's like the whole world has opened and you see it for the first time, like a newborn baby.  You see it with wonder and gratitude and joy.  You let go of the worry, the anger, the judgment of others and yourself, the need to be certain of anything.  You see that the mystery is life is beautiful.

Other significant Buddhist teachings are:  1) Realizing that life is impermanent, everything changes at all times (so why attach oneself to any of it?).  2) Human life is precious and rare so have gratitude for every moment you've been given.  3) We are all connected, and therefore, there is no self, no I.  4) Everything we do or do not do creates a karmic imprint.  Another term for this reality is cause and effect.  Even our "intention" brings karma in this life (or the next, if you believe in reincarnation).  You can do a good deed, but what you think while doing it matters as much or more.  We are all subject to karma.  5) Everyone, every living being can attain enlightenment, the awakening.  This is the end of suffering.  Once this state is reached, a newfound compassion for others and love for life radiates from the heart.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama said, "My true religion is loving kindness."  This is something we can all follow, words to really consider as you go about your day.  The earth and all of life on it is precious. Why not practice more kindness?  Share more of your heart?

Among Buddhism's most basic principles are the Four Noble Truths (Suffering, Its Cause, Its Cessation and The Path to Cessation), as well as the Noble Eight-Fold Path. The path is as follows and is circular, like a lotus blossom:

  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration
  • Right Understanding
  • Right Thought
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort

Buddhism has around three-hundred precepts, taken by Monks or Nuns, but only five basic precepts are expected as a day to day training for a lay Buddhist.  A lay practitioner doesn't have to adhere to these vows, but I believe that doing so enhances one's practice and naturally fits in with all the other teachings.  It is no effort to follow them for most people.  In fact, for most people attracted to Buddhism, these are already part of their belief system.  These vows are:

1) To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings. This precept applies to all living beings not just humans. All beings have a right to their lives and that right should be respected.

2) To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given. This precept goes further than mere stealing. One should avoid taking anything unless one can be sure that is intended that it is for you.

3) To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct. This precept is often mistranslated or misinterpreted as relating only to sexual misconduct but it covers any overindulgence in any sensual pleasure such as gluttony as well as misconduct of a sexual nature.  For lay folks, this means abstaining or being in a committed relationship or marriage and being loyal to that.

4) To undertake the training to refrain from false speech. As well as avoiding lying and deceiving, this precept covers slander as well as speech which is not beneficial to the welfare of others.

5) To undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness. This precept is in a special category as it does not infer any intrinsic evil in, say, alcohol itself but indulgence in such a substance could be the cause of breaking the other four precepts.

Fairly early on, within days of studying Buddhism and meditating, I began to have glimpses of enlightenment.  It is the greatest joy I've ever felt.  But I've learned that, like all good things, it takes practice to stay awake.  lt takes time and diligent effort to shed our negative habits and distractions.  My life has purpose, to evolve as fully as I can and help others along the way.  Developing more gratitude, serenity, wisdom and compassion are my highest goals.  To me, nothing else is more important.

I will end with a wonderful, easy-to-follow suggestion from Tibetan Nun and author, Pema Chodron (http://pemachodronfoundation.org):

"At some point, if you’re fortunate, you’ll hit a wall of truth and wonder what you’ve been doing with your life. At that point you’ll feel highly motivated to find out what frees you and helps you to be kinder and more loving, less klesha driven and confused. At that point you’ll actually want to be present—present as you go through a door, present as you take a step, present as you wash your hands or wash a dish, present to being triggered, present to simmering, present to the ebb and flow of your emotions and thoughts. Day in and day out, you’ll find that you notice sooner when you’re hooked, and it will be easier to refrain. If you continue to do this, a kind of shedding happens—a shedding of old habits, a shedding of being run around by pleasure and pain, a shedding of being held hostage by worldly concerns."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Beauty of Books

Wow, what an awesome journey the past year has been!  I have so much to say as I continue to follow my Buddhist path; my heart is bursting with joy and gratitude, my mind expanding with new wisdom and insights.  But today, I simply want to share a lovely, funny story I heard.  It came to me from a dear and compassionate friend, just a few hours ago.

And it's a true story, making it all the more wonderful:


A woman writer had just completed her first novel.  She was overwhelmed with a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Soon after, she stopped by a book shop and told the clerk, "I just finished my first novel, and I'm so excited I had to share it with someone!"  The clerk smiled back in appreciation and exclaimed, "Wow, really?  That is awesome!"  The writer beamed with renewed pride and joy.  The clerk then asked, "So will you be buying your second book today?"

I just love this story on so many levels!  First off, I used to be a reading tutor, and I've supported literacy programs throughout my life in any way I can.  Reading is such an amazing gift, a window to the world, knowledge, other cultures, etc.  Literacy is something I'm passionate about.  But I'm also a writer and know that immense feeling of accomplishment when a new story is complete.  I can only imagine the pleasure and pride of completing a full-length novel.  It's so precious to me that this bookstore clerk celebrated what she perceived as the awesome achievement of reading one's first book.  The fact that we can so completely misunderstand each other is also entertaining to me.

As for the writer in this story, who is now an accomplished novelist with a string of bestsellers to her credit, I am certain she tells this story at her multiple book signings because it makes her fans laugh... but also because she learned from this experience.  I think this story reminded her to stay humble.   But it also highlighted the reason we writers write -- it's to be read!!  That's the ultimate goal, to share one's words through writing.  Without literacy, our words would fall on deaf ears, never reach anyone's heart or mind.

So please read a book today.  Better yet, read someone else a book who can't do it for themselves.  Better still, TEACH someone to read!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Back on Track (so to speak)

For anyone following my progress since the "accident" (Setting:  garage sale / Incident:  old lady lifted out of chair / Result:  herniated disc and sacral torsion / Clarification:  the lady walked away unharmed, while I've been having physical therapy for the past year), I'm back on track, at least mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

I'm not a whole lot better in terms of my SI joint dysfunction and referred pain from the herniated disc.  I still cannot bear sitting or standing for more than a few minutes at a time.  But I can tolerate the pain and disability a whole lot more now that my other parts are in good working order.  I speak of the mind, the heart and the spirit, which all contribute to one's wellness.  I've learned how true that is over the course of time, and especially most recently.

Something significant and transformative happened to me in early August.  First, I had yet another complete meltdown, triggered by ferocious anger and fear and sadness.  I missed my former way of life. It was robust, full of stimulating activities; I was writing full-time (a long-time dream fulfilled), attending a weekly writer's workshop, participating in a drum circles, Bluegrass jams, singing karaoke, learning how to dance to Dubstep music, walking three miles a day, attending a Socrates Cafe coffee shop chats every week, driving or flying home to see my family in Ohio at least twice a year and so much more.  It was all gone, and I had no idea if or when I'd ever get it back.

Then, something surprising happened within me: Total SURRENDER.  I said to myself, "I'm letting go." Thereafter, I began a focused study of and attention on Buddhism.  It's something I've been thinking about for some time.  Yes, me a Buddhist.  Just maybe.  This is amazing stuff and, so far, all its principles have me utterly fascinated and in awe.  Everything is connecting with me and resonating within me at a very deep level.  Unlike most spiritual tenets or belief systems, I've found nothing remotely "icky" about it.  In fact, in some ways, Buddhism is very scientific, which greatly appeals to the common sense, rational side of me.  The original Buddha and His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, both urge followers or potential followers to constantly question the Buddha's teachings, test them in a mindful, methodical way.  I like that.

The first thing I did was contact a good friend, whom I knew was a practicing Buddhist.  He agreed to help me along my journey or studies, however you want to put it.  He also recommended several books.  So far, I've read four amazing books, so far, and have just opened my fifth, each about Eastern philosophy (Taoism and Hinduism but mostly Buddhism).  One book was written by an Indian Spiritual Guru whom I've admired and read many times over and whose workshops I've attended over the years, one by an American Psychologist, one by a Tibetan nun, one by an American Psychologist, Buddhist Practitioner, best-selling author and former Tibetan Monk and another by a lesser known Italian Psychologist/Buddhist Practitioner.

One thing that really surprised me is that many great Buddhist teachers do not consider Buddhism a religious discipline but a psychological discipline.  In fact, the Buddha, himself, said that his teaching was neither a dogma nor a doctrine. He taught a method for experiencing reality.  Buddhism has but one practical purpose:  to end suffering and achieve a permanent state of serenity.

Today, moment by moment, experience by experience, I find my heart opening, tears of joy and gratitude spilling over.  I realized I have been on this path all my life, the path toward Buddhism or at least some mixture of Eastern philosophy with a focus on Buddhism.  I've always been open-minded and will continue to be.  I'll continue to attend my beloved and uber-tolerant United Unitarian Universalist church for wisdom, community and opportunities for service.  And I'll continue to study and learn about all schools of thought, all spiritual doctrines or methods throughout my life.  But in the here and now, I realize that there have been stepping stones leading me to this moment throughout my life and this realization of where I've been heading could not have come at a better time in my life.

So many little stepping stones or seeds have appeared along my journey, and though I walked the path, I often also danced around it, easily distracted, always seeking other truth, always questioning.  For whatever reason, I never really gave Buddhism, specifically, my full-on focus and attention... until now.

I'm just at the beginning of my study, and likely, practice of Buddhism, but I can honestly say I've never felt more fully awake before, nor more fully connected to others (humans, animals, plants, rocks, etc.)  on this earth and beyond, than I do today.  We are all connected in our mutual suffering and our mutual love and compassion for one another and so we belong to one another.  In fact, we cannot exist independently of anything else.  It's truly amazing... the more I study this, the more joyous I feel.

Therefore... I am doing much better now, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  I'm sorry for my recent doom and gloom blog entries.  I think they shall be a thing of the past.  I'm still human.  I'll have the inevitable hiccups and downer days.  But I have the feeling they will come less and less, despite what life throws at me.

As for the "physical" improvement, it will also come... in its own time.  I have refocused on what is important in life.  I am full of happiness and excitement and passion today!!  I am still in pain and limited in what I can do (cannot sit or stand long yet).  But I am throwing myself into life with a new abandon because of this meditation and study and the deep spiritual insight that it brings.

For example... this morning I awoke in pain at a very early hour (3 AM).  Instead of fighting it and laying awake for hours, I got out of bed, made a cup of peppermint tea, then kneeled in front of our big sliding glass doors that lead out to our patio (our "oasis," with a rock garden, trees, flowers, birds, etc.).  Due to my recent studies, my awareness and senses have been enhanced.  Also, I feel more appreciation for every moment, the here and now, despite my physical pain and isolation.  I do agree that experiencing extreme physical pain can lead you to a beautiful place if you let it.  And I think my past year's journey has lead me here too.

So I kneeled there and gazed up at the pale moonlit olive tree and listened to the beautiful sound of a female Cicada singing.  I think that's what it was.  I call her my "Dharma bug" because her song consists of a series of perfect high "D" notes and it is so peaceful and soft like the sound of a cat purring.  Truly!  I then noticed the chorus, no, the symphony of other insects singing around her and felt such joy!  I heard the wind blowing softly through the leaves and the slight crackle as a small mouse or other creature moved through dry leaves nearby.  I  heard a bat or a large insect bounce against the window pane.

Then I walked outside in my nightgown, bare feet on wet grass, and looked at the stars, so clear in the early morning country sky, and the waning three-quarter moon and I could smell the sweet scent of ripening apples in our apple trees, and citrusy scent of our row of pine trees.  I could hear the sound of David snoring through his window (I laughed) and I was and still am so happy.  It is all so amazing, isn't it?  Life?  Truly amazing, beautiful and such an adventure, moment by moment if we awake to it, appreciate it.  I've always been a huge nature lover and found my most peaceful moments among the trees, out bird-watching or scratching out a poem under a tree, but this was new, this awareness is new to me.

What I mean by all this is… I'm hanging in there and, though doing whatever my doctors say to do to continue to heal, I also accept my life as it is for the moment, and trust that everything is continuously changing.  That is the nature of life, its impermanence.  In my heart, I know everything will be fine.  And that heart brims over with new joy.  I cannot wait to share this joy with everyone I meet.  I feel it spilling over, in my eyes, in my posture, in my words.  All I want, right in this moment, is to become a more compassionate person with more wisdom.  And I know that is possible, no matter what my circumstances.

It all starts now.  Anything is possible in any given moment.  You just have to open your eyes, see it and smile.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Upcoming Stories... An UPDATE!

I was elated this afternoon to hear that "Salem Cemetery," published by Inwood Indiana Press, has finally been released in paperback.  This book is an anthology and has two of my short stories, "Lycanthrope" and "Mandolyn."  Both stories are written in the Magic-Realism genre.  


UPDATE!  I just received news that "Apeshit," another anthology, has been published by Exeter Press in paperback form.  This issue includes my short story, "Strange Companions at London Zoo."  Of all the stories I've written, this general interest story is one I'm most fond of, given that one of the story's main characters is "Gee," a mountain gorilla.  Next to wolves and koalas, mountain gorillas are my next favorite animal.  They are truly beautiful creatures with more depth and intelligence than most people give them credit for.  I hope anyone out there who gives that story a gander will feel the same way I do about it (the story and the mountain gorilla).

I have to keep this short because I'm still having trouble sitting or standing for more than a few minutes at a time (back injury and SI joint dysfunction).  Though my sacrum is killing me, my fingers are itching to write again.  I hope to be back to full-length blog entries, as well as more short stories, as soon as I'm healed, and I will continue to share links to this blog with all my email friends whenever there is something new to report.

Until next time...

Monday, June 24, 2013

I Want My Life Back

Well, to anyone reading this, if any, here's an update on my health nightmare... Sorry, I can't summon any other topic right now.  This is in the forefront of my brain.  I'm still stuck here at home with 100% focus on healing and getting my life back, so here goes...

Nothing has changed. I am still in constant pain and living only a half life.  My hips, pelvis and sacrum are the main issue, although the longer I go without walking (impossible with a bum hip), the worse my back pain becomes.  I'm worried that without the walking (I had done up until three weeks ago), my back will only continue to worsen.  Walking is good for back injuries, however it is terrible for bad hips.

Three weeks ago, Dr. E., a sports medicine doctor, looked me over, ordered more x-rays and then diagnosed me with SI joint dysfunction.  He also said my pelvis is misaligned from side to side.  I also have a sacral torsion from front to back, according to my physical therapist.  And, as per my sports medicine doc, my IT band is snapping, causing additional pain into my left leg.  Fun stuff all around.  He suggested I continue with targeted PT and see him in three weeks.

After following his instructions, as well as those of my PT, here I am, three weeks later without much progress.  The only slight improvement is my abs, glutes, abductors and adductors are getting stronger.  But the pain is no better, if not worse.  I cannot walk without a limp, so my PT said I have to use a cane.  Wonderful news for a woman of only fifty.  But I do it.  Anything if it helps.

Dr. E. and I meet again tomorrow and I will tell him I've had it.  Now I'm more than desperate.  I'm frantic.  I'm bordering on suicidal.  I need my life back and NOW!  I don't know how long I'll hold onto my sanity at this rate.  My emotional meltdowns are increasing in frequency.  My poor husband.  I know how hard this has been for him, listening to my howling, wiping my tears, helping with extra chores I cannot do.  

I had a meltdown today simply because I received a nice card from my family.  I retrieved the mail, opened and read the card while walking back  up to the house and burst into tears.  Thank God I got into the house before I frightened the neighbors.  The pain of missing them is heart-wrenching.  A part of me is missing because I haven't seen any of them in a year.  It's the longest I've been away from my family without a visit.

Today I will drive to the YMCA and try their pool again.  I cannot do much except for walk around in the shallow end and lift the legs out to the sides and behind me (abductors and glute muscles).

And tomorrow, I'll beg Dr. E. to hasten this healing process any way he can.  Maybe it's time for another cortisone shot or two.... or a nerve block... or a tens unit...  anything!!

More later... thank you for listening.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Desperate Times

This blog entry will be scattered with typos and subpar in every regard.  It will have no style whatsoever, unless you consider sophomoric and blasé as a distinct style.  It will be depressing and morbid.  But it will be personal.  And it will be real.  That I can promise with full confidence.

I've had it.  Absolutely, without a doubt, HAD it.  It's been almost ten months since I lifted that old lady out of a chair at a neighborhood garage sale and herniated my disc.  If someone had told me I would still be in pain nearly a year later, I would have screamed.  I'm frustrated, angry and hopeless.  These are desperate times.

I'm willing to try anything it takes to get well, including surgery.  Since this happened, I've seen two chiropractors, one physical therapist, two orthopedic surgeons, one neurosurgeon and my family physician.  I've also seen another boatload of doctors on two visits to the ER.  I've had two MRI's, three sets of x-rays and a bone scan.  I've had two cortisone shots in my L5-S1 disc and one in my left sacroiliac joint.  I was taking Flexeril, Diazepam, Hydrocodone with Acetominophen and Naproxen.  I was icing and rubbing Bio-Freeze into the painful areas.  I was avoiding any activity that hurt me, including sitting or standing too long.  I wasn't driving but on the rare occasion nor doing any of the normal activities people do, like working (my writing has been put on hold) and all but the least vigorous house cleaning.  I've worn a back brace and a sacrum belt.

And the result of all this time, money and energy devoted to my healing process?  None of the above has given me significant relief.  The only thing that has benefited me has been the PT, which I've done religiously every day even when the pain was at its worst.  Thanks to a wonderful physical therapist, these stretches and exercises have strengthened my core -- especially my back -- and my legs.

In addition to the back pain, I've been having hip pain on my left side and feel something "go out" there any time I move my left leg the wrong way, usually too far to the left or right.  This has been happening for about two months now.

Up until two weeks ago, I was making progress.  My back pain was more manageable, and I was in the process of weaning myself off all the meds.  But my left hip is getting progressively worse.  It actually feels like the bone is coming out of the socket and when it happens, it hurts like hell, then creates waves of pain and/or muscle spasms afterward.

I will call the neurosurgeon tomorrow and let him know that the SI joint injection has only reduced my pain slightly and most importantly, it has done nothing to prevent me from dislocating something in my left pelvis and creating more inflammation and pain every time.  I have been wearing my sacrum belt all day, but it does NOT prevent that "thing" in my pelvis from "popping in/out" or at least trying to.

Like I said, I've had it.  I want my fricking life back!!!  I miss everything... walking, writing, taking baths, shopping in a real store (vs. online), holding my cat on my lap, sitting, reclining on the easy chair, my writing workshop.  I miss not having to be careful every minute of every day...  I miss bluegrass jams and drum circles and church and meeting friends in coffee shops and bird-watching and running and riding in the car with David (and sitting vs. laying in the backseat on a row of pillows).

I'm tired of feeling like a completely useless invalid.  I can't sit for more than thirty minutes once a day nor stand for more than ten minutes at a time.  This means I can't contribute much of anything to my marital relationship.  I can wash dishes (IF the pain isn't too bad), do laundry, make dinner, excavate the litter boxes, sew buttons back onto shirts.  But other than that, I have no reason to get up in the morning.

All winter I was stuck inside, unable to walk outside most days due to ice and snow.  So I walked in our basement every day.  Now that spring has sprung and the lawn and trees are verdant and green and the birds are singing and the sun is shining, I can go outside any time I like.  But I cannot walk now, due to my pelvis injury.  Great timing, eh?  Nice. Real nice.  Give it to me and take it away again, that's been the drill.  Why stop now?  Fate, you really know how to beat the spirit out of someone.

Today, my left leg is numb or painful down to the foot or wracked with pain and spasms.  My left pelvis feels like it's coming off the hinge and both the left and right hurt like a sonofabitch.  I am hobbling from room to room, unable to bear weight on my left leg at all.  The pain is off the charts again without meds and barely tolerable with them.  I'm back on Vicodin, which I'd been off of for three months.  I've taken ten steps backward.

My body is broken, but worst of all is that heart is broken.  My writing career was just starting to take off before this injury.  It's been almost a year since I've written anything but the very rare blog entry.  I can do in short spurts, and I don't need to critique while I write.  I don't need to ensure it's good technique.  It's just for me and no one else.  No worries  But it's not fiction.  It's not what I LOVE.  I can't write my beloved fiction.  It requires more concentration and skill and TIME than I can manage because I still cannot fricking SIT.  The sacrum pain, when I do sit, is off the charts.  It's unbearable.  It feels like I'm sitting on an open wound, a broken part.  It's horrendous.  So I keep sitting to a very short time each day.

The other reason I can't write, even were I to try from this position (laptop on my legs, while laying on my back) is it strains my lower back.  It's not a perfect position, that's for sure.  I'm already at my limit right now, and it's only been a half hour.  Writing fiction requires time.  Just one short story takes me ten to twelve hours, and that's on a good day.  Then there are several more days of editing before it's ready to submit.  And most importantly, if none of that were true, I still couldn't write because it's sooo addictive.  I cannot stop when I should.  A new story sucks me in with a great whoosh, and I disappear for a few days.  It's just how the creative process works for me. I have to give in to it or else it's gone.  The magic, the ideas, the flow is interrupted if I stop.  I just can't write fiction in fits and spurts.  It doesn't work that way for me. In order to write my beloved fiction again, I'm going to have to be able to endure at least THREE hours of sitting.  If I can't do that, it's not going to happen.

And last, but not least, there is the pain.  Always the pain. It's my most unwelcome companion.  Pain has taken up residence in me and refuses to vacate the premises.  As long as I'm in this kind of pain, even WITH heavy drugs, my creative flow is altered.  I just can't be creative when I'm in pain.  All I can think about is the pain.  It blinds me to anything else for more than a few minutes.

I have nothing to look forward to, no purpose, no sense of accomplishment for anything since I can do virtually nothing.   I feel like a pathetic, worn out old woman, crawling from one day to the next like a rusty roboton.  From time to time, I feel a surge of hope and my step gets a teensy bit faster, and I do a joke of a dance, like a fragile antique puppet on a frayed string.  Why do I keep moving?  Because I'm supposed to.  I'm trained oh so well.  Keep going, you must always keep going.  My husband says, "Don't give up.  You have to keep trying."  Yeah, right.  That's worked so well up until now.  Maybe giving up hope, giving up trying is the way to go.  It's definitely less stressful, and they say stress impedes the healing process. Hey, maybe I'm on to something.

It was a good life, and I want it back.  I've given up hope.  It's too painful to feel it surge in my chest, full of promising visions of vitality and normalcy, and then wave it goodbye as it's snatched from my arms once again.  I finally realized yesterday that nothing I've done, nor do, will affect change.  The only thing that has or will make a difference is TIME.  And how much longer it will be is a knowledge forbidden to me.  I have to just suck it up and wait it out.  Continuing on this roller coaster ride of hope and dashed hope and hope and dashed hope is too painful.  I give up.

Do you hear me, God or fate or whatever and whoever is in charge of this measly life I lead?  I give up.  You win.  You're in control.  I get it.  I'm here in this pathetic non-existence and wracked with unimaginable pain, day and night and maybe there is a reason and maybe there isn't.  Maybe it's just for kicks, a source of entertainment for someone.  Maybe I'm being punished for all the horrible, thoughtless, selfish things I've done.  Maybe this is my comeuppance.

Maybe my house is haunted or some evil spirit put a hex on me.  Yes, maybe I am cursed.  Hey, it sure feels that way.  And it's not just the injuries that make me consider this.  Lately, everything I touch crumbles into bits of nothing.  Everything I attempt to do backfires.  Everything I touch breaks.  Every time I try to communicate I am misunderstood.

Friends and family have begun to give me that look or that silence, both of which say, "What more do you want from me?  What more can I say?  I'm tired of saying how sorry I am, you poor thing.  Jeez, get over it already.  You obviously don't want to get well or you would have by now.  Maybe you're just looking for attention.  Your serving of sympathy has run dry.  Enough already!"

Yes, I hear this every time they don't answer the phone, every time I leave a voice mail message or send a letter, every time they say they're busy and can't talk right now, have to get back to their nice, normal lives.  I hear it every time I send them a card or gift and don't hear back.  I hear it every time I spread my guts on a platter and everyone looks away in disgust.  "Get a hold of yourself."  "She's obviously unstable."  "She's so stressed out.  That's the reason she's still in so much pain.  It must be psychosomatic."  "Yes, maybe she's imagining all of it.  It's possible.  It makes sense.  Snap out of it, already!  We're tired of hearing you whine.  Can't you find something nice to say, for God's sake?"

I don't blame them.  I'm sick of me, too.  I'm certain that my level of flabbergastedness with myself is miles higher than anyone else's.

So I say -- Get on with it, God!  Slice me up and feed me to the birds already.  End it.  End me.  If that's your plan for me, can't you just move it along?  What a cruel god.  He plays with me like a curious little kid with a bug, holding a magnifying glass at just the right angle to burn the writhing victim below the glass.

Like I said... I've had it.  Done.  Finito.  Over and out.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Human Connections

What would happen if we could always give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even after they screwed up?  What would happen if we could always believe that everyone around us is doing the very best they can at any given moment, just as we, ourselves, are doing?  Imagine the possibilities...

These questions arose in my mind because I was thinking about wholeheartedness and human connections and what it might mean if one could truly feel and, more importantly, LIVE seamlessly connected with our brethren on this earth.  From my experience, you can feel something, but the next step is really believing it, and the final step is living it.  Living it means putting your beliefs into action, incorporating them into everything you do and how you behave toward others.

Over the past five years, I've realized my need for human connection, and luckily have satisfied that need over the past year.  I've nurtured many new, deeply rewarding friendships because of my awakening.  And I have so much more joy and feel more truly human because these dear friends are part of my life.

But I have to ask myself:  Where the concept of human connection is concerned, am I truly LIVING it?    No, I don't think so.  I think I can do better.  To do so is scary, because it would mean extending my circle of friends to include everyone on the earth.  And it would mean being vulnerable, the most frightening thing of all.  The unknown risks of that, alone, frighten most into complacency.  It would mean embracing all of humankind as my brothers and sisters of the earth, including the ones who hurt me or hurt others, including criminals.  It would mean forgiving them without hesitation, just as we should forgive ourselves.

The whole concept of human connection means recognizing that we, as human beings, are in this together, that we share the same basic needs and desires, that we all want to be loved and accepted and respected, that we are all flawed and make mistakes and do the best that we can in any given moment based on a complex set of genetic, social and environmental factors.

I started to think about this concept, really living it, and why it scared me so much.  What is the obstacle for me, personally?  I really don't know for sure.  But perhaps partly, it is fear of trusting (myself as well as others), of believing that everything will be okay if I open my heart without reservation to everyone.  It should be so easy, especially when you realize that most of us have already felt the connection.  Even I, in my most anti-social, most independent moments, have felt that seamless connection.  I reflected upon that euphoria that rises within me every time I stand and watch a parade.  It's not the parade that does it; it's the crowd around me, the common pleasure I am sharing with complete strangers.  I felt that same joyful connection when David and I cheered from the sidelines at the Boston Marathon.  It was amazing, this high rise of joy I felt in my heart, and I knew it wasn't due to the race we were watching but the other spectators we shared it with.

It finally donned on me why people love football and other sporting events so much or why they continue to wait in traffic to attend a live music concert.  I always thought it was crazy to stand in line for hours to buy a ticket, then hours more to get into the stadium when you can easily watch the game at home or buy the CD and listen to the music with acoustic perfection.  And why they pay $50 to $100 a ticket to stand in a thick crowd high up in the stands with a tiny view of the action or show.  It's about the sharing.  They want to feel the joy of human connection around them.

I'm still learning and evolving.  I'm still asking the same questions and only guessing the answers.  But I think I'm getting closer to that ultimate realization, that epiphany moment when I stop asking and just say, Yes!  Yes!

I want to live a wholehearted life.  I want to not only feel, but believe and to not only believe but live in a seamless connection with others.  Up until now, I've only had momentary glimpses and tiny tastes of what that kind of life could be.  Perhaps it would be like a never-ending parade that never ceased to amaze.   How euphoric life would be if we could all just let go of the expectations and fear and judgment and shame, not only of ourselves but everyone else?  If we could wholeheartedly live and trust and love ourselves as much as others, and love others as much as ourselves.

Imagine the possibilities.