Thursday, May 10, 2012

You are my dear and long-lost special friend

This is the last post of this blog. It is being replaced by . Please follow me there.

Kind Promise: I will Celebrate Connections
May 1 is a high holy day for me. Ten days ago in predawn darkness, my husband helped me get my wheelchair down one hill and up another in a forested park overlooking the Mississippi River. This year, many of the trees were almost fully leafed, including the large oak in the middle of the clearing that wore a garland of flowers. One of my favorite people came rushing over to hug us. Many of the 200 or so people who gathered there wished us “Happy May.” Folks dragged withered Christmas trees to a pile and lit them. Just before sunrise, an accordion sounded the long notes that, as Terry Pratchett would say, indicate that Morris Dancing is about to be perpetrated.
Morris dancing groups (sides) performed together and for each other. We sang traditional songsand then departed, moving back into our lives and modernity. We had connected with the earth, with each other, with our ancestors and with the Holy. It was a perfect way to begin a month I intend to fill with celebrating such connections.
Through nature and nurture I find myself an introvert who believes my individuality doesn’t exist. While I spend loads of time “alone” enjoying solitary pursuits, I believe that we – humans, creatures, the earth and the universe – are one glorious holy entity. When I think of myself as separate from you, I diminish us both.
The Dalai Lama, I have read, greets everyone “as though finally reuniting with a dear and long-lost special friend.” What a great attitude with which to move further into my connectedness month!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Painting as Mindfulness Practice

***The last post of this blog will be May 11, 2012. After that, I will only be posting to my new blog, Journey Dancing – Ideas, practices and tools for building a strong, connected, ingenious life Please follow me there!***
Practicing mindfulness of the moment brings me to be more conscious of what happens when I’m not in the moment. It makes me more aware of my monster-mind.
The other day, I was painting (yay!). In the moment, I am watching blobs of color interact with paper and water as I apply them to the surface. Observing mind.
Questions arise: “how has that blob of paint changed things in the composition as a whole? What do I want to do next?”
This is still observing mind, but the questions open a door for my judging mind: “That blob was a mistake. I no longer like that painting.”
Judging mind, in me, invites its bodyguard: catastrophizing mind: “I can try and fix it but if I do, I will probably make it worse. Maybe I should just stop now. In fact, why do I bother to paint? I’m not really an artist. I paint like a two-year-old. This is just junk.” [Catastrophizing mind can be quite long-winded. ]
Luckily, I know that I don’t have to believe everything I think. My monster-mind does not speak the truth.
I make the next mark.
In this way, painting is mindfulness practice as surely as sitting meditation.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The moment that can be spoken is not the true moment

clock showing the time: now
Maybe “embrace” is not the right word for what I want to do with each moment. The first part of embrace works fine. Opening my arms (and heart and mind) wide to the moment is exactly what I want to do with my life. Closing my arms around the moment and holding it tight is not.
A couple weeks ago a friend asked me how my health is. I told her about my weakening arms and hands, the fatigue that is becoming a bigger part of each day, the disturbances to and adjustments of members of my family. The women gathered are my friends and it was a relief – in that moment – to speak honestly. I regretted it almost instantly.
The mood in the room darkened and I felt like a whiner. That is not who I want to be.
[Psychological riff:]
As far back as Aristotle, folks have believed that catharsis – emotional release – helped moderate passions and restored balance. In the 20th century, psychology used a “hydraulic model” of emotions, imagining that emotions were like fluid flowing through the system which, if not expressed, created pressure that would – for better or worse – have to be released.
More recently, the therapeutic value of “venting” has been questioned. Most well-controlled studies indicate that …emotional expression is either harmful or has no effect (eg, Berkowitz, 1982)
[End psychological riff.]
As soon as I start talking about this moment, I start making judgments and telling stories. As soon as I start calling the sensations in my right leg “pain” I am defining, rather than experiencing, them..
In science, they call this the “observer effect.” The act of observation can make changes to the phenomenon being observed. For example, a standard mercury-in-glass thermometer must absorb or give up some thermal energy to record a temperature, therefore changing the temperature of the body which it is measuring.
If I describe what’s happening to me, the words I choose build a cage around the experience. As a writer, I find this helpful. While choosing words, I choose my experience. Those choices become more obvious when I read what I’ve written.
My verbal abilities help me understand my world and connect with other beings. They also limit my perception. Words simultaneously make my world larger and smaller.
As each moment arrives, I want to open to it and experience it without telling myself a story about it. Storytelling animal that I am, words may arise in a nanosecond. As soon as I am labeling my experience, I am no longer experiencing it. I need to return to the eternal now and understand that it exists outside of expectations, judgments and regrets.
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
(Tao Te Ching, translation Derek Lin)
I have a friend coming over for lunch today. If he asks me about my health, I wonder what I will say…

Friday, April 13, 2012

Embracing the moment with the help of DH Lawrence

“I embrace this moment” is a wonderful idea, but I’m having trouble with the implementation. I spend much of my time planning for the future and, considering the circumstances of my life right now, that makes sense. My husband just got a new job, my daughter is going to high school next year and I am preparing to “go out on disability.” It will serve us better to plan ahead for these big changes.
I need to understand the difference between preparing and worrying. Here again, it’s all about the serenity prayer: there are things I can change and things I can’t.
Preparing means taking action now that will make a probable future go more easily. My husband will have to travel to get trained in his new job. Activities that were scheduled for that week need to be rescheduled. My daughter needs to fill out and submit forms to choose her classes for next year. I need to stop putting money into my retirement fund. Each task of preparation, though gesturing to the future, is done in the present moment.
Worrying is excessively creating detailed pictures about what may go wrong. I am a champion worrier. Chronic, progressive illness can easily invite worry. The strength in and dexterity of my hands has diminished over the last few years.
How far will it go? Will my hands be paralyzed? Will the spasticity that nags my legs start bothering my arms? Will I be able to manage while my husband is traveling? Will my daughter be warped by being around a mom dealing (sometimes none too gracefully) with disability?
My inner narrator starts sounding like the announcer at the end of an old soap opera.
When I find myself worrying, the present moment can save me.
“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.”  –D.H. Lawrence
By immersing himself in physical, creative activity, Lawrence returned to the present moment.
Thoughts of worry arise from the biological instinct to Keep Myself and My Love Ones Safe.  It’s a useful instinct.  That instinct has made our species the spectacular, 7 billion strong, success we are today. My spinning, obsessive, negative thinking? Not so successful.
I need to let go of my worrying mind and return to the present moment. I can do that by taking a deep breath and noticing– with compassion – what my senses are experiencing right now.  I can say to myself, “In this moment, I am safe.”
After a moments’ rest understanding that I am safe, I can ask myself. “Are there actions I can take that will help me feel safer?”  If I can take action immediately, that’s great. If it’s an action that has to be taken in the future, I can write it in a list or calendar so that I am reminded about it when the time comes.
Meanwhile, I have a new phrase to recall me to the present moment: Shred oranges and scrub the floor.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mindfulness through sensory experience

My kind promise for this month is “to embrace the moment.”
This is a simple idea and a week of observation tells me that I don’t often do it. I spend my mental time in three places:
  • Concentration/absorption in the task of the moment – this might be mistaken for mindfulness but because of its unconscious nature, I don’t think it counts. On the other hand, it is focused in the present moment, so that’s of some value.
  • Worrying about the future – my life is in transition at work. My husband and has been offered a job in California. My health is declining. It’s really easy for me to get caught in imagining what might be next and how I might cope.
  • Here and now – I visit the here and now for moments when I’m meditating, for moments when I’m painting, for moments when I am interacting with other people. This is the part of life I am trying to expand this month. It is a conscious appreciation of what’s going on right now.
Wednesday afternoon I left the house and visited the micro-wood across the street. Underneath the high-voltage power lines, grasses and scrub trees are allowed to grow. A drainage pond from a nearby apartment complex butts against the powerline corridor. A couple of fine Norway pine trees lean into the corridor from a nearby fenced suburban yard. This is the nature micronutrient that is within my wheelchair-accessible circumference.
I sat beneath the pine branches and watched a couple of male mallards squabbling in the pond. When the losing duck flew away and calm returned I became conscious of a popping sound. I thought the squirrel or bird must be in the pine tree, but I didn’t see any creatures. I decided the tree must be making the sounds.
When I got home, I googled popping pine trees and discovered that pine cones make that noise as they open. I returned yesterday to the same spot for another serenade.
Somehow I associate mindfulness with non-thinking. I try to focus on my breath and let go of anything else. I am discovering that another way to make that switch in consciousness is through my senses. Focusing on the smell of the pine, the sound of the pops, the caress of the breeze, I return to the here and now.
I intend to practice this month by taking a breath and focusing on my sensory experience in the moment and remembering the promise: embrace this moment.
When I looked at the list of promises last month, I said to myself “oh yes: next month is mindfulness.” Earlier this week, I looked up the exact phrase I had used, thinking I needed to add a modifier. It’s there: embrace.
I am asking myself not only to be here, in this moment. I am also inviting myself to open my heart to what is – to greet it – and the me of this moment – with tenderness.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Reinvention: Illness, jealousy and mudita

When I first began walking with a cane, I would watch others with a real sense of witnessing a miracle. My ankle joint no longer worked (“drop foot”) and I used the cane to steady my uneven gait. Other people were able to lift their foot completely off the ground swing it easily in front of them, place it gently on the surface and shift their weight to it – all without thought. It was magical.
Now, as my hands began to fail me, I am not as spiritually evolved. I am just plain jealous. I watch people take notes at a meeting and find myself becoming resentful and angry.
I am envious of health and those who unthinkingly possess it.
I am learning not to sit in judgment of this process, but to imagine that I am a dear friend. Of course I’m jealous; it makes  sense! How natural to wish that I were healthy. How understandable to resent those who don’t appreciate what they have. Those emotions come from grief over what I’ve lost and fear over what I may yet lose. This is not the time to beat myself up.
What, then?
The Buddhists have a wonderful concept: mudita. There is no exact English translation. The idea is “sympathetic joy.” When I see someone else who is happy, I share in that happiness. When I see someone writing without effort, I celebrate their ability.
This is made easier if I truly believe that we are all one. The idea that we are cells in a larger creature is one of my core beliefs. I am a tiny part of a miraculous whole. So are you. Your strong and able hands and feet and my weak and faltering ones are movements in one dance. Considered this way, I can be grateful for both of us.
I have added mudita to my practice. It works like this:
I feel jealousy and resentment arise as I watch others move,
I take a breath
I say (silently), “May you move gracefully forever.”
I picture my heart as a waterlily opening to embrace the universal whole

electronic illustration: Lotus opening to the universe

Friday, March 23, 2012

Reinventing: Mental practices and responses

There is a part of my mind that reflexively comes up with unhelpful comments and attitudes about what's going on. I call it my "monster mind." It says things like, "it will never work," "I will always be miserable," and the ever-popular "I'm such a loser."

Lately I've been bothered by a lack of enthusiasm for my day job, a general feeling that my life doesn't have enough joy in it and a sense that I am not appreciating others in my life enough. (Asking the question, "what isn't working for me?" as part of my of my reinvention inventory allowed me to put words to these general feelings of unease.)

This sounds like the work of my monster mind, but what can I do about it?

Create a Mental Response

Sometimes I am doing a task and have a thought in response to it. For example, I'm at work thinking "this is such a waste of time" or "they are doing this stupidly." What useful thought could I have in answer? I am lucky enough to work for a nonprofit organization with a valuable mission. The work I do serves a larger purpose, even though specific tasks seem pointless or stupid to me.

Here's my experiment:
  1. recognize that my monster mind is at work
  2. take a breath
  3. find the kernel of value in what I'm doing
  4. recommit to my task
This process only takes a minute. I have been practicing it for about a week and I'm finding it to be helpful.

Create a Mental Practice

Sometimes my monster mind works in more subtle, attitudinal ways. There is not a moment when I'm aware of a specific thought, but I don't feel the way I want to be feeling. For example, I want to feel more loving toward people and less serious toward my life in general.

Here are my experiments:
  • I've added a "tap flutter" action to my stretch breaks. I tap my hand against my desk and wiggle my fingers while moving my hand up in the air. This is a silly thing to do and reminds me to lighten up.
  • When I see someone, I say to myself, "look! A divine being in human skin!" ( See Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

 Taking Time to Practice

Adding new practices and habits to life is always a challenge. (12 Step Literature: "  I never will find time for anything. if I want time I must take it." ) I haven't been doing something and now I want to do it. How do I "make myself" include new things in my daily life?

There are two things that have been successful for me:
  1. I add them to an existing daily practice or habit. Those negative thoughts at work will arise so I respond to them with my new, more resourceful, "find the kernel" thought. When I see a human being, I remind myself they are really a divine being in human skin. My visual reminders are built-in.
  2. I create outside cues: My Big Stretch reminder program pops up to remind me to stretch while I'm working at the computer. I have added the words "tap flutter" to remind me to make the motion and lighten up. (It makes me smile every time I see it.)

Practice and Experimentation

I've chosen the words experimenting and practicing because forgiveness is built-in. If I could do something perfectly, I wouldn't be practicing. Practice involves attempts and failures and recommitment. If I could predict results, I would be experimenting. Experimenting involves taking action and observing what happens. Practice and experimentation do not involve failure, they invite recommitment and reinvention.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Reinvention and Hope

If I am going to reinvent a part of my life it means being willing to move into Serenity Prayer territory.

Quick Review: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the

The tricky bit here is that I don't know whether I can change something until I try to change it.

I've been working this week in all the areas I identified last week*, but the particularly challenging one has been in the area of diet. 30 years ago, when I was diagnosed with MS, I read about and adopted the Swank Diet, which purported to lessen the long term disabling effects of the disease. I was pretty faithful to the diet for 20 years, while my body become more and more disabled. About 10 years ago, I gave up on the diet.

My new interest in diet stems from my digestive system, which is not working smoothly due to medication side effects and lack of activity. (It's just hard to move my body when I am partially paralyzed, sitting in a wheelchair.)

I was expecting to start eating more fiber or something.

In the process of research, however, I came across Dr. Terry Wahls, a woman with secondary progressive MS (the kind I have) who has experienced a significant increase in her mobility and credits a diet very rich in green leafy vegetables.

As I watch her videos, I can feel hope rising in my chest and beaming out through the top of my head.

Imagine, if you will, the clamoring of monster voices:
"You tried that diet stuff. It didn't work."
"She was only disabled for a few years – and she could still walk a little; you haven't been able to walk for 15 years. It won't work for you."
"Why get your hopes up?" … And so on…

The more I get to know my monsters, the more I realize they are trying to keep me safe. They hate to see me get hurt. And that means they hold me back from new things.

I decided to try the diet for six months. If nothing else, it will address the digestive issues.

The monsters continue to sing. I speak with them gently, reassuring them that we are strong enough to bear the pain, if there is some.

*Progress report:

  1. Get OT consultation – have appointment 4/24
  2. Research diet solutions – began Dr. Wahl’s diet 3/11
  3. Design books and papers carrier – will be done by 3/18, when I meet with the seamstress I recruited
  4. Create mental response for work attitude – "find the kernel" (a subject for a future post on creating mental responses and practices)
  5. Create mental response for jealousy of "normal people" – "May your happiness (or health, or ability etc.) continue forever." (a subject for a future post on mudita)
  6. Get family input on evening activities – whoops! I haven't done this one, but I have been watching less TV
  7. Explore WordPress – one more thing to figure out and then I will invite you to follow my blog in its new location
  8. Prepare art materials – I got new paper; now I need to get the other materials out of the drawer
  9. Get family input on leisure time – whoops again…
  10. Create mental love/compassion practice –  "look! A divine being in human skin!"
  11. Return to Delight of the Day – I started the week well, but then forgot. Recommit!
  12. Create mental practice – Tap flutter (yes, that post on mental responses/practices will be a good one!)

Friday, March 9, 2012

First experiments in reinvention

Kind Promise: To Reinvent Whimsically

It's a sentence begging for noun. What is it I'm hoping to reinvent?

My first instinct is to say "my life" or "myself," but that wasn't what I had in mind. This promise springs from increase in disability. Some things I used to be able to do I can no longer do. Such losses make daily life a series of small frustrations. Some of the lost activities were those I did to feed my soul – to make me feel better. Not only is my frustration increasing, but my ways of coping are decreasing. It's a bad combination.

I added the word "whimsically" because I wanted to bring a sense of fun and foolishness to the process. I have a friend who says, "God created us to look foolish in front of each other." She believes that the limitations of our human bodies are designed to bring us into closer relationship with each other. We sometimes literally have to lean on each other.

So how do I enter this exploration?

After some experimentation, I developed a process. I have an overdeveloped ambition monster, so I needed to put some limits on my urge to begin with a list of 10,000 things. I chose two questions and generated three practical answers and three more philosophical ones, followed by a first action step. The third answer turned out to be a stretch: something I wasn't sure I could accomplish.

Question one: What isn't working for me?

  • Driving the wheelchair. [Action: get OT consultation]
  • My digestive system (to put it delicately). [Action: research diet solutions]
  • Handling/carrying objects (books and papers) [action: design carrier]
  • My attitude/toward my day job. [Action: create mental response]
  • My jealousy of "normal" people. [Action: create mental response]
  • My evening activities/attitudea. [Action: get family input]

Question two: Where do I want to grow?

  • My writing/blogging website. [Action: explore WordPress]
  • More art. [Action: prepare materials]
  • More fun leisure time. [Action: get family input]
  • More love/compassion [Action: create mental practice]
  • More delight [Action: return to Delight of the Day]
  • Lighter touch [Action: create mental practice]
Clearly, I have my assignments. I will check in with my progress next week. I have vacation this coming week – a great opportunity for all this physical and mental action!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Surrender and Illness

I have been entranced and informed by the image of water dropping as a metaphor for surrender, so I thought I should respond with a painting.

As usual, I fantasized about what and how I would like to paint before making the time and space for the actual painting session. I went to the store and bought some mastic so I could block areas of white on the paper. I remembered long-ago painting sessions where I could use a fine tipped brush to mark a curved edge and then gently tease the paint into a nearby wet area, watching as the water pulled the color across the paper. I remembered.

Then I sat down to paint. My right hand is now too weak to hold a brush. My left hand shakes. There could be no precise curved lines, no calm refined surfaces. I had expected the resulting image to teach me more about surrender. Instead, the process was my teacher.

It seemed each movement of hand and brush made expanding circles of anger, sadness, renewed determination and surrender.

"Enter as you wish to be in it," says Havi Brooks, one of my virtual teachers. I realize spending my year exploring Kind Promises is exactly that: I am attempting to learn the skills I will need for a life more affected by illness, disability and aging.

Expecting to be able to rely on a past skill and discovering it has gone are parts of the daily journey of significant illness or aging. I want to get good at surrender.

I want to get better at releasing my expectations as soon as I have them and entering into the beauty of the present moment. I want to discard the idea that beauty can only be found in smooth calm lines and celebrate the chaotic  rough loveliness in which I find myself.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Surrender leads to Acceptance

Months ago, I chose the wording of my kind promise #3: "to surrender patiently." I have been pondering the difference between acceptance and surrender. Surrender is the process; acceptance is the result.

A week ago, I made my annual visit to my neurologist. The doctor was not surprised to hear that my disability has increased. He asked me to move my legs and watched as my mental command to my lower body caused no visible results. He took my word for it that my left hand has gotten weaker.  (My right hand is already mostly decorative.) He predicted that a newly available medication would do nothing for me, scoffed at my questions about vitamin D, renewed my prescriptions and sent me on my way.

I took it badly.

I came away feeling that he has given up on me. It's not too surprising, really. My version of MS is incurable and progressive. What can he do?

I watch again as the drop hits the water, digging deeply, creating a splash.
A smaller drop is thrown into the air and splashes down again, creating more subtle ripples. Each time the drop shrinks, the ripples decrease. Eventually the water is smooth.

That has been my week: finding my calm after the splash.

I remind myself: Nothing. Has. Changed.

In fact, a quingigillion things have changed in the last week, but my commitment to being alive, to living richly, need not change.

Surrender is the process of feeling the disruption – the stab of pain, of loss, of judgment, deep into the flesh of the World As I Had Imagined It. The pain gets smaller each time it hits, but it hits again and again,

By promising "to surrender patiently, I invite myself to be patient with the multiple woundings, to let the soothing waters roll over me, leading me to acceptance – returning me to my Sacred Source.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Surrender: Lessons from Water

I have been learning about surrender by watching water.

Watch this:

Smooth, unruffled water
drop comes from above
Surface caves in...
Surface shoots into air...
Hills and valleys of reaction
travel outward

Underneath all is disruption
bits forming
being absorbed

Drop, diminished
lands again...

My life imagined water
My troubles imagined drops

After all the stories
here we are:

 (Image courtesy

Friday, February 10, 2012

Surrendering to the emotional and physical mess; defining patience

When I was in grad school, I learned the word "somaticize:" to convert anxiety (or other psychological distress) into physical symptoms.
I suspect I am a somaticizer.  I've had a stressful week and I feel pretty awful, physically. I don't work my day job on Fridays and I slept until 1 PM today after not having slept during the night.
This month I am living with the promise "I will surrender patiently."
Surrender to what? For now:  EVERYTHING.

There is, I suppose, a danger of being a doormat if I surrender to everything. It certainly wouldn't be a reasonable exercise in some people's lives. For me, for this month, I thought I would try it.
Sometimes it's useful to take my tangled mess of physical and emotional symptoms and tease them apart to see what's what. On the other hand, that's an easy way for me to get what a friend of mine calls "the paralysis of analysis." There is so much "wrong" that I end up (A) not knowing where to start or (B) with an overwhelming list of ways to "fix things."
Yesterday I was feeling overworked and judging myself to be handling it badly. Last night and today I am tired and headachy. That is the emotional and physical reality to which I need to surrender.
Sleeping in was a surrender. Shaving my to do list for today to almost nothing is a surrender. My job, for now, is to give in.
Yesterday I was on the bus fuming about having too much work to do in too little time. "This is not surrendering patiently," I thought. Then I started wondering what I mean by patience.
Does patience mean I don't complain? Does patience mean I don't feel distressed? (I check the dictionary.) Well, shoot, that IS what patience means: "the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like."
Honestly, that doesn't sound like me. I am tempted to wiggle out of it… To choose another word. I have chosen these promises to expand, rather than continue, who I am.
What is the kate-ish road to patience?

When I am feeling as I did yesterday, I need to take time for a break… For breathing… Maybe even put the work aside and go out of the office for a talk with myself. I carry my wise self within me, but my prideful-monster-mind is louder and faster.

Like the old advice to count to 10 before saying something unfortunate, I need to leave myself space to recognize and process the emotions moving through me.
I go forward into the next week with two assignments:
  •  Continue to surrender to everything.
  •  Take a 10 breath* break whenever I feel the monsters rising.
* I fear that 10 breaths will take too long. I fear that if I cut it to four, I will rush. Even aiming for 10 will be helpful.

Friday, February 3, 2012

What do I want to learn about patients surrender?

My kind promise for February is to "surrender patiently."

I've written elsewhere about surrender and the difference between  giving in and giving up. Why did this promise call to me? What more do I want to learn about surrender?

I'm sure this is a response to my increasing difficulty with my hands. It is harder, these days, to accomplish the things I want to do. It doesn't take long for me to find myself in snarling frustration.

I want to practice surrender more frequently as a first instinct rather than a last resort. Too often, I try and try and try to get it done and, when something proves too difficult for me or the universe seems to rally against my effort, I surrender.

I had an interesting conversation last night with Sam Jasmin, radio host of Disabled and Proud. We talked about stubbornness and it's pros and cons. She's right that I accomplish more because of my stubborn streak. Unfortunately, I am not as nice to be around because of my stubborn streak.

I want to keep my determination and persistence but lose the short tempered meanness that seems to come with it. How would this be possible?

Off-the-top-of-my-head ideas:

  1. Take a calming breath between each effort."
    I seem to have spent the last six months retraining myself to breathe. Such a simple thing, yet I have been unconscious of it for most of my life. Now I am consciously trying to build a breath-calm-joy connection.
  2. Try three times and then (A) ask for help or (B) take a break or (C) reconsider.
    Maybe putting limits on my effort will also put limits on the escalation of my upset. This is definitely an experiment.
  3. Use "the next moment may also be a surprise."
    I discovered, during "forgiveness month" that my expectations do not serve me well. Maybe the same thing is happening here. My poor nerves are having trouble carrying signals. Why should I expect my hands to be adept? Acknowledging uncertainty may be a help.
  4. Try "everything belongs."
    In my philosophy/theology the universe is a stunning harmony, a whole. What we see as imperfect is part of that harmony. Everything belongs. This allows me, my increasingly dysfunctional hands, the ways I am clumsy and even my snarling frustration to belong. I need to remember that and be compassionate.

Oldie that I am, I can't help thinking of this song when I am thinking about surrender. Maybe singing a chorus or two will soften the brittleness.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Miscellaneous Joys

In addition to inviting the enemies of joy, committing to exploring the idea of joy also has invited its allies. Despite a three-day migraine, this week has been one of splashing through puddles of joy.

Can I be joyful when I am in significant pain? Not exactly, but I was introduced this week ("by accident") to Carolyn Hobbs, author of Joy, No Matter What: Make 3 Simple Choices to Access Your Inner Joy. She speaks of the joy of living:

Have the intention: “I choose joy right now, even in situations where it seems impossible.”  Joy is always here in the present. Am I willing to hold all of my feelings… All of the conflict and stress… All of what I'm dealing with in this unlimited joy of being alive… Being awake… Being conscious. With each moment that we do that our quality of life changes…Our ability to be peaceful when everything feels in flux around us. Our capacity to feel joyful begins to grow and expand.
Several times, as I brought myself to mindfulness within my pain, I understood that the joy of living was supporting me… Like the diaphragm supports a deep breath.

It sounds just like me to ask the question, "what does joy sound like?" The people of New Zealand, with the help of Bobby McFerrin, gave me an answer. Here's the first song created entirely from the sounds of New Zealanders experiencing joy:


Blogger Kate Kresse of Believe Anyway has started the Joy Forwarding Project, where folks report what they've done to spread joy and thereby get inspiration from each other.

Finally, despite some grumbling over software limitations, I had a great time fingerpainting on my iPad this week, seeking to express joy.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Joy: Experiments in turning toward the light

When I decided to commit to these positive 12 kind promises, I knew that the monsters that roar against them would start biting at my heels.

This month, as I focus on joy, pain and weariness are weighing me down. "How can I be joyous," I wonder, "when I hurt and am exhausted?"

Deep breath.

I remind myself of the second part of the promise, "...without reason." There is a wonderful history of oppressed peoples living with joy and celebration amidst their troubles. I know the human spirit is capable of it; I just need to find my way.

Tools I can use:

Music: Country and gospel music provide me with a legacy of folks using music to transform pain. (I just spent far too long on YouTube watching versions of "Mourning into Dancing") Yesterday, I finished rewriting the lyrics of "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" to be about chronic illness. Music cheers me up and gives me energy.

Color: Speaking of cheering me up, color says joy to me. For the next week, I will try to make a joyful picture each day, "fingerpainting" on my iPad.

Movement: Moving our bodies gives us joy; that's why dancing is fun. It gets a little harder for me, as I can't voluntarily move much of my body. I can however chair dance. I can wiggle my body to music. This gets me music and movement simultaneously!

Play: a friend of mine sent me this video, reminding me of the importance of play. I am strategizing how to increase games and silliness in my everyday life.

There is a fullness in the moment of play that can be considered a way in which the universe is expressing its own magnificence and joy. In a moment of deep play, in a moment of deep love, in a moment of deep celebration, that's why the universe exists, There. Not for what it leads to, but for that moment. -- Brian Swimme

I'll report next week on the results of these experiments.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Joy is My Lesson

My kind promise to myself for this month is to live joyfully without reason.

In early January, I wondered whether to choose a different promise next. My mother died at the end of December. Perhaps joy would be hard to come by or an inappropriate thing for which to reach. I know my mother loved me and I know that a loving mother wants her child to be happy. I added the words "without reason" to this promise precisely because I want to learn how to be joyful in the midst of hardship, how to live with joy despite the circumstances. So here we go.

My first task, with each of these themes, is to search for appropriate quotes and load them on Twitter. (Yes, I use a Twitter buffer called Twuffer rather than posting live.) As I was puzzling how to be joyful, I ran across this quote:

It made me think of A.J. Muste's famous line, "there is no way to peace—peace is the way."  It will not serve me to overthink this joy thing.

There is no way to joy. Joy is the way.

(I need to lose my inner Mary Poppins!)

Forgiveness and Chronic Illness

I can't leave the topic of forgiveness without saying a few words about forgiveness and chronic illness.

It is easy for me to feel I did something that caused me to become ill or, since  my illness is progressive, something that's making it worse. Perhaps if I hadn't been so stressed as a 20-year-old, the disease would've taken longer to appear. Perhaps if I'd stayed on that special diet, I wouldn't be using a wheelchair today. You get the idea.

Cindy Hively, a teacher of mine, recently wrote "No matter what some people may say, your illness is not your fault!" Reading those words, I felt a knot inside me loosen.

As a person who faces health issues...
I forgive myself. I have done my best.
I forgive my body. It has carried me through this life, responding as well as it can to the changes within it.
I forgive healthy people who walk without thinking about it, who complain that they ate too much, who type on keyboards without realizing the miracle.
I even forgive the disease. Some DNA quirk responded to an environmental trigger and here we are.

No harm was meant.

Forgiving with wild abandon means that I embrace us all tenderly and love us immensely.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Forgiveness and Letting Go

Whether it's forgiving myself or someone else, I've discovered it's a practice.

I love practice. Have I mentioned that before? Forgiveness is built into practice.

  1. I plan to do something. (Intention)
  2. I make an effort to do it. (Action)
  3. It doesn't go the way I think it "should" go. (Judgment)
  4. I let go of my ideas about what should have happened. (Mercy)
  5. I reset or re-envision my intention. (Resilience)
  6. Repeat.
Watching myself around forgiveness, I have found an unfortunate tendency to get stuck on step three. I judge. I try to let go, but it really shouldn't have gone the way it did and it's really not my fault, but if I'd only done it differently

The image that came to mind is of carrying around a stone. I set it down for seconds and then, compulsively pick it up again.

Forgiveness becomes a practice of letting it go and letting it go and letting it go.

Angel Sighting

I first heard Mary Johnson's story on the CBS news. A short time later, I was delighted to watch it from a different angle as as a trailer promoting one of my favorite art experiments, The SMOOCH Project.

Mary teaches me that "unforgivable" may not exist.