Maybe Say This Instead

Something I’ve been working on: Coming up with what I feel is a proper response to people when they – out of the goodness of their heart – say something along the lines of: I hope you have a rapid recovery! or Heal quickly! or Hope you feel better fast! or Get better soon!

Here’s the thing: the road to recovery and the path of healing takes time. There is no quick fix or fast-paced approach. Healing is also not a linear process. There will be times when it feels like progress is being made one day only to feel like a step has been taken backwards the next day. This is the way of things. So I’ve been contemplating what I might say that would gently push back against all of the sentiments centered on getting better as quickly as possible, as though the goal were to power through mending my broken ankle at top speed.

Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear folks wish me a speedy recovery, there’s an energetic burden I feel is being saddled onto me in their choice of words. I can feel that person’s anxiety and elevated stress levels coming through. The urgent prompt for me to get better ASAP is not just a little thing people do & say. It’s not just their way of expressing care. Words matter. And, whether we know it or not: words mean something. Every word we use and say and think means something. Every time. Good intentions super matter but they aren’t the whole deal. Just because we mean well doesn’t mean that what we’re saying is helpful or skillful or kind – or even true. 

When I was at the market yesterday, the cashier said something in parting to the effect of: Get better fast! I responded by saying, in a friendly tone (which is SUPER important): Healing takes time. After I said it, I thought: That was pretty good. Sometimes the best answer is short & sweet. 

I’m not interested in making it some kind of race to the finish line here. The faster faster faster approach is maybe great when it comes to running a race, but applying that same mentality to healing is not a good plan.

Dear society: We have a long way to go and much unlearning to do when it comes to knowing how to care well for ourselves & others. The messaging around happiness/wellness/okayness existing sometime in the future is strong.

Next time you or someone you care about has an illness or injury, please don’t tell yourself, or them, to hurry up and get better ASAP. Maybe say instead: May you rest well my friend. May you give yourself all the time you need to heal.

Reiki, Resting & Healing

Chronicles of a broken ankle:

Thursday September 2nd, 2021

Pulsating with the flow of energy,
as the body’s lines blur to form a
sacred accord with the heartbeat
of the universe; all beings past &
present; the radiance of the Earth.

To be open to one’s own healing
journey, not separate from the path
of every other being’s direction of travel,
is to know what it is to be filled with
the possibility of enlivening to a
blooming state of ease.

Rooted and winged at the same time,
I turn myself over to the flow of life’s
rich energy, moving like a river of light
within and all around me.

_________

I wrote the above poem after a remote reiki session I had today with my friend Susan over the phone. Who knew reiki could be done over the phone? I didn’t. Gosh it was a splendid session. She did a lovely job. Since my fall I’ve had 3 sessions of reiki, which brings my grand total of reiki experiences in my life to 4. And I’ve been lucky to have experienced the wonderful benefits of this healing modality from 3 different friends of mine in those 4 sessions. I’m not sure I would’ve tried it out were it not for the fact that I have some good friends who are trained in this craft. Not that I had anything against it. I just don’t think I would’ve been propelled towards it.

My other two reiki sessions after my fall were offered to me by my friend Michael. I had Mike call him while we were in the waiting room at the ER just after my fall. Amid my nearly unbearably high pain levels, as I was sitting in the ER waiting to be seen, I thought of Michael and the beneficial effects of reiki. I needed all the support I could get. The waiting room was packed when we arrived and I wound up needing to wait for over 2-hours just to be seen. With how badly I had broken my ankle, that 2-hours was tortuously long. I hadn’t known his partner Deanna also practiced reiki but they both came to the ER to help support me, which was amazingly kind of them. Michael then came over a couple days later and offered another session to me once I was back home. In all of the 4 reiki sessions I’ve had, from all 3 friends, I have nothing but glowingly good things to say. All 3 friends were well-trained and well-practiced and it showed. Each session left me feeling light, full of ease, and deeply nourished. 

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Healing Takes Time

Chronicles of a Broken Ankle:

Saturday August 28th, 2021

I think I’m starting to move around a little better. It’s a little less painful when I stand up. However small the increments of healing are, I’ll take em. 

I’ve been getting messages from friends and family wishing me a speedy recovery. Asking me if I am starting to feel better yet. I get it. They don’t want me to be in pain. Still. Healing cannot be approached in the same way as a work deadline or a traffic jam. The go go go, faster faster faster mentality isn’t really a thing when it comes to healing. Well, you can try to apply it but it doesn’t work. 

Mike and my 21-year-old stepson Jaden are slated to go camping today. Just a one-nighter off into the woods someplace. They’ve been talking about wanting to go all summer. My van traveling friends Linds and Brian are in town for a few weeks and they’ve agreed to come and stay with me when Mike takes off. Despite how much I am able to do on my own, it feels like a good safety measure to have someone here with me, especially with how limited my mobility is.

It’s been almost 2-weeks since my fall. I’ve heard from two friends and one family member who had surgery to repair a broken ankle. At least two of them had hardware installed much like mine. It really puts things into perspective. Ankle breaks, bone breaks, concussions, big accidents. They happen all the time. Every day. With how easy it is to think I am at the center of the universe, I truly appreciate reminders informing me otherwise. 

I was up in my wheelchair for a little bit this morning. It felt nice to sit upright and feel as though I was among the land of the living. The body position of full time bed rest with my foot elevated is supportive and comfortable enough but I miss having the ability to simply sit up. With the help of my wheelchair, I was able to make tea, hard boil some eggs and even do some dishes. I also read a few poems from Buddy Wakefield’s book I recently picked up from the Book Exchange. I was hoping to write some of my own poetry as well but I ran out of steam and needed to go back to bed and lie down. I am hoping to be able to make it to sangha on Monday night but we’ll see how it goes. Right now I’m not able to sit upright for very long. I get nauseous and my energy takes a dive after 15-minutes or so. Small steps. Healing takes time. 

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Fresh from Surgery

Chronicles of a broken ankle journal entry:

Tuesday August 24th, 2021

I had surgery yesterday. Everything went off without any hitches or glitches. The nerve block they gave me before I went under is still in effect. They said it would last anywhere from 12-24 hours. I got the block around 11am yesterday and it’s 9am now. They said that when it wears off I will probably have a rough couple of days pain wise. So I am making sure to enjoy every last bit of my near zero current pain level.

I’ve had my fair share of surgeries. On one hand I feel like a pretty healthy gal. On the other hand, I’ve been through some stuff. I also live with two chronic illnesses on board in my system: endometriosis and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). When filling out my pre-surgery paperwork yesterday, I was reminded about how many other procedures I’ve had over the years. Why this info cannot be stored in a database accessible by doctors near and far I may never understand. HIPPA I’m guessing. I was asked to fill out info regarding all of my past surgeries, including what kind of anesthesia I received and the year it was done. My long term memory is not good. So I guessed on the years. 

My last surgery was in January of 2020. I had what’s called a glomus tumor removed from my right thumb, under a local anesthetic. It was the second time I’ve had that surgery, as in some cases (like mine) the tumor grows back. The surgery before that was on my shoulder. That was a big one with a long recovery period. They went in to repair a tear. I was told that for the kind of tear I had, many folks can simply live with it and many don’t experience any pain associated with it. But for me the tear was very painful and was impacting everything I did to the point where I couldn’t extend my arm across the table to grab the salt. The surgery went great.  I was super diligent about doing PT and all of the necessary exercises at home everyday to regain my function and strength. I am happy to report I had a full recovery on that one. 

The one before that was an abdominal laparoscopy, to officially diagnose and treat my endometriosis. I also had a temporary surgical implant of a nerve stimulator inserted in my spine. It wound up not working so they removed it. And I had my tonsils and a lymph node in my neck removed when I was in high school. 

I’ve other non-surgical treatments done as well, and a battery of tests done for various unknown ailments. I had meningitis once (the viral kind not the possibly deadly bacterial variety). And I have a long running history of chronic laryngitis. For my CRPS, I went to a doc who specializes in my condition, whose office was fortunately located in the place of my birth & raising: Philadelphia. (Well, I’m actually from the suburbs of Philly but anyone from the suburbs of any city will tell you: it’s easier to tell people you’re from the closest big city when they ask where you’re from.) With that doc, I went through a 2-week outpatient infusion therapy of ketamine. I was able to stay with my mom and have my husband shuttle me into the city 5-days a week for 2-weeks, which worked out nicely. 

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Chronicles of a Broken Ankle

It’s not an interesting story. There’s nothing elaborate or exciting or even mildly amusing about how I broke my ankle 4-days ago. But for some reason people seem to be expecting some kind of grand, adventure-driven tale. So here goes. 

Picture it. There I was, sky high on one of my many skydiving adventures, ready to enjoy the feel of the launch into free-fall. No longer needing to be tethered to someone else, I was reveling in my newfound freedom. Off I went, with a big beaming smile on my face, into the wild blue yonder. Moments later, an osprey grabbed onto me mid-flight. What the heck…is….happening?! I said in a yell-cry panic out loud to myself (and the bird). Fearful that our entanglement would obstruct the opening of my chute, I frantically tried to pry her off. No luck. For reasons unknown, she was holding on to me for dear life. Much to my surprise, the chute opened without a hitch. Ungraceful and clunky as it was, we managed to land safely on the ground. After a fistful of minutes, when I was finally able to untangle the two of us from all of the para-cord, the first step I took, strangely enough, was on a banana peel, which slid me right into a gopher hole. My foot caught in the hole and I fell in a twist to the ground. The result? A broken ankle. And the bird? From what I hear, she never tried skydiving again. 

_____________

So. Yeah. I broke my ankle on Monday around 5pm in the afternoon. I tripped and fell down a couple of concrete steps, which extend just off the back door of our lovely little house. It was the ole classic slip/trip and fall wonky on the ground routine. Nothin fancy. End of story. That’s all folks. 

I mean, isn’t this the most super common way of experiencing more serious injuries for the average person? We’re just doing something ordinary, no big deal, and then suddenly we find our self sprawled out snow-angel style on the ground, with a fierce shooting pain somewhere in our body and a lightning flash in our mind illuminating how our lives have just been changed. 

Maybe there are more people with wild adventure injury stories than I think. My husband has one involving a homemade sheet metal toboggan, a mattress buried in the snow, and an ambulance trip off of the Blue Mountain sled hill. But even if there is a large percentage of injuries involving an epic story, I think we should ask ourselves why we feel we need to be so entertained by someone else’s misfortune. Some people over the past few days, after they ask me what happened and I tell them how I fell, seem genuinely disappointed there isn’t more to the story. Lots of people dig drama I guess.

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Speaking Up…Skillfully

A few days ago, I came across a newspaper clipping I saved from a local paper dated in 2007 that is no longer in operation (RIP Missoula Independent (AKA the Indy), I still miss you!). The clipping contained a Letter to the Editor I had written. In short, I was taking the Indy to task over what I felt was their glorification of alcohol consumption. In our university mountain town, I implored them to up their game when it came to taking responsibility for the content they were putting out into the world.

Back in 2007, I was still very much cutting my teeth when it came to the development of my writing style and I was early on the path of honing my skills of good communication. So while my Letter to the Editor wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t great either. As I read the words of my 28-year-old self, there were many cringe-worthy moments. There were word choices I would never even think to use now. Much of it was pretty combative sounding. At one point, while I was reading what I wrote, I thought to myself: The poor Indy for having to put up with me!

But I also thought: Whelp, my poor writing/expression skills were a necessary part of my path as a writer and a practitioner. The me that wrote that back in 2007 is not separate from the me that writes today. It’s clear to me – although I do need to often remind myself – that everything takes practice. Skillful speech takes practice. Good writing takes practice. Expressing myself and speaking up about something I feel strongly about but in a way that maintains respect and care for who I am speaking with takes practice.

I thought about creating a writing prompt for myself and rewriting that Letter to the Editor, just for the fun of it. To see how I would write that same letter today. But then another opportunity arose that I chose to run with instead, that operated along the same line.

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Going Through the Motions

There is a way to sit on one’s cushion in meditation and not experience the fruits of the practice. (Fruits such as the Seven Factors of Awakening: mindfulness; investigation; energy; joy; ease; concentration; equanimity.)

There is a way of utilizing mindfulness in such a way where harm is generated.

There is a way to show up every week to sangha and not be beneficially affected by the power of community.

There is a way to read/listen/watch the teachings of the Dharma and understand it entirely incorrectly and to a great detriment.

There is a way to attend retreats and have it be a veritable hellscape.

We all know what it means to be tuned out/spaced out or on autopilot. We all know what it means when someone’s “light is on but no one is home.” To go through the motions of something without being present or connected to what it is we’re doing is a regular occurrence. Most of us have instances of it every day.

If we consider ourselves to be a mindfulness and/or meditation practitioner, how then do we avoid this common pitfall in our practice? How do we avoid getting caught up in the form of the practice and learn to embody the true spirit of the teachings?

Spoiler alert: I don’t have an answer for you. I think what’s important is that we as practitioners ask ourselves this question on the regular, to help keep our practice in check. Am I falling into the form of the practice at the expense of the spirit of the practice or am I utilizing the form of the practice in such a way that enables me to stay close in touch with the spirit of the practice?

This isn’t a one and done sort of deal. Just because we are connecting and applying the true spirit of the practice in our daily lives and interactions one day or week or month or year does not mean we can’t slip into being caught by the form of the practice the next day or week or month or year. To keep our practice alive and active, we must ask our self this question on a frequent basis and allow it to percolate to see what arises in response.

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Leaping

I’ve been utilizing the above quote as a helpful motivator and encouragement lately. Leap and the net will appear. With so many big changes on the horizon and a big move out of our house of 18-years coming up, we are very much readying ourselves to take a large leap into the great unknown.

Every so often I am reminded of just how not mainstream and typical my husband and I are in our choice of lifestyle. A lot of the time I forget. But then, inevitably, something happens and I think: Oh yeah, right, we do things way differently than a lot of other people.

Our upcoming leap is a prime example. It would be pretty easy for folks to regard what we’re doing as a little crazy. We’re selling our house; moving everything we own into storage; hoping to spend the fall/winter at a Buddhist monastery; and planning to return to Montana in the spring to resume our search for bare land in which to build a lay practice community, which means we will essentially be homeless when our land search continues.

Nothing like a little shake up of the ole routine to put everything into perspective!

To say we are non-traditional might be a bit understated and, for the most part, we are on good terms with our choices and priorities in regards to our way of living. But there’s certainly still a fear-factor involved. Stepping outside of the norm; practicing to not be too concerned with what others think; untangling ourselves from the collectively upheld ideas of success and life trajectory, it all takes some real doing. It sure isn’t easy. But, then, what is when it comes down to it? Even going along with the mainstream culture is no cake-walk.

In any case, we’re gearing up for our next phase of life. A new chapter awaits and we are ready (ish) to see what comes next. This is us. Leaping.

P.S Interested in learning more about our aspirations for building a lay practice center in western Montana in the Plum Village mindfulness tradition? Please visit our website here: https://www.emptymountain.org/

The Deep Well of Impermanence

Although I have learned of the impermanent nature of everything that is, and I myself may have spoken eloquently about it to others, I still have the habit of acting as if everything is permanent and I am a separate self. Every cell in my body will soon die and be replaced by a new cell. Still, I have the tendency to think that I am the exact same person today and I was yesterday.

– from Touching the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh

The practice well of impermanence is bottomless. There is always deeper to go when it comes to discovering and embodying the wisdom and insights generated from teachings centered on impermanence. Life is constantly offering us lessons on the nature of how everything and everyone changes, to be sure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re picking up what it’s putting down. Just because a teacher is standing in front of a classroom teaching a lesson doesn’t mean the students are paying any real attention. Learning and understanding takes effort.

I continually and regularly do my best to remind myself of the reality of my own changing, ever-in-flux, ebbing & flowing nature. Impermanence is a practice for me. One that I choose to actively and consciously engage in. And because it truly is a practice, that means I also consider myself very much a student of the process. Since I’ve been an involved & interested student in this subject of learning for some time, maybe I could be considered a 3rd year student (this is me trying to make a metaphor work here, stick with me) but I still have a long ways to go when it comes to getting my degree (okay, for the metaphor’s sake, let’s say I’m likening myself to an undergrad who’s fixin on becoming a PhD).

However, and here’s where the metaphor falls apart, there is actually no real graduating from the school of impermanence. So what I’m saying is: I’m a student and I always will be. But hopefully I’ll keep learning and growing and applying what I’ve learned a little more and a little more as time goes on.

Case & point.

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Dear Land,

Dear Piece of Land for Sale,

Strange as it feels to say, I was wondering if it might be possible to claim you for our own. (And I say strange because: does the land not belong to all of us and also none of us? I mean, can anyone truly own the shared ground beneath our feet, where roots and rocks form a road map underground, quietly connecting all beings great and small?)

I was hoping we, my husband and me, might be so bold as to become your caretakers for a little while. Please know we would do our honest best to take good care of you.

We’ve been looking for a long time. We’ve even managed to get close a few times, only to have our hearts broken when the answer was no.

I don’t mind telling you, dear Land, that it’s getting harder and harder to keep the dream alive. To do the work necessary for my heart to stay open and not close in an act of self-protection.

I reckon you’ll have a lot of offers. We are in good company with other sweet people also looking to fulfill their vision. I am not in the business of competition or one-upmanship. While part of me would like to present you with a list of reasons of why you should choose us over them, the truth is: I can think of nothing that separates us from our human family.

Still, to perhaps our credit, the poet in me wants to tell you:

When your evergreens sway
in rhythmic response to the wind,
we would listen.

When your creek’s belly
expands and contracts
in breathing pulse with the seasons,
we would match our inhale
and exhale in unison.

We would infuse into all
of our actions please
and thank you.

We would cherish you
knowing you belonged
to us; we belonged to you;
and you belonged to all
beings past & future,
two-legged & four-legged,
crawling & swimming,
rooted & winged.

This is me trying to prop
open my aching heart,
in hopes of calling you
towards us.

This is me wanting to
tell you we are here.
Waiting.
Ready to go all in.

With Love,
Nicole