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Monthly Archives: September 2018

Pain Awareness Month

I live accompanied by chronic pain. Lots of people do. And for many of us, you would never know it by looking at us. This is me. This is what a person living with chronic pain can look like (see pic above :)

September is Pain Awareness Month in the U.S.

A number of years ago, I was a state pain advocate with the American Pain Foundation, which has since disbanded. As part of this advocacy work, I went to a small handful of pain conferences and had the honor of speaking at a couple of them, as well. A friend of mine and I led a pain support group for a short period of time and we also put together a holistic health fair. I’ve written articles and posts about my journey with chronic pain and illness. I’ve shared my story. This is all to say: I used to be active in this arena. But that was a long time ago.

Now, it’s rare for me to talk about the chronic pain I experience, because pain is no longer the main lens through which I view the world, as it used to be years ago. The only person that really knows what I go through is my husband. And not because I talk much about it, but because he’s the one that piles me into bed after a long day.

The 2018 campaign for Pain Awareness Month is #PainWarriorsUnite. While I truly mean no disrespect, I don’t personally resonate with this theme. In honor of Pain Awareness Month and also the approach of 100 Thousand Poets for Change, #100TPC, I wrote this earlier today:

I am not a warrior
when it comes to living with chronic pain and illness
When I was in the thick of it,
it wasn’t courage that kept me moving forward
It was fear
It was necessity
It was: Well, what the heck else is there to do?

I am not interested in going to battle
I have no wish to fight
And no, this doesn’t mean I’ve given up
There IS another way
A middle ground between going to war and giving up
And this is where I choose to reside

My sense from others I’ve come into contact with over the years, is that in spreading the message of being a warrior when it comes to living with pain and/or illness, whether mild or serious, creates the paradigm that those who feel hopeless and despairing, who don’t feel brave or courageous, who aren’t upholding the “good” fight, are somehow doing it wrong. I’m not so sure that sentiments involving fighting, going to battle or war, or being a champion or warrior are so helpful for our collective landscape and morale.

But I suppose that the idea that we can still be proactive and engaged without the necessity of fighting might be too much for many people to absorb and understand. After all, we’re a society built on duality and dualistic thinking. Well, we figure, if we’re not fighting against something, doesn’t that mean we’re being passive and ineffectual? This is a very common view when it comes to all sorts of matters, whether it’s in relation to: pain, illness, politics, social injustice, environmental advocacy, etc.

What I’m getting at is: words matter.

I don’t identify with being a pain warrior. I am not fighting or at battle with my nerve disease (CRPS). I am a person living with chronic pain. And one of the best things I do in regards to my condition – which greatly aides in reducing my pain response – is to continually cultivate a friendship with my illness and my body. For me, I associate fighting and being at war as the state I was in during the first 1-2 years after my diagnosis, when I was in the thick of the fray of pain. I fought against my body, my illness, my state of limitation, my new realty that I hated. I was at war against what was unfolding to be my new way of life.

I’m done fighting. I’m done battling. I’ve moved onto befriending – and my life and my relationship with my illness and pain, greatly benefit every day from that transformation.

Please understand, befriending doesn’t mean to give up. Befriending means to accept, embrace, and transform. When I was in fight mode, I was trapped and full of fear and anger. Befriending mode, however, is very liberating. And for me, this has made all the difference in how I respond to physical pain when it arises.

_______

Pain is often invisible to the naked eye – whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Please don’t ever think you’ve got someone all figured out at first glance – or even second, third, or one millionth glance. This is me. This is what a person living with chronic pain can look like:

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by on September 24, 2018 in Chronic Pain

 

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Pyramid of Priorities

My priority pyramid (date: today)

The following was much needed writing/creative inspiration that I received today, from Dan Blank’s Creative Clarity Workbook at WeGrowMedia.com:

Manage your attention:

Those who create say “yes” to their creative work with vigor, and “no” to distractions that truly don’t matter. Too many people spend their days in a mode of reaction instead of intention. They give away their creative energy freely to any headline, social media update, TV show, trend or email that begs for their attention. They always put the needs of others first, often at the expense of their own mental, physical and creative health.

Get clear about the biggest priorities in your life. Not just your creative priorities, but all priorities. Then, double-down on them and jettison everything else.

Take Action: (see my pic above)

Get out a deck of index cards. On each card, write down one thing that matters deeply to you. Then on the floor or a desk, try to create a pyramid with one item on the top, two in the next row, three in the next, and four in the final row. At the top should be the thing that matters most to you in your life. In the next row should be the next two most important things.

Your attention is finite. The first step to manage your attention is to get radically clear about what matters most to you.

 

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Sometimes I Forget

Sometimes I forget that we’re all – each of us – doing our best.

That we each march to our own drummer, sway to our own beat, hear the rhythm of life pulsating differently.

Sometimes I forget that there’s only so much time in a day – or a lifetime – to maneuver.

I am personally acquainted with people who’s spark comes alive through justice/support based work, such as: healing racism, translating for Spanish immigrants, volleying for animals on their way to slaughter, training underprivileged demographics in the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, de-stigmatizing mental illness, spending time with those who are in the process of dying, training women on how to navigate creating their own small business, supporting kids without active adult relationships to navigate through the court system, educating school-age boys about healthy masculinity and the subtleties of sexual violence, volunteering with local non-profits, engaging with people around policy change work, guiding early childhood development skills, and fostering opportunities for people to learn more about such matters as suicide, postpartum depression, homelessness, access to housing, global warming, and incarceration.

And I know people who’s spark comes alive through creative/self-expression based work, such as: gardening, cooking, baking, playing sports, traveling and playing music, hosting standup comedy learning sessions for women, bringing African dance into the lives of those with disabilities, organizing community poetry events, providing high school students with opportunities to craft and share their voices through the medium of written & spoken word, hiking, painting, photography, collage work, and role-playing games.

Me? My biggest most illuminating spark comes alive through sangha building. I am drawn to cultivating community through the dharma. Spiritual leadership is my highest calling. I love helping to support people, I love spending time with people. And I have a great love for and confidence in using and teaching about the tools and skills made available through mindfulness, meditation, and our Buddhist Plum Village tradition.

Creative/self-expression wise, my spark comes alive through: writing, spoken word, playing music, listening to music, dancing, solo traveling, spending time in nature, motorcycling, photography, volunteering with hospice, and working with young children.

We all have different callings. Different things that draw our attention and motivate us to action. And sometimes I forget this. Sometimes I think everyone is like me – or should be like me. And when this happens, I suffer.

Currently, I’m on a journey to find my people – those I resonate and have the most in common with. And I’m practicing to understand and embrace all those who are in my life who I don’t hold a lot in common with, but whom I cherish and value.

There’s a balance I am seeking in my interpersonal relationships right now. And it’s becoming clearer to me as of late, how often I forget certain elements of human dynamics and functioning that are crucial to remember, for the sake of my own and others quality of well-being.

The practice continues…

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Warmth and Flicker

There’s a sigh of relief that only a campfire can foster;

a certain person we become – or rather return to – in the company of its flames;

and a unique opening of the heart that is only possible in its warmth and flicker.

_________

Having gone to bed a little earlier than usual last night, I woke naturally just after 4am this morning. It was 47 degrees outside, as I sat on the back porch, bundled up in a hoodie and blanket, sipping tea, and writing by lantern light. This is what I penned in my journal:

Quietude is more than the slowing down of surrounding sounds. It is an internal settling of our mental chatterings, too. Of course, each is affected by the other, but I reckon it is more realistic – and often more beneficial – to take charge of the latter.

To still the din around us is typically not a matter of choice. We can dampen it. We can ward it off for a bit. We can tuck into the woods and perhaps leave it behind for a while. But the clamor of living, sifting beings will be there to greet us upon our return.

There’s a quietude that can remain, however, amid even the noisiest of places. There are skillsets we can develop and hone, which will enable us to stay accompanied with a calm that is not easily tossed out to sea when a siren wales, or we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a throng of people.

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Posted by on September 16, 2018 in writer's life

 

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Un-distracted & Un-hurried

One morning a week – Saturdays to be precise – I eat my morning’s breakfast un-distracted and un-hurried.

With the exception of this one meal per week, I eat accompanied by such things as music and/or my laptop.

On Saturday morning’s, however, I take the time to connect more deeply with the bounty of food I am so richly afforded.

I eat in silence, with posture upright and solid.

I savor.

I inhale the many causes and conditions that factored into its being with every bite.

And in the span of my meal time, I am transported around the globe.

Then, with senses in full bloom, I re-embody myself and come back home, fresh and new.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Love (More)

Note to self:

When people are in a frantic, manic, stressed out or washed out state, they are not in a place which affords them the ability to listen and absorb well-intentioned feedback.

No matter how good the suggestions are in attempts to alleviate their turmoil – even if they’re actively asking for input – it is not the time for solution based, problem solving tactics.

Amid such experiences of hardship or heightened states of dismay, the order at hand is to express unconditional, unwavering, unbounded acceptance, understanding, and love.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2018 in Everyday Practice

 

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Courage To Heal

For the last few years, I’ve been honored to participate in Unity of Missoula’s Day of Prayer interfaith service. The service is tonight and I will be speaking on behalf of our Buddhist sanghas, as part of our spiritual leadership team.

A short snippet about Unity:

Unity Worldwide Ministries is a worldwide network of ministries, ministers, licensed teachers and individuals providing practical teachings to help people live healthy, prosperous and meaningful lives. Unity is a positive path for spiritual living. We teach the effective daily application of the principles of Truth taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ.

Here’s what I plan on saying, based on Unity’s theme this year, which is: Courage to Heal and their affirmation of: I am a healing presence.

Prior to watching the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor just last night, I had planned on talking about the unification of mind and body in the present moment, and how dispersing our energy into thoughts about the past or worries about the future greatly reduces our ability to be a healing presence in the world. But at 9:00pm last night, after I watched this remarkable documentary, I decided to go in a different direction.

I’d like to start with a 1-minute exercise that Fred Rogers liked to do with people – I’d like us all to reflect on someone who has helped us along the way. So let us take 1-minute right now to do this in silence.

(One minute of silence, followed by a sound of the bell)

We all have people who have helped us along the way. People who, as Fred was shown saying at the end of the film during a commencement speech, have: “smiled us into smiling, talked us into talking, sang us into singing, or loved us into loving.”

To help is to heal. To help is to love. And each of us has the capacity to foster a healing presence in the world. It’s imperative to the well being of humanity that we not shrink away from or underestimate our ancestral bestowment, which is the power to help, heal, and love: ourselves, our friends and family, our co-workers, our neighbors, all beings who cross our path, and the earth.

Every morning, I start my day with 30 minutes of silent sitting meditation, followed by a gratitude practice that I’ve come up with on my own, using certain elements of our Buddhist tradition, which includes 3 prostrations to the earth, down on the ground, and one final standing bow. With the first prostration I say the same thing each morning: I bow down to the earth in gratitude for this one precious life. With the 2nd and 3rd prostrations, I offer rotating gratitudes of whatever is alive for me that day. And with the final standing bow, I conclude with: In gratitude for this one more opportunity to live today, may I be useful, may I be kind.

This way of starting my day helps to angle me in the direction of my highest intention, which is to be a healing, supportive, loving presence throughout the day to all those I will cross paths with. And in order for this calling to be sustained into the future, I need to cultivate and strengthen the seeds of gratitude, ease, and joy every day.

My hope for all of us is that we find ways in which to continue to water these same seeds for ourselves, so the we can shine our light forward, helping to illuminate the beauty, goodness, and splendors that exist within and around us. And when we do this, it will naturally usher others to join us in the work of transformation and healing.

 

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