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Tag Archives: chronic pain

The Art of Organizing (part 2 of 2)

This is part 2 of a two-part post, to read part 1 click here: https://goingoutwordsandinwords.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/the-art-of-organizing-part-1-of-2/

Please note: All of these suggestions are simply what I find useful in my own life.

6. Meditate in the mornings. Starting the day with a few minutes of meditation helps to lay the groundwork for a more solid and stable platform in which to build your day upon. Having a regular meditation practice allows us to strengthen our inner muscles of resiliency, concentration, solidity, ease, patience, openness, and equanimity, all of which serve important functions in our day-to-day lives. And being well-organized internally translates, over time, to being well-organized externally, too.

7. Make self-care one of your priorities. I believe that for a person to be well-organized and have it be a sustainable and prolonged way of living, one must find ways in which to replenish their own energy tanks. If self-care is ranked low on the list of importance, the chances are good that eventually we’ll burn ourselves out and become stressed, overwhelmed, and utterly exhausted by all of the things we choose to do with our time. In an effort to address a common misunderstanding, self-care is not the same as being selfish or self-indulgent. For me, investing in acts of self-care has to do with understanding how my well-being affects that of those around me – when I’m taking good care of myself I am also taking good care of others, there is no separation. I practice to care well for myself in order to care well for those around me, and to continue being active and productive in all the ways I want to be without getting overly taxed and depleted. Self-care will look differently for each of us – for me, since I live with chronic pain and illness, I’ve found that taking a short nap most everyday is vital to my ability to function optimally and manage my pain levels. I also make sure to set time aside to do the things that I most enjoy, such as: writing, playing music, volunteering, going on retreats, paddle-boarding, and photography. It’s important to investigate what self-care looks like for our own individual needs and to practice not feeling guilty about making it happen.

8. Don’t compare. One of my favorite quotes is from Theodore Roosevelt: Comparison is the thief of joy. To continue with his train of thought I’d like to add: Comparison is the thief of time and energy. From an efficiency standpoint, getting stuck in comparison games is a huge waste of time and energy that could be much better spent elsewhere. When we’re constantly weighing, judging, and re-evaluating what we’re doing in comparison to what someone else is doing, it often leads to second guessing, hemming and hauling, and non-action. Drop the tendency to compare and strengthen your confidence in your own capacity to take decisive action.

9. Practice belly breathing. When breathing, many of us use primarily our upper register to inhale and exhale, aka: our lungs. When we practice to deepen our breathing – bringing it from and into our belly – there are certain very practical and helpful benefits. Deep breathing aids us in raising our mental clarity, focus, and alertness – all of which, of course, are key to being well organized. It also helps increase circulation, reduces fatigue, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion, and bolsters our immune system.

10. Take responsibility for your life. It’s easy to operate in such a way where we feel life is rather heaped upon us, as though we were a victim of all the things needing to be taken care of. But the truth is, the life we lead is made up of our own volition, consisting of the results of our choices and decisions we make. The quality of our lives is up to us – we can either view challenges and difficulties as opportunities to grow or as occasions in which to complain about and blame others for, the choice is ours.

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This is what I look like sometimes

I just took this pic of myself about 30-minutes ago. It’s hard for me to imagine how this pic might look to you, whether you know me personally or not – maybe nothing looks amiss at all. But, to me, this pic is a visual message of how my nerve disease, CRPS, shows up for me sometimes, like today. I can see my illness, exhaustion, and poor state of health today in my face – largely in my eyes. Our eyes are the window to the soul, as the saying goes.

I just watched a 2016 documentary called Gleason, which tells the story about former NFL player Steve Gleason’s diagnosis, progression, and life with ALS. It is an extraordinarily well-done film and I would highly recommend it. After watching it, I was inspired to take this pic of myself and post it here, as a way of highlighting that this is what I look like sometimes. Some days I am bed ridden. Some days I’d rather have the energy and ability to be outside enjoying the sunshine, like today, but I don’t. Some days my pain levels are higher than my mental capacity to physically rally myself – though it is rare for me, anymore, to experience a day when my pain levels are higher than my mental capacity to spiritually and emotionally rally myself.

Physically my body may be weak and sore today. But in learning the art of resting (yes, it is an art for sure), I am able to do so much awesome and amazing stuff in my life, during the days that I am afforded more energy and better health.

The documentary showcased for me the possible benefits and power of sharing our story, which is something I still struggle with, personally. As a writer and a mindfulness practitioner, I am still uncertain as to whether documenting and getting involved in advocacy work is the direction that speaks to me, in regards to being someone who lives with chronic pain and illness. What is clear to me, is the importance of showing and sharing about all the sides of ourselves. To be authentically who we are, in our own skin. So on that note, this pic is what I look like sometimes.

Things that are helpful for me to keep in mind:

  • No one totally is as they appear.
  • We’re all human – we all have our challenges and heartaches and strife.
  • We all judge books by their cover – and we’re all always wrong about our assessment.
 

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A Fruit of the Practice

Two nights ago, I was reminded about one of the fruits that has unfolded as a result of my practice of cultivating mindfulness and joy: the ability and capacity to remain mentally at ease, upright, and stable in the midst of challenging circumstances.

Despite feeling a bit overloaded with organizational and schedule related tasks of late, I agreed to volunteer for an evening school-related function at a local art gallery, as part of my stepson’s involvement in the literary magazine program at his high school. On Monday night his literary mag teacher sent out a long and heartfelt email, sharing about her recent health struggles that will soon send her to the Mayo clinic in Minnesota, along with her first and sole ask for parent support to help pull off their largest fundraiser of the year, which would be happening in 3 nights time. After learning about her health struggles, and other personal challenges she shared about in the email, and considering the late notice that would likely render many parents unable to help out, I decided to pitch in to help a little more than I usually would.

I volunteered to make and bring both an appetizer and dessert item, enough to feed 20 people (as requested), and I also offered to help set up at the event beforehand. This resulted in prepping and baking for 5-hours, until 9:30 at night, after working a full day at my nanny job on Wednesday, followed by going directly to the event for set up the next day, after another full day of work. Since we were rather short-handed, I stepped in to help manage and maintain the food tables throughout the event, as well, and stayed until the end to help with clean up. So, for a second day in a row, I immediately followed my 7-hour work day with another 5-hour set of active tasks. This would be a lot for many people, regardless of health status. However, with the added element of living with chronic pain, due to a nerve condition, 12-hour days for me are most often out of the question – my schedule of 7-hour work days twice a week are enough to put me in bed as soon as I get home at 4:00pm. I do have the capability, however, to pull it off when I need to, once in a while, knowing that my pain levels will be elevated for a few days afterwards in response and I’ll need to adjust my activities and schedule accordingly, in order to rest and recuperate my energy.

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Self-Care

7pointplan

To read in more detail about Ethan’s 7-Point Plan: http://www.ethannichtern.com/7-point-practice-plan-for-engaged-mindfulness-in-2017/

Yesterday was a long day of LOTS of sitting on a meditation cushion at our local mindfulness center, with very little active movement, which my physical body is not a huge fan of. And it was also lovely, too, as not only was I able to partake in an OI Day of Mindfulness (OI: Order of Interbeing), but it meant I was able to see our out of town sangha friends, of whom I only gather with 3-4 times a year.

Our Day of Mindfulness included: sitting meditation, indoor walking meditation, reciting the 14 Mindfulness Trainings, listening to short talks from three of our Montana and Wyoming area OI members, silent lunch, a dharma/personal check-in round, and closing remarks from our local Dharma teacher Rowan. It went from 9:30am-5:00pm. My husband and I left at 5:00pm, in order to return home to our son, while others stayed to have dinner together at the center. My nerve condition, and associating chronic pain, had been so aggravated by the hours spent mostly sitting that I darted out to our car quite rapidly after the final sound of the bell – whoosh, I was gone! What I’ve been appreciating reflecting on, since getting home last night, is how strong my practice of self-care is – which took me years of honing in, I might add, and is a continual practice. Now, when my pain levels rise and my mental energy plummets in unison, I know what I need to do and I do it.

A big part of my self-care routine is in understanding how physical pain, just like everything else, is of the nature to change. When my pain level rises, I practice to remember that by prioritizing rest, using a few simple aids (such as using a heating blanket and soaking my legs in a hot bath), and being attentive to my body mechanics, my pain will subside to a large degree, after a certain length of time. I no longer fight against the pain or my body, wishing they were other then they are. I’ve learned a different way of engaging with myself when pain arises, and it makes such an immense difference in my experience.

As Thay says: “The Buddha said that you shouldn’t amplify your pain by exaggerating the situation. He used the image of someone who has just been hit by an arrow. A few minutes later, a second arrow strikes him in exactly the same spot. When the second arrow hits, the pain is not just doubled; it is many times more painful and intense.

So when you experience pain, whether is physical or mental, you have to recognize  it just as it is and not exaggerate it. You can say to yourself, “Breathing in, I know this is only a minor physical pain. I can very well make friends and peace with it. I can still smile to it.”

If you recognize the pain as it is and don’t exaggerate it, then you can make peace with it, and you won’t suffer as much. But if you get angry and revolt against it, if you worry too much and imagine that you’re going to die very quickly, then the pain will be multiplied one hundred times. That is the second arrow, the extra suffering that comes from exaggeration. You should not allow it to arise. This is very important. It was recommended by the Buddha: Don’t exaggerate and amplify the pain.”

– From Shambhala Sun magazine (now known as Lion’s Roar), January 2012

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Most People Wouldn’t Know

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Most People Wouldn’t Know

Most people wouldn’t know,
until I broke out my cane,
that I live with chronic pain in my legs and feet.

Most people wouldn’t know
how I have to delicately ration my time
between activity and rest,
if I am to function in all the ways they see me.

Most people wouldn’t know
that I’m unable to wiggle my toes,
due to atrophy,
or that some days I am unable to get out of bed.

My situation is no different than anyone else’s.
For we can never know just what is going on for someone.
Loss, grief, loneliness, anxiety, shame, anger, mental illness,
all are invisible to the naked eye –
except, when they’re not.

Most people wouldn’t know,
unless I told them,
that I don’t want them to be sorry for me,
because I’m not sorry for myself,
not anymore.

Most people wouldn’t know
all of the invaluable lessons
my pain has taught me.
Forcing me, at first kicking and screaming,
to learn how to take good care of myself,
so that I would in turn be able to take
good care of others.

 
 

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On Resting

Civp1xiUoAAl9pP.jpg_large       (from Buddha Doodles by Molly Hahn)

This morning, on my writer’s facebook page I posted this:

Sometimes, I have to remind myself
about the extent of my human nature.
My vast tendency to tire,
to grow weary,
to sink into foggy states of clarity.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself
about the extent of my human potential.
My ability to begin anew,
to grow steady and strong,
to thrive into brilliant states of awakening.
To rest and revive once again.

 

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The Art of Pain Management

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A couple of months ago I was talking to a sangha friend of mine about the nature of physical pain.  Knowing that I’ve been focusing diligently on the cultivation of joy over the last few years and that I’ve experienced a great deal of physical pain in relation to my chronic illnesses he asked me specifically what I did to deal with pain and how to cultivate joy in the midst of it.  As I see this as a common struggle (knowing how to deal with ongoing physical pain, limitation, and illness) I thought I’d take to writing about it, as that often helps me to better understand things for myself as well.

It’s important to note that I spent years doing the “wrong” things when it came to dealing with physical pain.  Doing the wrong things was what helped me to know and understand what the right things to do were.  By wrong I mean I caused more harm to myself and those around me.  By wrong I mean I wasn’t taking good care of myself and was embittered with anger, sadness, loss, guilt, and hopelessness to the point of becoming debilitated and unpleasant to be around.

So what do I do now to embrace the difficult nature of physical pain and practice joy?  Let’s see..

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