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Tag Archives: self-acceptance

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.

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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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On Being A Tourist, Comparing Ourselves to Others, and Some Other Stuff

On Thursday, I strolled about on a Main Street in a town I’d previously only visited by driving on through and was wonderfully reminded of how much I enjoy being a tourist, even if it’s in a place situated just 2 hours north of home, which it is – and I am.

It’s worth mentioning, as a point of clarity, that I most enjoy being a lone tourist. As in: not saddled by anyone else’s agenda or having to negotiate with another human’s dynamic experience. This also includes not being terribly interested in getting led around on a local’s points of interest tour. Though, sometimes I do prefer that. It depends on where I am, both physically and spiritually.

As I meandered through downtown Kalispell, I came across a plethora of posters with my name displayed as: Headlining Poet Nicole Dunn. It was a rather exhilarating/peculiar/other-worldly experience – especially given that I’ve had very little to do with putting this particular event together and not done all the organizing/advertising/designing/postering myself, as is customary. And, hence, this is the reason I’ve come here: to teach a poetry workshop and regale an audience who’ve never heard of me with a one-hour set of spoken word.

In my Main Street/downtown walkabout, I ducked into some local shops and took my time poking around. Upon exiting a particularly delightful store with an assortment of uncommon wares, I had a total of 3 new items in the bag I’d brought along to cart my zafu (meditation cushion) in, to a meditation group I would be attending a little while later, which was located in the downtown area, a 10-minute walk from where I was staying. The three items were as follows: a pair of colorful socks with narwhals and scuba diving rhinos, to give as a gift to a friend with an upcoming birthday; a pair of colorful socks with sloths hanging from palm trees with gold gangster medallions a dangle from their necks (for personal use); and a novelty note pad with post it’s stating NAILED IT, at the top, followed by a list of options you can choose between for how you deemed whoever you’re giving the note to “nailed it.” And at the bottom of every note, it says: GOOD FOR YOU, PAL. Once I got in the spirit of thinking about all the possibilities that existed for using the NAILED IT notes, I couldn’t not get it.

I arrived Thursday afternoon to the house of a friend of mine who is away on a trip, along with her husband. So not only do I have the house to myself, but I was left to feel a bit nervous when I rolled into town, having never been to their place before. What if I had jotted down her address wrong and wound up situating myself in someone else’s house who also happened to leave their door key under the mat, which is not an uncommon practice? Would there be other telltale signs (pictures on display with no one I recognized; decor and nick-knacks that told a very different story of the friend I thought I knew…) that I had made a ghastly mistake before the residents – who were assuredly not well-acquainted with me – made their way back home to find me there with my feet up, sipping tea? Thankfully, crises was immediately averted when, in looking for the best place to park, I drove around back through the alleyway and saw their last names scribed on a wooden plank atop the garage door. Found it for sure! Whew!

Switching…sort of.

We all have ways in which we compare ourselves to others and come up short. My ways take shape through people who are either artful/masterful at baking or cooking or at tending a garden. As in: so-and-so can bake amazing bread or craft complex meals with an arsenal of liquids in bottles that I would have no idea what to do with – like raspberry balsamic vinegar, avocado oil, and cooking sherry. Maybe I should be a better cook or learn how to bake bread from scratch. Or: so-and-so has a bustling garden filled with wonderfully greening leaves in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sigh. That’s what people do, isn’t it? Garden. I really should be more into gardening.

The wildly entertaining and hilarious part is that we took out our garden plot a year ago – allowing the backyard grass to reclaim its swath of ground – and it was the best decision ever! It’s soooo nice not to have the neglected garden plot we installed years ago sneering at me to become a gardener. The pressure is off and it’s glorious! I’m the sort who loves the idea of gardening more than the actual act of gardening. It’s rather like how you might be super into a romantic interest but then once you get to know them more you’re all like: I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m the sort who would revel in watching a garden grow and equally delight in its bounty of edible content, as long as someone else tended to all of its needs along the way.

So, the thing is, I don’t want to be a gardener of things and I have no desire to be a masterful baker or chef, either. And yet, I STILL compare myself to people who are! How peculiar! We are a strange and complicated people folk.

I mean, there’s only so much time in the day, is what I’m saying. And I choose to fill my time with other things. Gardening and fashioning together gourmet meals and baking artisan bread simply aren’t high on my list of priorities. I think we have a very ingrained, very detrimental, collective mindset that we should be able to do, like, everything. We set the bar so incredibly high that we’d need superhero powers to even get close to reaching it.

It’s been extremely liberating for me to do the work of cultivating a deep and penetrating understanding of how everything I do with my time is a choice. And with this work, I’ve been able to accept and embrace my limitations of time and energy and interest in things. It’s allowed me to set realistic goals and drop the bar down to a level that doesn’t taunt me and hold me slave to ridiculous notions of how a life can NEVER by ANYONE under NO CIRCUMSTANCES be led.

So, I’m learning how to befriend the non-gardener in myself; the non-gourmet chef; the non-master-baker. To stop the powerfully common tendency to compare myself to others and come up short. It’s such an incredible drain and waste of my precious time.

 

 

 

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On Mufflers

Prior to last Thursday, it’d been about 4 years or so that my ride: a ’94 Subaru Legacy, sounded akin to a small jet engine prop plane, due to a rusted out muffler. The fortitude of the car was such that when, alas, I pulled over upon getting off the interstate in town, directly following our local spring retreat back in April, to find my muffler adangle on the asphalt, I had to wrench and claw at the dang-blasted thing for 20-minutes to pry off what remained of it. And even then, I was only able to get about 80% of it off. I wound up having to send out the bat signal to Mike, so he could swoop in as the roadside cape-crusader and wrestle out the last 20%, which was both greatly appreciated and a large disappointment, given the fact that I really wanted to be victorious on my own accord.

I found it entertaining that the noise emanating from my car, pre muffler falling off, sounded absolutely no different than it did once it was gone. But, as I’d both gotten used to the rumbling and have a policy of not putting any money into the car that isn’t crucial to its functioning – given that at 337,000 miles, any day could be its last – the fact that everyone could hear my car in a 2-block radius didn’t really bother me. Besides, I mostly fly solo in my car and my love for loud music tended to drown out the ruckus. The only times I really noticed and was off-put by the muffler’s cacophony was when I’d have passengers riding along with me, as holding a conversation meant upping the volume of your voice, in regards to someone riding shotgun – and was pretty much a total lost cause all together if you were kickin it in the backseat – or when I’d start my car early in the morning or come home late at night: sorry neighbors!

Perhaps if I’d ridden in my own backseat more often, I would’ve been propelled to get a new muffler 4 years ago. A couple of weeks ago, I rode in the backseat from Spokane back to Missoula, to afford the dynamic duo: my husband and 18-year-old stepson, the chance to chat about all the things they wonderfully love to geek out on together, and I have little interest in, such as: science fiction related audio books, gaming, dark TV shows, politics, and, most recently, the art of magic, and was able to marinate in my car’s muffler musings on a much more intimate level. When we got home, the first thing I said when we walked in the door was: I think it’s time to get a new muffler.

So, last Thursday, I was the first appointment of the day at a place called the Muffler Bandit. I was told it would take about an hour, so I brought along a book and supplies in which to fashion a letter to my friend Daniel, who’s incarcerated at Montana State Prison. But perhaps because it was only 8:00am and things were still pretty quiet around town and in the shop, or perhaps it was due to the fact that there was nothing for the mechanic to take off of the car, my Sube was saddled up with a shiny new muffler in just 20 minutes. My car was serviced in such a short amount of time that I was even a little sad to have to vacate the premises, as I was just getting into the flow of writing my letter to Daniel. It also happens that I thoroughly enjoy writing in new and exotic places and I’d never had the chance to write in a muffler shop before (see pic above). But, I reluctantly packed up, paid my $160, and headed out. When the mechanic gave me the keys, I delighted in how he framed my new quiet vehicular stead. He said: Now you’re back in stealth mode. His declaration reminding me both of my secret longing to be a ninja and the time my stepson and I got busted trying to pull a prank on my friend Jennifer at 11:00 at night, last winter. We had parked 2-3 blocks away from her house, on account of my car’s loud rumbling, but it wasn’t the trademark sound of my car that tipped her off to our shenanigans. It was the fact that we managed to time our hi-jinks with the same time she was cruising home from the grocery store – which taught me, for future reference, that she seldom parks her car in the back by the garage.

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Posted by on December 19, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Self-Acceptance

If we were to encounter a magic lantern in an enchanted wood that came with a directive that our 3 wishes had to be about self-improvement, most of us could easily come up with a few things right off the bat about ourselves that we’d like to change. We all have stuff that we have little to no ability to change about who we are, but we REALLY wish we could.

My longest running and most prevalent “something to change” would be the decreasing but still ongoing companion of Acne. I guess it makes some kind of sense that since I was into boys at an early age, that I would wind up developing early, too. And perhaps in an effort to teach me the graces of humility at an early age, accompanying my amply sized chest grew the red, swollen marks of acne. Through middle school, high school, and my two years of college, acne was a varying but constant presence, strewn plainly across my face for all to see and sometimes marvel at. It was my crippling weakness, my deflater of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-acceptance. And ultimately, by way of debilitating levels of agony and disappointment, my greatest teacher.

I firmly believe that every single excruciating thing that has ever happened to us has the potential to wake us up to something. Every experience has the capacity to be used for growth or deflation, depending on how we use it.

Just as every tool can be a weapon, so too can every weapon be a tool.

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Posted by on December 10, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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You Are What You Think

This is me preparing for another teaching-style talk at my local sangha Be Here Now. So, while it may not be the most riveting post for you to read, my much-appreciated friends, it does offer me a great platform and outlet in which to figure out what it is I’d like to say – and I am reminded of the ending statement I recently heard from¬†Hemingway’s acceptance speech from 1954 for winning the Nobel Prize:¬†“…A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.” Of course, my motivation lies in writing about it in order to speak about it, but I am nourished by this statement just the same.

I’ll also be giving this talk jointly with my husband Mike, which we’ve been doing once a year for the past 2-3 years. We’ve entitled it: You are what you think and we’ll be offering it on Monday night, October 23rd.

On an introductory note, for those of you sticking around to read this through :), the topic for this talk was spurred by coming to the realization of how a lack of self-acceptance is one of the largest obstacles on the path of healing, growth, transformation, and well-being. In having been attending a meditation group virtually every week for the past 15 years, where we have an open sharing circle built into our format, it’s become very clear to me just how much people give themselves a hard time about ALL kinds of things. But it’s only recently been an insight of mine that this is in fact one of the greatest roadblocks we face in regards to living more mindfully and skillfully, with more ease and balance.

My husband will be talking first, for about 20-minutes, and plans on focusing his segment on highlighting what a thought and a view are and what the differences are between them. The idea being that our long-held views are what shape our thoughts, and our thoughts are what fuel our words and actions. Most of us are not well in touch with what our views are – our deeply held beliefs that have shaped us and continue to shape us. A guiding quote for us is one from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to spiritual growth. – TNH

For my portion of the talk I plan on opening with a psychological exercise that I recently learned, which will prompt folks to get in touch with how they talk to themselves internally while in the process of doing it.

As for what I’ll say, here goes:

If it were as easy as just stopping giving ourselves a hard time we would’ve all done that by now. Most of us know when it is we’re being hard on ourselves or beating ourselves up over something. So just stopping this particular habit is most likely not a realistic thing to expect to have happen. And the reasons are 1. We’ve been practicing this internal dialog for probably our whole lives, so it’s deeply ingrained and thus will take time to transform and 2. Because when we get stuck in our intellect it keeps us from developing the necessary actions it takes to embody whatever it is we’re looking to work on in regards to our own growth and well-being. So just because we know something in our mind intellectually doesn’t mean it translates into an embodied experience, which is what’s necessary in order for us to progress on our path. Knowing is not enough – knowing is a critical first step, but we need to pair knowing with doing, in order for transformation and healing to take place.

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