Reflections on a Seesaw

“Maybe, maybe not” is a phrase I’ve carried with me since first reading Robert Fulghum’s Maybe Maybe Not: (Second Thoughts from a Secret Life). If memory serves, Fulghum focuses on the certainty that anything can happen. In maybe (and maybe not as well), lies the wonder of certainty.

Some 20 years later, I still do not disagree. After all, existence is ever-evolving, never given to any absolute except change. For me, certainty lies in change.

Maybe this is hair-splitting, maybe not.

It is only recently I realized that “maybe, maybe not” is my catchphrase for equanimity. I do not know when that happened but it did. There is an evenness of mind in the seesaw quality of “maybe, maybe not”—at least for me–an ongoing balancing act in meeting life’s experiences.Winds of Change 0214

As Pema Chodron says, “cultivating equanimity is a work in progress.” Indeed, it is. Yet, I find a kind of certainty in creating an environment of equanimity. If anything is certain, it is change; perhaps that is the permanence in impermanence.

Maybe impermanence is the heart of Fulghum’s belief in wonder for no thing ever stays and anything can happen. Maybe, maybe not.

Cultivating equanimity means we respond rather than react to the emotional and physical storms that make up the drama of our lives. If we meet the storms with an evenness of mind, we learn the nature of our pain.Storm Clouds 081913

To open one’s self to the fury of any storm—to sit in its eye–is to accept the promise of impermanence, the certainty of change. In acceptance comes the realization that one’s life changes forever. No storm is without its pain yet every storm has its eye.

I am reminded of the Buddha’s words, “I teach nothing but suffering and the end of suffering.” For me, equanimity provides the evenness of mind to accept that pain will always be part of the life experience. But I do not have to suffer. The choice is mine.

We suffer when we are becalmed, wrapped up in our pain, wearing it as our identity. In aversion, we also suffer, trying to outrun or outmaneuver the storm— we may actually do it more than once — regardless, we will meet it again, may be different circumstances and perhaps when least expected.

In equanimity, we brave the storm, accepting it will forever change us. We sit in its eye, safe in knowing the storm state always passes, and in its aftermath, we rise once again, buoyed by the energy of existence.

With every storm, there are lands lost to us, yes, but if we sail with the current—an evenness of mind— there are so many new shores to explore, so many experiences yet to come. There is always another sea to sail.

And all the while there is the wonder of maybe, maybe not, a seesaw balancing act, certain to change.

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Colors of the Day: the Beauty of Being

Waterolor beautiful girl. Vector illustration of woman beauty salon

August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman Blog Fest V (#BOAW16) launches today. Both men and women bloggers offer unique perspectives on beauty.

To me, the fest is a celebration of the beauty of being, like walking through the doorway of equanimity to explore compassion, joy, and loving-kindness, the colors of our days.

Each day is a blank canvas, a textured, vibrant explosion of experience, beauty blurring and blending one expression into another. No facet of beauty is denied for that is not the nature of transformation.

Beauty does not reside in a single appearance. It does not live on a pedestal. No one sentient life is worthier than another. The faces of beauty reveal “destiny or fate or meaning, heroes of remarkable stories” (Rebecca Solnit).

Every sentient life is remarkable for it is the only version of that story that will ever be told.

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Beauty is not found in a single expression but in every experience of existence in this dimension of sensation. Day after day, the multi-verse expresses itself anew.

It is the nature of beauty to renew rather than repeat or redo. No experience of beauty leaves us unchanged nor does it stay.

There are moments we would hold forever; others, we would avoid if we could. Try as we may, we are not allowed either of these choices.

The beauty of being transcends any framing of or confining to one day, one experience, or one moment. Nor does it exclude. Being is the blend and blur of the events of a lifetime.

We exist in a dimension of sensation, the beauty of being always on the horizon for as long as there are days to experience. In the dawn, we greet the colors of our day:

I am grateful for this day,

 for every moment I experience

as a human being.

May I meet each moment

with equanimity, joy,

loving-kindness, and compassion

for all

in all ways, in all things.

I hope you visit Beauty of a Woman Fest V. It may change your life.❤

Looking Through the Lens of Limitation

Looking within 0213For nearly four decades, I viewed disability through a lens of limitation. For me, that shutter had only two settings, open or closed, a.k.a. able or disabled.

Some years, I fully embraced the label of disability, assuming it as my identity. And then better health would return. Always, I believed the return permanent, and it never was.

My ego had this to say: “You are better and can do more so do it.” No matter the state of my health, I believed my ego. Sheer stubbornness prevailed more often than not. Yet, disease processes can only be suppressed for so long.

My ego was not without an opinion on poor health, either. “You can get better. You have before. So do it.” Sometimes, remission lasted for years but always, disability returned.

All the while I was struggling with the disability label, I kept accumulating medical diagnoses. I gave them little notice other than to put them in a neat stack for later consideration, which I never did.

Rather, I rode the roller coaster of disability as if it were the only experience of my life. Until one day, not too long ago, I got off. No more struggling to rise only to rush back down. No matter how long it took to climb up, the trip to the bottom never lasted long enough.

The Pause of Life 101313

Undoubtedly, my ego had an opinion but I did not listen. Rather, I followed my instincts: why not float upon impermanence? Stay open to experience. Meet it with curiosity. Impermanence will take you on the ride of your life.

And then the bottom fell out, as I wrote in my last post almost three months ago. I’m still afloat, which is not easier than riding on a roller coaster just different. I sail with the current rather than setting a course for lands lost or for shores beyond my reach.

I discover myriad angles in the ever widening lens of impermanence, even if the dawning day is dark. Always, there is a sliver of light, and if I’m mindful, I will discover it.

Familiar disease labels are never far off but I do not seek them out or try to steer away. They will find me, and I will meet what they have to offer. Just recently I added a new label, rheumatoid arthritis. It offers yet another perspective on the Zen koan, “The obstacle is the path.”

I stay the course, scanning dark skies for the inevitable sliver of light.

Autoimmune disease— lupus, Sjogren’s, and rheumatoid arthritis— are quite active currently as is spinal cord disease (myelopathy). Working with degenerative disc disease, myelopathy has permanently affected my gait (ataxia) as well as the reflexes in my limbs (hyperreflexia).

Each label is its own lens of limitation. To attach to a label or to avoid it will not change the experience it brings. Labels float in and out of life. I aim to let them do just that.

The C2-C4 donor bone fusion is still “not taking” but “my films look good” my neurosurgeon tells me. The fusion hardware holding the donor bone in place can last as long as 10 years. Even autoimmune disease is doing its part as it provides more than enough inflammation to assist the fusion process. My neurosurgeon remains optimistic and so do I.

Sliver of light in a sea of labels.

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All of my medical practitioners support my daily, gentle yoga practice, no matter the disease experience of the moment. Not every day am I able to perform each yoga pose completely but every day I practice yoga.

In yoga and meditation, there is only the lens of impermanence, a mindset of acceptance that no thing ever stays or is ever the same, no matter how many times met. I agree to medications that I once rejected: a weekly dose of methotrexate and a small, daily dose of prednisone. The methotrexate requires monthly blood test monitoring.

Inflammation may be assisting the donor bone fusion but it is damaging my joints and tissues. Accepting the medication is as essential to maintaining my independence as are yoga and meditation. In an open-ended mindset, labels pass freely.

In every moment there is movement, a breathing in only to let go.

As in meditation, the breath in yoga is critical to sensing the body’s signals.  With my breath I soften the pain of movement, all the while experiencing its energy. Every day is a new communication with the body, no matter how many yoga poses I complete or how long I meditate.

Even on those days when there is only a sliver of light, the impermanence of each experience is worth the ride. After all, I am looking through an ever widening lens with myriad angles.

High Tide St Marks 0214

 

When the Bottom Falls Through

Recently, I received some unexpected health news, which is why there has been a longer break than usual between posts. Just as I was getting ready to resume regular posting, everything changed.

Impermanence is like that.

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The bone graft in my cervical fusion—C2–C4— is not fusing. There is no healing; the graft is not “taking.” Initial x-rays seemed to reveal healing but x-rays taken six months later do not.

You might think that after nearly 40 years of dealing with chronic illness and disability, I would take this news in stride. I did not. I was devastated. Myriad scenarios, all of which began with “what if,” descended.

I buckled under the weight. The bottom of my world fell through. I found myself in the depths of my vulnerability. I cried. A lot. Rarely have I felt so hopeless. As I wrote to a friend, “I really wanted to beat this.”

Ah, but I am not in a race.

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I am experiencing life as a human being. My life is not a race against chronic illness or disability—it is not a competition on any level — it is a moment of life, one stitch in the tapestry of existence.

To live, to be a stitch in time, is to be vulnerable. Let me not build “castles in the air”; let me “inhabit” my vulnerability.

The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance….

David Whyte, Consolations: the Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning.

I had to become comfortable with my vulnerability. Although it runs deep, so do the wells of compassion and courage. And from them, all I had to do was drink. Vulnerability connects us with one another but it is courage and compassion that reveal us. They keep us fear-less.

I am not seeking the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It may or may not be there. I am experiencing my life as it unfolds, putting a foundation beneath my castle and inhabiting it.

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The bone graft fusion in my neck—C2–C4–is not fusing is a thought never far from my mind, a frequent visitor during my morning meditation, accompanied by fear in all its forms. Words weave in and out, some wounding and others opening old scars.

It is a circle of wolves. I feed each one.

I sit in my vulnerability as I observe all the reasons the bone graft is not taking. There is the donor bone, possibly not a good match, always an unknown.

I was not the best surgical candidate. This was the fourth surgery on a spine with degenerative disc disease. And after nearly 40+ years of autoimmune issues, my bones may just not be good enough for that donor bone. After all, my cervical vertebrae did pinch my spinal cord.

My breath brings me back to what is.

In this moment, a metal plate and four screws are holding the vertebrae and donor bone in place. This is my reality, not what was or what might be.

A silent wolf patiently awaits the stillness. There is a possibility—a long shot–that the graft may take two years to fuse. No one gives this wolf much attention but I feed it as much as I feed the others.

The wolf demanding the most attention concerns the low dose of prednisone I am taking as well as the limited, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Neither of these is a surprise nor a secret– each reduces my pain level and keeps me mobile–together, they are now viewed in a new light.

It is possible the autoimmune disease medications reduced the level of inflammation so the fusion cannot take place. Without the medications, my mobility would be so limited it would slow if not stop the fusion from taking place.

KMHuberImage; St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge; Florida; USA

 

It is my neurosurgeon, the reader of x-rays, who says so succinctly, “you are between a rock and a hard place.” Indeed. Autoimmune disease versus spinal fusion. Which one do you feed?

New blood tests reveal neither prednisone nor the over-the-counter medications have dramatically reduced my body’s inflammation. Still, “between a rock and a hard place” remains the medical phrase.

Mine, however, is not to look for the fringe of the future. Rather, I inhabit my vulnerability, exploring the reality I have. The balance in the circle of wolves remains fluid.

Daily, a new experience awaits me. I sip from my wells of courage and compassion, content to reside in my castle of vulnerability. And like everyone else, with each experience I become more intimate with disappearance, the exit each one of us will take someday.

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As My Laundry Lay Drying and Other Tools of the Trade

ER Toy Shirt

Note ER Catnip Toy

I did not immediately recognize the connection between the way I dry laundry and the way I write. There is a bit of  forever about the time it takes damp laundry to dry in a subtropical climate. As well, for some time I have been content to let my sentences grow at will. For both, time seemed not of the essence.

Repeatedly, I assured myself that sentences would be trimmed, ordered. Some words would not survive the page, as always. Laundry would find a fold or a hanger in a drawer or closet. Well, of course.

Impermanence does wend its way through laundry as easily as it does through words. Yet, I suspected I was trying to catch it on a shirt or in a sentence, trying to hold a moment longer than it lasts.

I was.

Laundry does dry, and if it is a high plains desert climate— a mile high and more— it dries quickly, reflecting the scratchy, arid climate. The soft, pliable cloth of a subtropical climate leaves just a hint of moisture.

Note the Wyoming Flag filling out the State of Florida

Note the Wyoming Flag filling out the State of Florida

Regardless, a moment lasts only a moment– a routine of no routine–endless and timeless. It is for me to work with the reality I experience as it presents itself. It is the stuff of choices.

I decide the laundry will finish drying on my love seat, recliner, and every available piece of furniture/doorknob. I save $1.25 in quarters but it seems I always receive more than I give.

Feline EmmaRose revels in “laundry days.” At less than 5 pounds, she can sneak in, under, over and around almost any piece of laundry. It gives her such joy to explore her landscape in a new way.

Her joy is not lost on me. I am aware of words left here and there in moments already passed.

As ill as I have been this past year, most of my writing has been recording details and research. Deliberately, I was not attaching any feelings to those events. That would come later.

Yet, the laundry did dry as later passed. Both laundry and words were taking up space that EmmaRose and I do not have. We share two rooms and a bath. We’re full up.

As I folded laundry, I reached for a pair of socks, a Christmas gift. One sock is a list of banned books; the other is the world with those words, peaceful and rebellious.

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A moment lasts only a moment, long enough for the world to change, and there is nothing comfortable in that. The comfort comes in recognizing we, too, are capable of change.

The laundry can only lie around so long. And so it is with writing.

Physically, the way I am able to write is both new and old. I’m no longer sure what tool will be required on any given day. It is its own routine of no routine, as it always has been.

If the “obstacle is the path,” and I suspect it is, a broader perspective can only mean another way to view the obstacle. A new angle, requiring new tools as well as new ways to use old tools.

Rock and Hard place 1014

I no longer type to write–mostly–I use voice recognition software. I decided it is more important to use my hands for chopping vegetables, picking up a capsule/tablet, and measuring a half milliliter of liquid prednisone in a syringe for EmmaRose.

There are no medications for my motor control, hyper-reflex, and nerve damage issues. My mind-body works with each signal or lack of signal. It is a lesson in letting go.

Some kind of sensation is evident in my fingers and thumbs, different and worth exploring. It is as if through the gnarled roots of tingling/grittiness/numbness, there is life.

palm legs 0116Once again, I receive more than is asked of me.

In using voice recognition software, my thoughts— air abstractions—become concrete representations through speech, a tool once reserved for conversation. It is a new role. This, too, feels like life.

The physical sensation of fingers on a keyboard is a different creative process than speaking those same thoughts. One is halting, dependent upon a stroke or even a missed key; the other is expansive, born free of grammar, ever ready to roam.

And then there are completely new tools. When I updated my voice recognition software, I received a Digital Voice Tracer. It transcribes my thoughts/research notes into a text document. It is remarkably accurate.

The Tracer will fit in any outstretched hand or most any pocket. It takes up just a little space on the nightstand, ready to capture ideas as they occur. Well, almost. There is always that moment in between.

It is more than I was able to do before, once again.

And I have returned to using a chalkboard, 35 x 23. I suspect I still cling to a physical way of writing; the chalkboard provides connection. Ultimately, what is written in chalk dust finds its way to my laptop through my digital voice tools.

Clean Slate at an Angle

Clean Slate at an Angle

Like EmmaRose, I, too, enjoy a change in the landscape of our apartment. I sit on the floor with chalk and my board, drawing connections between pieces of writing. I get another visual of words working together.

I had given up this practice of sitting on the floor with my chalkboard. But in viewing my obstacle from a new angle, solutions once unlikely, reappear. Like walking in the air, it just a matter of taking the first step.

Of course, the chalkboard is great for hanging laundry. As one set of thoughts turns to dust, another lies in wait. It is never-ending.

The Holiday Pounce or the Cat is on Steroids

Sometimes the holiday season is just upon me, unannounced points of light pristine as newly fallen snow. It is joy uncontained, this magic of my holiday heart, a music all its own.

This year, I am very like the boy in “Walking in the Air.” The music is new to me but in England it is a beloved Howard Blake song written for the 1982 television adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman.  It is a traditional holiday favorite.

Perhaps that is how holiday traditions are made. New only one time and for all the holidays yet to come, remembered, sometimes as magic.

In ways unforeseen, feline EmmaRose and I are exploring our own version of walking in the air. In keeping with the title of this post, she is on steroids. For that matter, so am I.

It has not been what I would have anticipated for either one of us.

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As you can see, most flights of fancy are in EmmaRose’s dreams. That said, there are moments the catnip mouse flies through the air, ever prey to EmmaRose’s declawed but deft paws. Usually, a serious nap follows. This has always been her way.

EmmaRose has reached a certain age where chronic inflammation in her gastrointestinal tract is now permanent. Prednisone gives EmmaRose a chance to keep her life as she has known it. In all things, same old, same old is EmmaRose’s idea of walking in the air.  The even keel is her joy.

As a woman of a certain age with an increasing number of chronic health conditions, I, too, aim for the joy of even. Every morning I check our respective steroid doses on the daily calendar. EmmaRose’s is in liquid form, which she prefers dribbled on flakes of tuna.

I take my tablets with warm, lemon water and set the timer for an hour. I meditate; EmmaRose naps.

Meditating on steroids is not a busy blur. Just the opposite, actually.  In the opalescent hours, dark and not far from morning–dawn’s assurance lurks–my body stills into one breath after another.

Inflammation signals, initially insistent as pain, ebb. More like soft points of light than not. Tramadol fans the flames of burning joints into embers as Gabapentin wends its way through the maze of misfiring nerves.

Within the hour, my body finds its balance to begin the day.  There will be constant shifts as medicine and body seek mutual agreement. Cooperation is fluid.

I am “floating in the midnight sky,” glimpsing the possibilities a life with traditional medicine may offer. The points of light are innumerable. Such is the dawn of change.

But even change will not stay. One cannot hold onto the midnight blue for it is only a moment’s ride. Always, the magic lasts just long enough for us to remember to believe.

Whether or not we go walking in the air is our choice. We can enrich our experience as much or as little as we choose. We are not confined by what our bodies can or cannot do.

Our most powerful tool—our curiosity, our ability to imagine—is what wraps and re-wraps the world so that it once again is new and shiny.

To go walking in the air is to “take the world by surprise,” to open our arms to joy, believing nothing is impossible. It only takes a moment to believe. And then our feet touch the ground.

To accept that walking in the air is as necessary as keeping our feet on the ground is to know joy, ours to live or not.

It is a game of catnip mouse with declawed paws.

It is the awe of experiencing each moment for none can ever stay.

Sometimes we walk in the air. Sometimes our footsteps are one in front of the other, grounded. It is an ever shifting balance.

Happy holidays. You are all points of light.

Here Are My Shoes

I did not know to send my shoes to Paris but here they are, virtually. Even the Pope sent a pair of plain black dress shoes; UN Secretary General Ban Ky Moon sent a jogging pair.shoes 120915

Type, condition, or owner is not the criteria. Solidarity of the human spirit is.

20,000 pairs of shoes arrived in the Place de la République in support of the activists who were not able to march at the UN climate summit. French authorities banned large outdoor marches in light of the recent terrorist attacks.

Activists turned to the compassionate response for terrorism is never a match for compassion, a truly revolutionary act. Compassion connects. The world sent shoes and then, hundreds of thousands in cities across the globe marched for those who could not.

In solidarity, there is awareness, a sliver of light where there once was darkness. That is change.

Black Bears of Florida, here are my shoes.

Black out for the bearsActivism did not stop the black bear hunt. It was a mismanaged slaughter as predicted. The Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) sold over 3,700 hunting permits for the “harvesting” of 320 bears. In less than 48 hours, 298 bears were dead. As of this writing, the final bear death total is 304.

There had been no black bear hunting in Florida for 21 years. The population was considered endangered but in recovery. No one knows the total number of black bears in Florida. Most agree it is around 3,000, including the FWC who sold more hunting permits than the estimated number of bears.

The continued presence of activists did shut down the hunt five days early. They gathered at kill reporting checkpoints to monitor the hunt as well as to photograph and record bear data. And yes, they posted the data on social media. It is still getting attention.

Black bears found a way back from being an endangered species only to discover they are refugees in their own land.

In Tallahassee, there was a Requiem for Bear ceremony. When there is reverence for life, there is a spark, a way to begin anew. Increasingly, pairs of occupied shoes are coming to Florida courthouses and county commission meetings for the rights of black bears.

Seminole County is enacting an ordinance outlining specific requirements for humans to do their part in living with bears. Sponsored state legislation for 2016 will help municipalities cover the costs.

Virtual connections as well as person-to-person contact allow the issue the light of day. Solutions appear and disappear. Not all are feasible. Increased awareness results in increased opportunities for connection. That does work. It is how change occurs.

Syrian refugees, here are my shoes. Winter Solstice Skies 1214

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have died in Syria, and millions are fleeing. Numbers are fluid but an inter-agency group reports over 4.2 million “are persons of concern.”

I am reminded of a Flannery O’Connor short story, “The Displaced Person.” The title reflects a well-known and often-used term for WWII refugees. Themes of this story—bigotry, racism, xenophobia—are evident in every day events across the globe. We connect to them virtually.

Of late, America has given fear center stage. All of it is spew, the stuff of authoritarian regimes, so similar to what the refugees are fleeing. They must wonder what to do, knowing death is certain if they stay and life is uncertain if they go.

When it comes to refugees or any “displaced persons,” we wrap ourselves in labels—hold up our signs–so there is no doubt as to our identity, provided we are able to spell it correctly.

Hiding behind a label keeps us from making the compassionate response. We forget labels reveal not only who we are but who we are not. Our fear and paranoia crackle and pop like the short-live flames they are, ever in need of an outside wind.

The compassionate response arises from the stillness within. It thrives on our connection to one another. That we are human is label enough. The compassionate response is the thoughtful tear on an ember of fear. One is all it takes before there are two. Solidarity of the human spirit is that basic.

Humanity, here are my shoes.