My Own Bit of Buddha Nature

Pre-spinal fusion surgery, I described my gait as ”a drunken Frankenstein.” My neurosurgeon thought it apt.

Subsequent surgery and yoga have improved my walk considerably but my gait is still ”spastic” so there remains a bit of Frankenstein about me and always will. My body is not in synch.

Both hip replacements are great but my spinal cord is damaged from prolonged pinching. I’m among the 70% who show improvement. Still, I stagger sometimes, clumsy comes easily.

My neurologist explains it as residual from the cervical fusion, nothing monstrous, merely minimal–that which could not be restored–so less is better.

Body hardware strengthens sensation–works with the residual–what remains after the damage has been repaired. With less I learn to do more with foreign body parts. That’s as good as it gets.

And that’s the way I live, in an apartment of two rooms–living area/kitchen and bedroom–with a shower/bathroom. Even a full Frankenstein can maneuver here.

And isn’t that what being alive is all about?  Learning to live in the skin we are in and then go exploring. For a time, walking my apartment with a slight stagger is sufficient.

Always, there is writing but with limitations.

There is not enough sensation in my fingers for actual typing. This has been true for the last two and a half years. In this regard, surgery provided no improvement, no change.

What remains is tingling/numbness in my arms and hands, all fingers and both thumbs affected. Yet, what does not change can be good news and in my case, it is.  No healing is possible so maintaining what I have is the goal, and that I am doing.

I’ve been using speech recognition regularly but speaking the written word is not the same as typing it. Sounds silly but the thought process is different, completely different.

For me, editing speech recognition is slow going. My brain commands my fingers–hunt and peck–but the keys they stroke seem to be their decisions alone.

Even so, I am book-building now, which limits the number of my blog posts but blogging is an integral part of my life, especially as I found myself becoming a bit of a Frankenstein.

How that happened is all here on this blog so I continue to post, from time to time. It’s comfortable here. I hope for you, too.

I am excited about this book because it is not like anything I have attempted before. There is a freshness in it. Like the residual that is me, much remains to be explored. And so, I am.

My one bedroom apartment is not the world, no matter how much the Internet introduces. Ironically, it is the online world that opens me to what is outside my door.

Quickly, I go nowhere without a walker but not the orthopedic wonders forced upon me after each surgery.  Companions they may be– to take me from one seat to another–but they are not friends, not wheels to the world.

I find my walker on the Internet, after much research, and I admit to hubris when it comes to the uniqueness of my wheels. So far, I have seen no other like it.

It feels more a motorcycle than a legged triangle on wheels with grocery basket and backpack. Silver handlebars bars with black, bike-like grips, it offers no seat but three gravel-gray wheels thick enough for trails, if I am careful, and I am.

I can zoom around people, snake though grocery store aisles. My mobility startles shoppers; free-wheeling I call it. Not my best moments, admittedly, but disability does not mean I walk with saints.

My walker may be my own bit of Buddha nature, my constant in the chaos. It is wheels for life–mine–as good as it gets.

Survey Says…

Living on a fixed income can confine–no doubt about that–my budget is the same bottom-line every month but cost overflows require a constant balancing act.

So, I have been looking for ways to supplement my income. While costs will ever be fluid, I need to work within my current frame of life, which includes aging and chronic illness.

It is not that my current frame is without flexibility for it is not. Neither chronic illness nor aging confine but both, too, have a budget. To overrun either is to exact a cost on myself that is rarely made up next month or in this lifetime.

When life expands, so does its frame but it has to be life doing the expanding rather than egomania or placing myself within a frame that does not fit.

So, I started taking online surveys for payment–in cents, usually. The best surveys pay a dollar or two and some up to five but these are not the usual fare.

I’m conscientious in my work–surveys interest me–I’m curious what others measure. The surveys also mirror my own living within the frame that is my life.

Specifically, my experience as an aging, disabled woman living in Florida. Any one of those labels will disqualify me and frequently does. This is also true if I choose the label retired.

Often, my own blend of chronic illness is too rare (or too common) to warrant a survey but diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol seem to be current hot topics for surveys.

But my label bias is showing. For me, labels are difficult, a lifelong issue, but I do recognize their importance in providing context.

And although I have not been in contact with anyone else who participates in these surveys, I suspect they, too, find themselves disqualified for their own group of labels.

I don’t want to get worked up about labels, which I am wont to do.

The surveys that I am offered most frequently have to do with gaming videos, although I do not own an Xbox or virtual reality equipment. I’m not into role-playing games, either.

I am, however, fascinated with strategy/puzzle games, mysteries mostly, forcing me to focus on the story’s task at hand. Similar to reading, I am immersed in a story that is not mine. Freely, I admit to this escape.

These games help me find the way through my fog, when my brain is more mush than matter. Now, I have surveys, too–similar but not the same–it is the absence of story that sets the two apart, I think.

Surveys end–happily or no–while at game’s end, these “mysteries” reveal a successful strategy. On some days, that is a better use of my time.

Of course, there are surveys I reject outright but I admit I am most careful with the qualifying questions, if the promised payment is larger. I, too, have my mouse and cheese moments.

Always, the mouse runs the maze for cheese, seeking at least the regular fare but a larger reward is even better. Any extra effort is only a problem when the reward is denied without explanation or is less than promised.

If I value my time in terms of dollars and cents–within this context–I am well on the way to passing our national debt, maybe as soon as the end of next week.

It’s not that I don’t value my time–I do–but in my current frame, these surveys add more than the time they take. Again, it’s context.

No matter how bad a day is for me, physically or emotionally, I find enough brain cells for surveys, not because they are witless but because they help me find the way to mine.

I am not caught up in the ego of discomfort or frustration. Rather, I am in life as it is–with my pain. It sits with me. I sit with it. I learn something.

Every day is not a jackpot, and every day what I want will not fit within my frame but every day, I have my space. It is enough.

Why chase cheese if it is not on the day’s menu?

One Long Moment

Acceptance is a lifetime practice–one long moment–less about events and more about impermanence.

I know the drill. Everything is going fine, life is good, and in a nanosecond, the entire landscape changes. It’s a new life lens: the joy of the extraordinary or the bottomless gulf of grief–and everything in between.

Life will not be as I want it, no matter how hard I hold or push it away. Somewhere between these two is a moment of not clinging and not avoiding–accepting what is–where forgiveness is not such a chore, its heady fragrance in the crushed petal of the violet. Life has changed.

Mine is to accept the experience–come what may–as neither doormat nor fortress. In acceptance, I respond with compassion. It may not be what others want but if I am mindful, I offer all I am able.

The older I am, the more I accept what a treasure change is.  Still, I am a slow learner and sometimes given to stubbornness, steeped in the fear of being old. Yet, at any age, I am who I am.

Acceptance will not sit with fear. There is no room. The fragrance of forgiveness too heady. The pull of the life experience too strong.

I think that is the seat of self. Ageless? I don’t know.

It is the body that ages and mine not so well. I look older than my years; I have since my 50s. In my mid 30s the right side of my face began to sag.

Too much medication, wrong kind of medication, not enough medication. I don’t know. Maybe it would’ve happened anyway. I really haven’t noticed in these last years.

These days my visage sags with wrinkles, like the smoker’s lines above my lips. I don’t single out any one face furrow. They are the lines of my life, altogether.

Although I no longer drink, I once drank heavily. I know how fortunate I am in not missing alcohol. I thought it a change I would never make. Same with smoking.

I discovered that finding “life in the present” is as heady an experience as any martini—more so, actually—even better than the cigarette after dinner or sex.

Aging keeps me curious; judgment feels unreliable because it is. Aging reveals me as I am, flawed but ever viable. I need neither regret nor expectation. Who wants boomerangs?

In awe, I sit in the seat of self, where all gifts are given and received. Some are surprises, not all an easy open.

I may have an expiration date but the energy that animates this entire physical dimension does not. I’m not trying to stop any processes. I want to learn the grace of acceptance.

The body is a marvel at adapting to change. It is lifetime acceptance in action, forgiveness a given. All I need do is follow its lead and keep my life lens open.

Confessions of a Fixer: Does a Warrior Lurk Within?

KMHuberImage; Wood Stork Fishing
KMHuberImage

Warrior is not a concept that has ever described me for I have lived my life as a fixer. Now in my sixties, I can only hope that fixer is a permanent past tense characteristic.

It is not as if I was not aware of the warrior concept—I was introduced to Buddhism over 25 years ago–but as a committed fixer, I cared little for clashing or “going a-warring, not that a bodhisattva or Buddhist warrior does either.

“Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening unconditional and relative bodhichitta (“enlightened mind”) are called bodhisattvas or warriors…of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. These are men and women who are willing to train in the middle of the fire…[who] cut through personal reactivity and self-deception [through] their dedication to uncovering the basic undistorted energy of bodhichitta” (Pema Chödrön, The Places that Scare You).

Admittedly, I did not care for the word warrior and was not  comfortable with bodhisattva but I admired the warrior’s way and still do. For me, it has been amazingly easy to confuse fixing myself with the warrior’s way. It has taken decades to discard the cloak of the fixer.

As a fixer, it never occurred to me to consider maitri, the complete acceptance of one’s self as one is. “Only when we relate to ourselves without moralizing, without harshness, without deception, can we let go of harmful patterns” (Chödrön). Yet, for the warrior maitri is essential. The warrior understands her inner self is her guide, her greatest strength.

“Lasting transformation occurs only when we honor ourselves as a source of wisdom and compassion” (Chödrön). As a fixer, I did not consider acceptance or surrender. That was giving up. No, I was determined to change my fundamental nature–as if I could–that was my fixer’s guide to true transformation. Yet, everywhere I went there I was, no matter how many different paths I took.

KMHuberImage; Florida turtle sunning
KMHuberImage

In the way of the warrior, there is no clean slate, just the self that is. The warrior knows her strength is in accepting all of the patterns and behaviors that have been her life. They are the open road to her heart, free of any sign pointing to one feeling or another. The warrior is open to the energy that is.

“There is nothing wrong, nothing harmful about that underlying energy. Our practice is to stay with it, to experience it, to leave it as it is” (Chödrön). As a fixer, I “dealt” with my feelings and thoughts by putting them where I did not have to see them. It was enough to know they were there. Maybe they would just go away for I had no intention of staying with that kind of energy. I was too busy trying to fix my life.

The warrior has the courage not only to look within herself but to stay with the energy, regardless of its outcome. Essentially, she “touches the bubble [of emotion] with a feather” (Chödrön). The warrior goes beyond the reactive demands of the mind chatter to the energy that is fueling all that emotion.

She stays with the energy for that is the warrior response, to experience. Sometimes, the response is silence but regardless, the warrior does not cling to whatever outcome occurs.

Always, the warrior is as compassionate with herself as she is with the world, not trying to fix either one. The quest of the warrior is staying in present moment awareness, and for a fixer from the past, that is quite a quest.

Finding Story Anew

My last two blog posts have been an examination of my current mind-body consciousness, specifically my meditation practice and eating habits. I share Deepak Chopra’s belief that a change in one’s consciousness or awareness affects a change in one’s physiology at the cellular level.

I don’t remember when I did not believe in the mind-body connection but I know that reading Chopra’s Quantum Healing helped me consider what quantum healing may mean for me. I first read the book in the early 1990s and again just recently.

Old Woman Tree; KMHuberImage; Tallahassee Park in Winter

Of course, my current level of awareness is quite different these twenty years later. Then, I was completely attached to outcome—clinging the Buddhists call it—meaning my attention was always focused on the end result. Mostly, I was on a pendulum, swinging back to the past and then to the future without a thought to the moment. No wonder I never felt free.

Becoming aware that the moment is where freedom resides broke me open to Chopra’s “field of infinite possibilities” both physically and spiritually. Now, every facet of my life is fluid as I focus on what is and not what might be, which takes a lot more energy but in every moment, there is more energy.

Nowhere is this more evident than in my writing. When I began blogging, my writing focus was entirely outcome based: I set myself a certain number of words per day, I joined various writing challenges, and I troubled my readers with my angst over whether to plot out a novel scene by scene or just write it out by the seat of my pants. In nine months, I produced 220,000+ words in what I have come to regard as my daily writing practice. It is as valuable as my daily meditation practice, and  I don’t regret a word.

I was so attached to the outcome of writing– was it a novel, was it a memoir, was it a compilation of essays–that I abandoned story in search of format or genre. I could not free myself of what my words might become until I settled into the moment to write. One word after another, each sentence emerged from life rather than artifice. I re-discovered how I write.

In writing from the field of infinite possibilities, format/genre didn’t matter nor did structure, which is not to say that format and structure do not matter. They do and are critical to a successful outcome but like story, they have their moments for each writer to discover. For me, that meant having to know my story first, and I wrote in a way I have never written.

Having always appreciated a good story, I was well aware that I did not know the structure of story so I found out from those who did. I read, I watched movies, I discovered scene, and I wrote every day. I began to see snatches of story and I was reminded of John Irving’s response to the question of how he writes: “I start writing my autobiography and then I begin to lie.”

Pond in Winter; KMHuberImage; Tallahasse Park in Winter

I am writing an old woman story, and I am an old woman. If one can come of age at age 60, this woman does it. I cannot say that she is sympathetic or even likable—yet—but she exists in more faces and more places than is comfortable for any of us. Age or aging is still a thorny subject, and we have many clichés and euphemisms to avoid the word old.

But what can a woman make of a life at 60, if she has just awakened? That does sound rather autobiographical but I was lying before the end of the first paragraph–such is the way of story. For all I know, the old woman story—for lack of a better title–will remain part of my writing practice, as publication is not the outcome it once was for me. It’s too soon to tell.

For now, I go to the writing every day just to see what happens  with the old woman for I have not lived her life, although an old woman myself.