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-lived 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.

Reflections: A Stitch in Time

Every moment we experience is a stitch in time sewn into a series of scenes. This is the tapestry of a lifetime, a collage of experiences on what it is to be human.

Meraki MomentIf used wisely, this rich and precious fabric is a remarkable reference. The tapestry reveals the scenes that made us who we are. In reflection, we discover who we might become.

Each single stitch in time was once as fresh and new as the one we are experiencing right now. Our lives pass in the permanence of impermanence.

Look at the rich tapestry that is you. You are not one moment, a single stitch, but a series of experiences, stitched as scenes.

To reflect upon scenes now sewn is to view one’s life in progress: scenes lived, scenes being lived, scenes not yet a single stitch. To reflect is not to relive but to reveal perspective, perhaps possibility.

It is the life changing scenes—the ones that nearly break us–that send us to the tapestry for reflection. It is quite human to want to re-stitch, to undo what cannot be undone. However, the stitches are taut, sewn with a seemingly unendurable sorrow, permanently part of the tapestry.

In reflection, we are reminded each stitch is unique to its time–it cannot be undone or relived—whenever we are ready, acceptance awaits.

In the meantime, we live through one stitch in time after another. It is with the first stitch of forgiveness that we begin to mend the rich and precious fabric of our tapestry.

What you are is what you have been.

What you’ll be is what you do now.

Buddha

 

The Last Roller Coaster Ride

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There are roller coaster lives–the downward rush, the upward crawl–as energy and inertia swirl present into past. Life-changing events slow the roller coaster, sometimes to a stop. These are the moments of sifting through the life experience.

Of late, I have been in such a pause, taking a long sit in my past. I decided I do not want to repeat the familiar upward crawl or the rush to a bottom I know too well. I want off the roller coaster. To do so, I return to the moment I decided to ride.

It is a warm, August night in Colorado at Red Rocks, 1976. The naturally occurring amphitheatre provides perfect acoustics. At over 6,400 feet, the stars seem close enough to touch.

On stage, Judy Collins is singing the Ian Tyson ballad, “Someday Soon.” It is a song of a doomed relationship: a young girl loves a cowboy who loves the rodeo more. She is “going with him,” anyway.

I am 24, and what I hear in “Someday Soon” has nothing to do with loving cowboys or rodeos. Someday soon means the risk is worth it, no matter the odds.

I was euphoric, confident in the new life I was about to begin. I am not sure just when I reached for the stars. I only know they were in my eyes.

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What felt like endless possibility, however, was only one moment at the top of the roller coaster. It is not always easy to recognize the ride is downward. Not in the early years of chronic illness. It is easier to believe in someday soon.

I ride the roller coaster for nearly 40 years, until 2015. In July, I weary of chasing someday soon. I develop myelopathy—quadriplegia is a possibility–in addition to autoimmune disease.

Successful surgery sweeps me up in the energy and inertia of the ride. So much seems possible as the cervical fusion actually begins to take. As unexpected as that is, there is more good news. The inflammation from autoimmune disease is helping my vertebrae heal.

Inflammation is vital to healing bones. It is the body’s way of dealing with intrusions although my immune system is so exuberant it attacks itself.

Framed within a healing mindset, autoimmune disease does not seem a downward ride. But pain reminds me it is. The stars in my eyes stay until October. It is my last roller coaster ride. Risk has lost its appeal as has the idealism of that night in 1976 and “Someday Soon.”

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I hold the memory close for it is a night when a lifetime began. After nearly four decades of roller coaster days, each high and low is invaluable. They are the experiences that make me who I am now.

And that is where I begin, not starry-eyed but focused on the middle ground, accepting what is: framing the pain of autoimmune disease within a healing mindset that includes medication.

There are no good choices but some are less toxic than others. Immune suppressing drugs will affect—maybe even stop—the healing in my neck. Same is true for steroids. In fact, my healing is possible because I am not—nor ever have been—on immune suppressants. Rarely, have I taken a course of steroids.

So, I decide on the drug, Gabapentin. No odds given or promises made but there were none with my spinal cord surgery, either. There is the comfort of impermanence–nothing and no one stays the same.

Oh, I still look to the stars with wonder but I have no desire to reach for them. I am content to explore impermanence. I aim for even.

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On this blog, I have written more about chronic illness than I ever intended. Perhaps publishing weekly posts increased my awareness of its presence. 🙂

I will post as regularly as I am able. Everything is taking a bit longer these days but then, I am making a lot of changes. Some I will share here. And the medication seems to cloud my thought process. Writing just takes a lot longer.

As always, I read your comments—I enjoy our exchange—I will respond.  And I have missed reading blogs. That, too, will resume. Thank you for reading this blog.

 

Revolutionary Acts

Awareness.

Compassion.

Equanimity.

Loving-kindness.

These are revolutionary acts. Their endgame is peace. Their leitmotif, trust that we will do what is required.

Just as peace is available to us in the experience of every moment so is the ability to commit revolutionary acts. They change us, usually forever. In trust, we experience the flow of change.

Change cycles through our lives like seasons. Acknowledgement or no, we will experience it, often as a storm, for change is energy. As we know, energy, even on its best behavior, is chaotic.Lake Ella Fountain 0115

Trust reminds us there will be another morning, another opportunity for revolutionary acts.

It is one thing to know the sun will rise but it is another to trust in what the rising of the sun brings. Regardless, each day dawns in total vulnerability, the wellspring of trust.

It is an extraordinary example of tenderness, this daily dawn reminder of what we are capable.

This revolutionary act of treating ourselves tenderly can begin to undo the aversive messages of a lifetime.

Tara Brach

It is no effort to store a lifetime of aversive messages, for each experience can be so labeled, if we choose. The energy of boxing up a life is minimal for it requires no updating just the initial experience and then re-runs. It becomes its own newsreel, skewed in comfort.

Ah, aversive, the coming undone of an attitude or feeling. Ours is a slow dawn, this throwing off of aversion, yet we do rise as we face what we once would not.

We stand in revolutionary awareness, ready to commit acts of compassion, loving-kindness, and equanimity.ocean pine 0215

Rage has its own set of acts—not revolutionary–its endgame fear, pain, and death. We are averse to its message, its messengers, and its weapons–guns, knives, poison, bombs—we are diminished by each death, all of the life landscape forever changed.

Revolutionary acts may or may not make us stronger—I do not know—I am not sure that is their purpose. I suspect it is awareness. What I do know is the open heart is a revolutionary beat ready to rush rage.

To undo rage is to undo the averse messages of a lifetime. It takes tender conviction, a commitment to a lifetime of revolutionary acts. That is my call to action, my arms open to all.

These are not days for sunshine patriots for the dawn is grey.

Revolutionary acts do not require the radiance of a sunrise, just a dawning, a promise the sun will rise. Trust is enough to keep the open heart beating. Revolutionary acts rise not to war but to the absence of battle. Theirs is the tender touch of awareness.

Note Regarding This Post: Once again, there has been a mass shooting in the United States. As a Zen Buddhist, my position is obvious. This post is about revolutionary acts that involve a call to the heart. I am not the first to do so or, unfortunately, the last. Would that I were.

My position is often called naïve. That it may be but this is what I know: a change of heart produces results every time. It is our hearts that ultimately get our minds to re-thinking.

To open our hearts is a revolutionary act, requiring constant vigilance, and a belief that the sun still rises.

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Ego Knock-Knock: More Than a Joke

“Knock-Knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“If only….”

My ego likes this joke, for it is always on me. I hear it most often on days that I am looking to the outside world for what I want. Within, I feel a lack.  The knock-knock joke offers me entrance into the collage of my life experiences, the land of “if only.”

“If only” is a realm where life is always contained. In this world, I create the scenario to prove that what I want is all I will ever need. No matter how complex or basic, each scenario is based upon life already experienced.

Let me give you an example. If only I were able to go for a walk in a flawless autumn of red and gold or stroll on sugar sand beaches lapped clean.

“If only” allows me to travel the length and breadth of my life as it never happened—without a glitch–it sets the world right in a matter of seconds, which is also how long such a scenario lasts.

After all, it is a joke.

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If only “keeps the person facing the wrong way— backward instead of forward. It wastes time. It can become a habit, it can become…an excuse for not trying anymore” (Arthur Gordon).

In longing to return to what we are certain has been our best, we close the door on options that may be our best yet. When we enter “if only,” we exit life as it is, trading the unknown for the known.

The world of “if only” offers a smorgasbord of comfort: food, drink, all kinds of ways to self-medicate. It is the stuff of ennui, this dearth of curiosity, and therein, the ego sows seeds of doubt.

“If only” is not the stuff of dreams. Nightmares, maybe.

Life begins and ends in mystery, as Diane Ackerman says, reminding us “…[that] a savage and beautiful country lies in between.” We miss it if we close the door on mystery, too afraid to try again.

Who is to say that in this savage and beautiful country we will not discover food and drink to satisfy, to nourish, to keep us curious for what comes next. Is there not comfort in curiosity? Maybe not. Certainly, there is vitality.

The ego will always knock. It is not ours to ignore or to suppress but to observe that the ego is knocking. We need not invite the ego in or trot along its well-worn path.

After all, it is not really a path but a rut, worn deep and smooth, leading to life already lived.

In observing rather than answering the knock-knock of “if only,” we face forward, grateful for being alive—part of the great mystery–all of our wants and hopes wrapped within.

Whatever happens to you, don’t fall in despair.

Even if all the doors are closed, a secret path will be there for you that no one knows.

You can’t see it yet but so many paradises are at the end of this path.

Be grateful!

It is easy to thank after obtaining what you want,

thank before having what you want.

Rumi


Getting Hooked and Giving It Up

Each of us is a unique point of light, a bright, shining moment within the eternal life force. Zen, our meditative state, is just as individualistic. Uniqueness is what we carry into our every day.

In the meditative state, we observe. Sometimes, thoughts come and go but other times, stillness suffices. In bringing Zen into our every day, we emulate the meditative state, experiencing every moment only to let it go.

We experience the physical dimension with and through a physical body, no less unique than our meditative state. Both provide sustenance for the mind-body. In meditation, there is being; in feeding and caring for the body, there is doing.  How we nourish our every day presence in life affects how we respond to the events of our lives.

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We are offered a multitude of ways to develop a daily meditative practice.  As for diet, there are billion-dollar industries offering nutrition through a series of steps, a number of days, eliminating certain foods altogether.

Just as there is no one way to meditate, neither is there one diet or food plan for everyone. Developing a diet unique to the mind-body’s nutritional requirements is as easy as walking through a minefield.

It seems safest to nibble one’s way in all the while clinging to what is sweetest. In clinging to food that comforts, it is difficult to discover our mind-body’s unique nutritional requirements.

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In the meditative state, one sits with the dark and light wolves of emotion, feeding or denying neither but rather, observing both so there is no separation of the two. Observation eliminates competition.

This is not as easy to do with food cravings—at times it is impossible–the principle is the same, however. Clinging to foods that momentarily comfort us rather than nurture our mind-body, is like keeping our light and dark wolves in constant competition.

Our thinking  becomes dualistic, either/or. We eat for comfort, unaware of our true hunger as we deny our body’s nutritional needs. Rather than feeding our mind-body, we are feeding a craving, which is only a thought, an ever empty one at that.

Feeding a craving is akin to feeding the ego. No comfort is possible for the ego always wants more. In Buddhism, such comfort food eating is a form of shenpa, often translated as “attachment.”

Shenpa is in all areas of life for old behaviors die hard, if they die at all. Pema Chodron refers to shenpa as “biting the hook.” As comfort food eating has been a lifelong issue for me, I prefer this translation.

Whether or not we bite the hook is not the issue— it is human nature that we will—it is in the awareness of our attachment that we spit out the hook and begin anew.  Each moment offers that opportunity.

This has certainly been true for me in my comfort food sessions, which are infrequent but still happen. There are no more binges. Honestly, I do not know that I would survive one.

EmmaRose does not have comfort food issues.
EmmaRose does not have comfort food issues.

Because these comfort food moments are much fewer and far between, my mind-body is not as forgiving. I can feel it struggle with food that does not support its nutritional needs.

There is a sense of frustration in processing empty calories that offer sluggish and stiff body movement, muddled thinking, zigzagging emotions ranging from euphoria to the blues.

Overall, there is fatigue, enough to scare me into thinking the mind-body might want to quit. But that is only my attaching to a thought that has not been fed as it soars on empty emotion.

To live, thrive, is the nature of the mind-body–all unique points of human light coming together as one–to experience life in the physical dimension, including biting the hook.