So Much Life, So Many Lenses

Extrapolate. It’s what’s possible when truth is present, which it is not in these days of COVID-19, not completely.

As always, there are exceptions such as New York Governor Cuomo’s daily press conferences. New York is a state and a city whose Adirondack mountains and Met opera I know only virtually, now the predominate means of viewing all life. So, I extrapolate to get a view of the state of my Florida, which I once traveled up and down and back-and-forth, as I did my own city of Tallahassee. No more.

No doubt my view of the news is skewed but I have a sense of comfort, an overall understanding, and that’s enough. What happens in New York City is not the scene in Tallahassee, we don’t have the numbers, but Miami creeps closer every day, and they must extrapolate, too, because they don’t have enough tests for their own numbers. Unlike the rest of the country, New York does have tests.

It is a virus unlike any other, one that literally takes the breath away as it gobbles up the way we once lived. Now we know the meaning of what can happen when a virus jumps from another species to ours. The only way to sustain life is to stay away from each other.

Even the word quarantine has a hard sound to it, as if social distancing were a punishment, which it is not. It’s a different life lens. It’s the view we have when life changes from what it was.

I really do know something about this as I’ve been social distancing for 10 years. It happened gradually, for one health reason or another, distancing myself from large gatherings, shopping the early morning weekday hours, giving up long distance travel. My immune system is compromised as is my spinal cord. It is best for me to keep my distance, less chance of falling or getting the flu.

Acceptance arrived but it took its time, as it is wont to do. Ask anyone you know who lives a differently abled life and they will tell you that binging anything–movies, TV shows, podcasts, gaming, reading, audiobooks–is not a way of life. Each is a welcome distraction from the discomfort of being disabled but not a one is life itself.

In Randall Jarrell’s poem, “The Sick Child,” a young boy confined to bed and beyond boredom cries out, “all that I’ve never thought of, think of me!” I first came across the poem when I was teaching college English in Wyoming, a lifetime away from the moment that all I never thought of, think of me would become my mantra. Then, I was in my mid 30s believing remission was forever, as if anything ever is. Yet, there was so little I didn’t know. Mostly, I had an answer for everything because magical thinking works like that.

Now I know nothing but opening myself to the reality of each day, whatever it maybe. I cannot possibly know what I need until the day dawns, as if it were that easy. My mind will not still the scenes of who I was or where I once walked. It insists on showing.

Sometimes, it’s the crushingly cold mountain streams of Wyoming where wind will steal the breath away. None of its bouldered paths will I walk again, gasping for breath above timberline, cursing at the caught tip of my flyrod in the ponderosa pine on my way to a lake that was once snow. No less in my mind are the woodlands of live oak and longleaf pine, sandy soft roads of shell and sandstone, sabal palm, and the shores of Saint George Island.

Florida and Wyoming, so physically distant and forever together virtually, sometimes so much so it hurts and then angers. With a ferocity of focus I cry out, “all I never thought of think of me!” It’s the words on the air that make the fury fade, as the energy of emotion reorganizes, evens itself out.

Something I never thought of does comes to me, not so much life changing but a broader perspective like  Pema Chodron’s we are always in relationship, even with the insect in the room. So, a change in perspective. Tunnel vision does tend to skew. None of life is perfect. There are cracks everywhere–they’re how we cope–these streaks of hope in a time of novel coronavirus.

It’s closing the window of what cannot be and opening the door of what is, meeting reality with equanimity, no longer blind by wishing and wanting. That is viewing life through a new lens. It is the past that takes us to the door of the present but it knows its place. Here, we live. There, we remember.

So much life, so many lenses.

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?

Aiming for Even…With Wheels

Musing CatEvery post that appears on this blog bears little resemblance to its initial version. In life, there are best laid plans and then there is what happens.

However, this post is different than any previous, not in substance but in laying out a plan, making a commitment. That’s a bit risky for one who lives life from the eye of a storm more often than not.

My roundabout way is beginning to resemble clickbait so here’s my plan: I created another blog, aimforeven.com, featuring short posts–daily doses I call them–on living life with equanimity. It is a sister blog to this one.

I have given this much thought over the past two years but explaining this commitment remains difficult. And Zen Buddhism isn’t much on explaining. But this I know. Aim for Even rests so comfortably in my heart and so anxiously in my head.

There is nothing for it except to begin, as if there were another way.

Aimforeven.com is a number of moments–365–strung together as a series of blog posts in a cumulative year of days, if not consecutive. I’m working with the reality I have and aiming for even.

My view is from within the eye of a health storm that has waxed and waned for the last 384 days, more or less. Waves of impermanence do not count the days coming or going.

For that matter, days are not what they used to be for me, either, but I have not lost track. If anything, I’m more aware of each day’s presence, even if I don’t always get the order correct.

With each wave comes an awareness not yet imagined. It is mine for the viewing, if I will only look.

To sit within the eye of the storm is to witness the surge sweeping away life options while leaving possibilities never considered or usually rejected.

The current storm is swirling around advanced, late-stage osteoarthritis in both my hips. It is early days in this storm but so far autoimmune disease seems subdued, spinal cord weakness waxes and wanes.

It is the storm clouds of degenerative disc disease that thunder, threatening then throwing lightning surges up and down my legs. Within, rage ultimately gives way to stillness.

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It is such an effort to begin again. And I’m tired, really tired.

Within every storm is a sliver of light, and this storm is no different, if I will only look through the life lens. Perhaps it is my fatigue that reveals the world anew this time. I’m never sure what does; I just know it always happens.

Regardless, it takes a while to get used to viewing the forever changed. And there is always some sort of surprise awaiting me.

This time, it is “wheels” to access more of the world around me. Regular errands and daily tasks are easier. I may not have more energy but I am not so tired, either.

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This storm is far from over but I take in the view of what other options await me.

In the past, my mind set sail for Aim for Even only to travel off course or simply shipwreck in one convergence after another of my personal, perfect storm.

What is in one’s mind is not always within the life lens of experience. It has taken me a while to explore the view I have rather than search for the one I want.

Now, aimforeven.com is within my scope, equanimity in daily doses, a steady course through any storm. After all, no storm is without an eye with a view.

No day or dose is ever the same, even if the aim is. An evenness of mind opens not to expectation but to experience. Equanimity knows no enemies.

That is the course for a year of days on aimforeven.com.

Certainly, the posts are a way for me to reconnect with my online life. Just as my “wheels” allow me access to the world surrounding me, blogging connects me to the immediacy of the virtual world. I have missed both.

Join me on aimforeven.com for a year of equanimity. Stop by KM Huber’s blog for longer observations, the usual fare perhaps a bit more regularly. Each blog site features a sidebar link. After all, they sail within sight of one another.
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The Highest Good: No Fight, No Blame

Without a fight, there is no blame. This basic truth can be found in the Tao te Ching—no fight: no blame—as well as in the major texts of many spiritual traditions. Blame seems that integral to the human experience.

In last week’s post I chose the phrase aflame with blame as a reference to its incendiary nature. It is quick to flame, this blame, although it is not a trait with any substance.

Whatever person or event we blame is not what causes us to suffer (Byron Katie). Blame is a distraction, and it is easy to get caught up in its mindset.

We suffer when we hold onto a mindset; in a blind stance, we dig in for a last stand. Mindset is a misguided attempt to avoid the inevitable.

Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us

what we need to know

Pema Chödrön

 Turtle Row in fall 1013

It would be hard, maybe impossible, to provide an example of a life experience that does not teach us for in every moment there is something to be learned. At a certain point in life, each of us becomes aware that what breaks us open is what we need to make us whole again.

It is how we learn. It is hard to accept, at least for me.

But time and again, I have realized this one lesson: when I open myself to learning rather than blaming and struggling against, I find the highest good in any situation. The flames of blame and the smoke of striving fade away.

Often, I turn to the teachings of the Tao (in translation) for I treasure its basic truths. Such reflections soothe and instruct every time I return. I am refreshed.

Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive

(Tao, Verse 8)

And like water, the highest good is life-giving, “flowing in places men reject and so is like the Tao”  (Verse 8). All we need to remember is that water will flow—even through rock–rather than reject the route.

The highest good never rejects us, either, even when we do our best to shape what will not be shaped. There is no blame, no fight, no mindset.

Chronic illness is my greatest teacher, as I have mentioned many times. Even in my more difficult moments, I am more aligned with learning than striving, which is not to say I do not have some fiery moments of blame throwing. They are not as frequent.

I find it easier to recognize and to dismantle a mindset, and to do it with self-care and love. After all, a mindset deflates quickly for it is only made of air. And once I breathe it in, I can breathe it out.

Mindset is only a thought no matter how often it may appear. In my experience, mindsets return for they have unimaginable power IF they are allowed to attach and become unassailable belief.

We can learn from observing a mindset if we let it go for what it is. That is the way to keep learning rather than to continue struggling. I find hope in impermanence no matter how many times I meet similar situations. It makes the highest good in any situation seem not only possible but realistic.

We are more like water, wanting life for all and strife for no one. It is ours to flow, like water through rock if we must, open to the ten thousand things and like the Tao rejecting none.

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Unplugged to Get Rewired

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This image is of EmmaRose in her favorite place—in her plush and if necessary, heated bed–practicing her favorite pastime. If you live with a feline, you are constantly reminded how integral sleep is to life.

It is the way sentient beings unplug and get rewired, which is what EmmaRose and I have been doing for almost a fortnight. It is her daily way to unplug regularly.

I am, however, a slow learner yet I have another constant teacher, just as dedicated—autoimmune disease, lupus in particular and in a lesser role, Sjogren’s syndrome.  This is my sea to sail.

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about not unplugging, not ever coming to shore. I believed I could bully my way through any tempest—I was that kind of sailor–but that is not the law of the sea nor is it true self care. It is dangerous sailing, selfish and thoughtless.

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Self care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship

of the only gift I have,

the gift I was put on earth to offer others.

Parker Palmer

Good stewardship requires a daily course adjustment of how to offer my gift without the dualistic thinking of there is only one way. Dualism exacts quite a price for in choosing one way, another way is excluded. Better to steer between the two for balance. They are within the same sea, co-existing with one another.

I was reminded of the inherent imbalance in dualistic thinking as I came across a lively Facebook group discussion on healthcare, specifically alternative versus traditional medicine. Here healthcare is a civil war with both groups firmly entrenched in their respective camps.

There is no one and only one way to health for all but for each of us there is a way to our best health. It may be a balance of both camps or it may lie more within traditional rather than alternative medicine or vice versa.

But without the benefit of learning what each camp offers, there is no balanced approach to one’s best health. In balance is wholeness and without it, we are aflame with blame. Our essence is diminished.

I do not haunt these discussion healthcare boards as I once did but I am reminded of my own imbalance in my approach to my best health. I am fortunate in having experienced the benefits of both camps but I do not know that I have expressed that in a broader perspective.

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And while my preference for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) remains the course I steer, it is not without the benefits of traditional medicine. For traditional medicine continues to teach me about the western perspective on autoimmune disease. In turn, that perspective broadens my TCM options.

Wholehearted living is not a onetime choice.

It is a process. In fact, I believe it

is the journey of a lifetime.

Brene Brown

Good stewardship just may the journey of a lifetime, easy to drift off course or become becalmed. And then, there are the storms of life, much like the one I am in now, tossed about, swamped from time to time, but not run aground or sunk.

Some who read this blog also know chronic illness. We sail a similar sea as we chart our course anew for storm or to catch the wind for full sail. When we dock for a rest, we learn from our days at sea. We share our catch.

We know what we offer is the best we have to give, and that it only lasts a short time. We also know the impermanence of the sea requires we open our sails to the wind when and as it is given, and when it is denied to rest with a steady hand on the tiller.

Here are some of my favorite resources: Toni Bernhard’s How to Be Sick seems a guide for any storm as is Jan Chozen Bays, M.D.’s Mindful Eating. And through every storm I practice meditation and a gentle yoga flow.

Till we meet again.

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Losing a Mind-Set and Gaining a Life

My first post for 2014 considered aim for even as a way to live. I saw it something like this: in every experience I give what I am able to give, mindful that no two occurrences are the same no matter how similar they seem.

Remembering that uniqueness is not easy but is key to maintaining my balance. If I offer more than I am able to give or if I give less than is possible, I miss my mark.

In 2014, I aimed high and low aplenty but by year’s end I found myself more and more in the middle—in balance, even—as I let go of a  mind-set that skewed my aim.

Letting go meant giving up tried and true ways that comforted—at times even protected me—from the chronic pain inherent in my life. The subconscious is not easily dissuaded for it has had a lifetime to fine tune what comforts in order to cope. It’s its own infinite loop.

It would take me most of 2014 to break out of this mind-set. I wrote about it—a lot—on this blog.

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In “The Winds of Change,” I believed I was slowly but surely losing my ability to walk. My response was I would adapt, like always. After all, I have an active online life and a great picture window with a view of the woods.

By September, “Some Awareness My Way Came”  in the form of spinal and cognitive issues. Yet, I would need another warning from my body that old ways would no longer serve. My kidneys sent a short but clear message.

“Only in Expanding My Cone of Habit” did I begin to dismantle the mind-set that had comforted me for decades. I turned to traditional Chinese medicine believing I had nothing left to lose. As I would discover, I had a lot to lose.

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Transformation leaves behind habits of a life lived. There is no “getting my life back.” Life anew is an accumulation of every misstep, every revelation I experience. The stuff of transformation is recognizing that the great teachers in one’s life have always been there.

One of mine is chronic pain. Our relationship has changed completely. I no longer need to cope because I no longer fear pain, emotional or physical. I no longer fear pain spiraling out of control. Rather, I sit with my emotions as my body sends sensations.

I aim for even.

My transformation is far from complete but the changes I am experiencing I cannot explain other than through my new relationship with pain. I walk–slowly–without any limp and am just beginning to take short—really short—walks.

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Every day, and I mean EVERY day, I have a level of energy, something I lost decades ago. On the same day, I can complete errands, do some housework, and write–if necessary. Nine months ago, I thought I would live from my adjustable bed.

The pain is not gone but the mind-set is. There is no seeking comfort to mask the pain. Rather, there is the slow movement of yoga and the stillness of meditation, the balance of acupuncture. And there is food that fuels the biological changes taking place in my body rather than inflaming it.

Every day, I aim for even.

As I was writing this post, I kept trying to find ways to impart what aim for even might look like separate from chronic illness. August McLaughlin seemed to read my mind when she posted this graphic in her wonderful blog post.

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She captures aim for even beautifully. In giving what we are able to give, no more and no less, we resolve to live life as the ebb and flow that it is. We keep ourselves afloat.

Bite-by-Bite, a Mindful Remembrance

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Each August, I remember the day—some four years ago, now–that my gnawing hunger and craving for connection closed the door on the way I lived.

Always, my memory of that pre-dawn, August 12th morning feels crystalline yet memory is the mind’s filter, a selective and often soft light on pain past. Still, the remembrance is sharp enough.

Then, my heart was as empty as my stomach. In all ways, I was perfectly hollow, mindless in my approach to decades of autoimmune disease and related health issues.

I had reached the point where no food satisfied my hunger and almost any food would trigger digestive issues. Thinking 0714My weight just continued to climb no matter what I ate or did not eat. Inflammation was systemic.

My doctors—I had a whole group by this time—increased the variety and type of medication for my stomach and thyroid as well as musculoskeletal pain, more tests for my kidneys, and always more blood work as if to make sure both lupus and Sjogren’s remained rampant.

Mindlessly, I lived, not present for any of it. Rather, I looked to the days when remission would return—as it always had for the thirty years previous—then, I would return to life as I knew it.

There was no remission but there was no organ failure, either. What did happen was a dramatic decrease in my systemic inflammation, my digestive issues are no more, and I have maintained a 68 pound weight loss for 30 of the last 48 months with only gentle yoga for exercise. Musculoskeletal issues, in particular mobility, remain a challenge.

Mine is a life few, if any, would want but it is mine—and I am mindful of it—something I never was in the way I once lived.

Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself—in your body, heart, and mind—and outside yourself, in your environment. Mindfulness is awareness without judgment or criticism.

(Mindful Eating, Jan Chozen Bays, M.D., p. 2)

It was the hunger in my stomach that brought me to mindfulness. I had to learn what food my body needed, for each body is unique in its nutritional needs. No two are the same. I had to sort through the food that would satisfy my hunger and ultimately, open my heart.

Eating mindfully is a bite-by-bite experience. Not all foods are equal in nutrients but being mindful of each bite keeps my focus on whether or not the food is satisfying my hunger. I have found I am much more selective in what and how I eat. Why would I eat food that leaves me not only hungry but craving more?

A Gander 0514Am I eliminating my disease process? No, but I am assisting my body by eating nutrient-dense food rather than adding to its burden with empty calories. And yes, it has taken most of these last four years not only to realize the difference between the two but to find food I love to eat.

Grains, even gluten-free, are not something my body processes efficiently but infrequently, I partake. The same is true for any starch or yeast. Sugar brings on “brain fog” and increases my musculoskeletal pain. Dairy and soy I just avoid.

My being present in eating opened me to my life as it actually is, filled with infinite possibilities unique to me. Mindfulness helps me discover them and experience life in ways I never imagined. Every day is fresh, its own possibility.

In creating a physical, compassionate connection with my body, I opened my heart to life as it comes–I connected–this August 12th, I paused to remember. Thanks, regular readers, for walking with me down this memory lane yet another time.