No Ground Beneath My Feet

I wonder how many times letting go is accepting what has already gone.

When reading a book, I have been known to pause at the end of a chapter. I like to sit with good writing and let it wash over me. Sometimes, the better the writing, the longer it takes me to finish a book, as sentence after sentence illuminates.

This past week has been one of letting go, recognizing that a beacon now shines in another direction. It no longer lights my path, and I pause in acceptance and gratitude but also in love and loss.

I change my routine and walk away from the written word. I call a good friend and say, “Let’s have coffee.”

We did, which was stimulating for my mind-body and lasted into the evening. I do not remember the last time I drank a cup of coffee, much less two.

I was awake most of the night but this brief foray into the world was not one I regret. All day long, there were smiles and no doubt a bit of giddiness. And when this moment revisits, it will wash over gently in remembrance.

Not all the week’s memories will be so kind but that is also the life experience. I continue to work with a group of women committed to a better world through the written word—we wrote a book together–through our resistance, we join a larger grassroots movement. That path is not without its obstacles.

There is so much light in this group it sometimes blinds me–I step back–before I can once again bathe in the light that is these women. Here, I know wonder again, the kindness of human beings and of what they are capable–so much good, which is so easy to forget.

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves

over and over to annihilation

can that which is indestructible

be found in us.

Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart

This quotation is from a sign that Chödrön had on her wall before she embraced Buddhism in any form. She said it was her first inkling to the core of Buddhist teaching.

It hurts when things fall apart but in letting go— experiencing groundlessness–there is at the very least familiarity if not comfort. For me, the more I open myself to the impermanence that is life– exposing myself to the annihilation— the less I struggle with accepting there is no ground beneath my feet.

Groundlessness is never all dark. Always, there is light, be it a sliver or a beacon, and I immerse myself in it. I know it will not stay and that when it leaves, I will discover something I did not know previously.

And on mornings like these when I know the light is already gone— some lights are that bright— my heart is not heavy but joyful. Yes, there are tears– for light is always love–sometimes a great one. I know only gratitude in that it lit my path for a mere moment.

It will live on in the caverns of my heart, this light, for there are still shadows that reside there. Each time such a light crosses my path, my heart opens just a bit more to the world around me, no matter how difficult a moment.

I now appreciate that the bodhisattva’s greatest power is compassion. My practice is limited, of course, but I know of no other that can dismantle fear, perhaps even crack open a heart or not.

Compassion extended may be felt in days yet to come.That is not for me to know nor should it be.

Rather, I return to the wisdom of the written word. This time, May Sarton’s “loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” Of all this past week brought me, it was not poverty of self.

As I told my friend yesterday, it is Zen that opens me to my life. I’m not afraid, which is not to say I am fearless. My knees wobble and threaten to buckle from time to time.

I anticipate less. Often, I forget about expectations altogether so when fear comes calling, I respect its appearance of power but recognize its façade. And that is the result of only a sliver of light in my heart.

Imagine a heart full of light–not a shadow to be found–when risk and grace are intertwined as one and the bud bursts into bloom–one bright, shining moment.

Working with Myself Rather Than Against

There is no returning to a blog. There is only the next post. I like that about blogging. I’ve always taken it seriously knowing every post requires a degree of vulnerability.

I’ve explored whether to continue this blog, after beginning AimForEven.com (AFE). It seemed there was a connection between this blog and AFE–at least in my mind–so, I let AFE grow into itself and discovered where and how the two blogs intersect.

As for this blog, it was a weekly blog until I had three major surgeries in less than two years, in addition to being chronically ill. I’m still chronically ill but having two “new hips” has dropped my pain level significantly. In response, my energy level has risen, although it remains limited.

Once again, weekly posts seem possible. They may turn out to be bimonthly posts but I’m aiming for weekly, initially. I am calling them the #LongerView, another look at an issue or concept published in an AFE post.

Originally, I hoped to post daily on AFE, and I worked hard at it but soon, I found I was working against myself. The purpose of aim for even is to do just that. It is not a daily grind but working with the energy I have to meet my responsibilities and obligations. It is far more practical to post on weekdays only.

Since July, 2016, I have published 175 posts on AFE. There is a pattern emerging; I believe there is a book in it. I won’t know unless I try, and I’d like your help, if you’re willing. You don’t have to do anything other than what you’ve always done.

Just let me know if there is something you like or would like explored more. I read every comment very carefully. Many times, comments have resulted in blog posts.

The idea of AFE may sound mediocre in a world driven by divisiveness and competitiveness but AFE is far from settling for average or a bit above. There is no settling involved, just the opposite. AFE is living with integrity by learning to live with the reality I have, not the reality I want. It’s eminently practical.

It brought me through these last two years of surgery, illness, and loss. Zen, of course, plays a huge role. Every time I frame my day for the experience that it offers, I accomplish more than I thought possible. Every. Single. Time. That’s what AFE—the book–will explore.

This blog has a steady readership, and I am grateful. For years, you have overwhelmed me with your loyalty and your compassion. Some of you have asked me about writing a book. I tried more than once but I was trying to return to a life I knew both as a writer and as a human being.

But there was no returning, no getting my life back.

Now, I work with the reality I have, often surprised by what I am offered. It requires an evenness of mind–equanimity–curiosity helps me stay open.  A sense of humor allows me compassion. It reminds me joy is available in every moment, if I will just “be” in that moment.

As Toni Morrison said, “I always start out with an idea that becomes a question that I don’t have the answer to.”  Exactly. I aim for even.

 

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 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.

Upside down 0414

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.

As I lay drying 0116

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.

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.

Beginning the Day 092015

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.

Meditative Morning 1114

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.

The Good Fortune of Illness

We do not think of illness or disease as an opportunity. Maybe we should.

We label our disease, know all of its characteristics, and sometimes we identify so closely we define ourselves as disease. The result is we suffer.

I know. For decades, I identified as autoimmune disease. Five years ago, I decided I was not my disease no matter what changes that might mean for me.

Immediately, my perspective on chronic disease broadened; ultimately, I came to understand that only I can change my relationship with pain. Pain is a part of life but suffering is entirely up to me.

That Buddhist teaching served me well in my recent diagnosis of cervical myelopathy, particularly in the two weeks that I had to wait for the surgery. Every minute of every day, I lived with the risk of becoming a quadriplegic.

I was not to drive or even ride in a car–in a vehicle, my chances increased to one in 100. I stayed home in bed.

Miccosukee water lily 0713

People lying in bed ill are lucky because they have the opportunity

to do nothing but contemplate stress and pain.

Their minds don’t take up anything else, don’t go anywhere else.

They can contemplate pain at all times — and let go of pain at all times, too.

“A Good Dose of Dhamma: For Meditators When They are Ill”

Upasika Kee Nanayon

During my two weeks of mostly lying in bed, I read Nanayon’s essay more than a few times. I focused on the word “lucky” for this new illness did feel like an opportunity. Yes, I mean that, and no, there were no strong drugs involved.

It was as if I was given another chance to experience a major illness without becoming it. This time, it would be different.  I would not focus on the pain and stress—the suffering–but the experience of it as part of being alive, breathing in and breathing out.

Here was an opportunity to meditate 24 hours a day. There really was not any medication for a pinched spinal cord that was decreasing the mobility and use of my limbs while my joints continued to ache.

I had to stop any over-the-counter medication in preparation for the surgery.

I had plenty of time to contemplate the sensations of my body, including my fear of becoming quadriplegic. In order to let all of it go, I had to empty my mind.

KMHuberImage

When the mind is empty, in line with its nature,

there’s no sense of ownership in it;

there are no labels for itself.

No matter what thoughts occur to it, it sees them as insubstantial,

as empty of self.

There’s simply a sensation that then passes away.

A sensation that passes away, and that’s all.

Upasika Kee Nanayon

This is the opportunity of illness, stripping away the fear and anxiety that make pain so deceptively powerful. Without an identity, without a label, pain is just another sensation that comes and goes. No label, no way for suffering to take root.

I had to get away from labeling both the “what ifs” and the actual pain sensations. Mine was to experience but not to hold onto what was happening. That would label the sensation–a way to stick—suffering would have a way to grow.

Focusing on the breath allows label after label to drop into the mind without sticking. The mind stays “in line with its nature” as labels float in and out, each experience occurring and then leaving. Not attaching to the sensation is to experience it with the wonder of being alive.

Just beginning 1014

With the exception of death, there is not one sensation we experience that carries one and only one guarantee.  Rather, if we can let go of the label—guarantee–each experience of our life will guarantee us unimaginable wonder.

As humans, we communicate with labels—they are a necessity–but we do not have to become them or hold onto them. Labels inform and pave the way for what comes next. That is their only purpose.

For me, autoimmune disease and now recovery from surgery are labels that sometimes stick. Then, I suffer. Eventually, they float away on my breath.

After all, I am no longer “lucky” to be lying in bed only having to contemplate stress and pain. Now, there is more to experience than the opportunity of illness. And that is my good fortune.

The Expedition of No Return

“You are one injury away from becoming a quadriplegic.”

“Now, you are not pregnant, right?”

Both of these sentences are great openers for blog posts. Certainly, each could be its own blog post. Yet, these two statements reveal the range of emotion as well as the kinds of obstacles that marked my recent health expedition.

In my last post, I referred to my mind-body expedition as the exploration of the two as one, a single continent. I knew I did not have a map, not that I am one for maps. They are so…directional.

This was not that kind of expedition. That, I also knew. And it turned out I was correct. The number of detours/new routes still stun me. I am not returned from the expedition–not really–for I am no longer the person who left.

Peeking 0215

With detours, direction constantly changes. Consider the issue of my being pregnant, at the age of almost 63. “Almost” is the operative word. Neither the fact that I have a uterus and have not had a tubal ligation would have been questioned if I had been 63, as I will be a month from today.

The pregnancy test was a pre-op procedure requirement. The morning of my spinal cord surgery I was informed the test showed lightly pregnant, whatever that may mean. Another test was required, which showed negative.

I could not have waited any longer for the surgery. The statement regarding quadriplegia was no exaggeration. My spinal cord was pinched at the C3-4, C4-5 vertebrae in my neck. Each day, the deterioration in all of my limbs increased.

This was no detour but an entirely new route, and a life-changing one at that. There are no maps for life-changing events for the route chosen is, ultimately, the new life to be lived.

Yet, there is order in chaos, always has been. I think it is Buddha nature, the permanence in impermanence. Life plays out against this backdrop of constancy where all is ever in balance. It allows us to meet the chaos of our present and then, to let it go.

Closer Reflection 0215

Returning to the land of traditional medicine was full of detours/potholes/obstacles too numerous to mention but too many ever to forget. But this is not a post about traditional medicine. That is for another day.

This is a post about meeting life anew. I am not what I was, which was its own kind of strength. Now, I am the mind-body I create. That is the test of strength I face.

Strength, as Brenda Shaughnessy writes, is to “acknowledge each…feeling, question, and idea in faith and terror, a meeting that comes with the full force of your heart.”

I do my best to keep my heart over my head as I make decisions. I suspect that may be why I woke up from my surgery “happy.” Truly. A friend said I was beaming. It felt then and now like new life.

It is early days yet as the cervical myelopathy surgery was July 6. Essentially, I had surgery to decompress my spinal cord. The surgery involved removing two discs, replacing the discs with bone and then fusing the two with a plate and screws. The cause was not lupus but degenerative disc disease, first diagnosed in 2000.

The surgery is to keep more damage from happening. It is not a surgery to recover sensation. That said, 70% report some improvement. I am glad to be among those who see consistent improvement.

ocean pine 0215

Before the surgery, my gait was like a Frankenstein, drunken stagger. I had to have a surface to touch to be able to walk at all. Now, my gait is almost normal, if I use a walker.

A cane will steady me, and in my apartment, I practice putting one foot in front of the other, literally. There is progress every day.  My gait is the best it has been in months.

I have returned to using voice recognition software for typing is still too frustrating. The numbness/tingling/grittiness in my hands and thumbs remains but is decreasing. I am able to grasp and hold onto objects with more than reasonable assurance.Every Day 0215

This is a new life, an unknown, part of the chaos of being alive. And in the background is the permanence of impermanence.

The generosity and support of online and off-line friends has been like winning the lottery. I do not purchase lottery tickets and now, there is no need. I already won.

My refrigerator was always full, rides were available wherever I needed to go, and friends waited with me for hours and hours as we made our way through the medical maze. Online messages of support appeared daily.

I have read and reread the comments of the two preceding posts. Just know each word is its own bit of light, day or night, and I carried your words with me then and now.

I am not who I was when I began this expedition. It could be as long as a year before I know how full my recovery will be. There is no returning to what was nor should there be. I have a better idea of my mind-body continent. I will begin there.

Early on in the expedition, I was given these words for my journey. I have kept them with me in all moments, and before every morning’s meditation, I look at the Chinese characters:

Endurance 0515

“Be patient and endure while

The wind will calm, the waves subside

Draw back a step and realize

The boundless ocean, the vastness of heaven”

And so I do.