My heart is a grey well

My heart is a grey well, a swirling mist, a wind of sighs.

It says to me, finally, in a voice so small, 

A voice I had almost forgotten,

“Ah, finally now, you will listen to me.”

Tears roll from my eyes at this unexpected reunion

Of self and Self, of spirit and Spirit.

This is a second childhood of my heart 

The ground of my life has been broken 

And look, within, a small green shoot of bamboo

Growing towards the light.  

Old ways won’t tend this new life

Old paths will not lead me onward

Now is time to be patient and trust

In the still small voice inside my soul

That says you are safe, you are home.  

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Comfort food?

Why don’t we skip the food part of “comfort food” to go straight into comfort?

Part of the problem is that we have equated everything with food. If there’s a party, there’s food. If there’s grief, there’s food. Happy or sad, we use food. We use food to celebrate and to bring ourselves out of a funk. Food is equated with feeling good.

We self-medicate with food all the time, in part because this is what we were taught to do. We aren’t taught how to deal with our feelings or with problems.

We teach our children that if they are upset they should put something in their mouths. We do it with actual food or we do it with a pacifier. This is incredibly unhealthy. You may think food isn’t as bad as drugs but the side effects of overeating can include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. And the problem still isn’t solved. The reason for the need for comfort is still there.

Family honor

My brother used to push the idea of family honor on me. He seemed to think that it was my responsibility to keep up the family name and family pride. And yet he was the one who changed his last name and who got two women pregnant without being married to them. He is the one who got divorced four times and who got himself a quarter of million dollars in debt.

So I’m not really sure why he thinks it is my responsibility to keep up with family honor and pride. Perhaps it is my responsibility because he realized that he had failed at it. Trying to make his problems my problems isn’t acceptable.

I have felt like I have failed the family for many years but I’ve gotten over it. He really did a number on me. Because he was older than me, I trusted him. He imprinted me. I finally realized that their madness isn’t my madness.

If you work for a company, everybody should work together to make a good product. But if you work really hard and no one else does, then you will lose your sense of loyalty towards the company. You feel like it doesn’t matter what you do because no one else is pitching in nearly as hard as you are.

The same is true with my family. I feel like they aren’t doing anything for me so why should I do anything for them? In fact they seem to think that it is my responsibility to care about everybody else’s feelings, when they don’t bother with mine. That is the very definition of codependency.

In “Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss talks about how our first loyalty is to our tribe – our family, our culture, our country. Whatever we are born into and is impressed upon us. Problems occur when we disagree with it and realize that its goals and values are not the same as ours.

She talks about our family of origin as being Divinely chosen. So this means we should accept it.

That isn’t so easy.

This happened with Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane – 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39, RSV) He was about to be crucified, and he knew it. He was about to suffer a very painful and humiliating death, one that he didn’t deserve. He knew that he was going to be resurrected, but getting to that point was going to be ugly.

He didn’t want what was going to happen to him. He was asking God to let it not happen.

I was angry at God for letting things happen to me. I was angry at God for the abuse and neglect. I was angry at God for it all – not having a better family then and not having a better family now. I didn’t pick these people.

I felt pretty ugly for thinking these thoughts. But if even Jesus can think stuff like this, then I’m in pretty good company. And Jesus says, not my will, but yours, God. It isn’t what I want, but what You want.

I’m trying.

Myss says that problems with this area tend to manifest in the lower back and knees, and that is where my pains are. And from my prayers before I read this, I knew that I needed to let God be in control. It is good to get confirmation, but still hard to do.

There has to be a reason what has happened and is happening to me is going on. God made it happen and is making it happen. It is a way to open up, to learn, to grow. It is a test, a trial. Somehow I doubt that the world will be redeemed through my sufferings, but I might be.

Fighting the Nothing.

I went to yoga class today. This isn’t normally a big deal. But today was different because my wrist hurts.

I’ve skipped class for various reasons recently. It is too cold outside. I’m tired. I’m out of town. The last one is the only valid one. My wrist hurting seemed like a good reason as well, but I decided that I had to go anyway.

I think I’ve stretched a ligament at work. My work involves a lot twisting my wrist and picking up heavy books. My wrist is getting worn out from it. It would be great if we could replace body parts like we can with car parts. Some we can. Not always. Until then, rest is required.

There are several yoga classes at the Y that don’t do any moves that involve wrists. This is not one of them. Downward facing dog, plank, upward facing dog, fallen triangle – all wrist moves. This is the class I’ve committed to going to because this one is on my day off.

I haven’t been in the past three or so weeks. In part I’ve used the holidays as an excuse. But I’m starting to think that seasonal affective disorder doesn’t have so much to do with less sunlight and a lot to with less activity. Sure, they are connected. Less sunlight means it is colder outside, and it gets darker sooner. Thus, we are less inclined to go exercise outside, or at all. We think we’ll take a break, just like the Earth does. We’ll fly south for the winter, even if it is in our heads. We’ll hibernate as much as we are allowed. We still have to go to our jobs, but that is it as far as activity. Everything else can just wait.

This year of writing has taught me the danger of that. Slow down too much and the doldrums set in. We are dead in the water, going nowhere. There’s no wind in our sails.

Then depression comes for a visit.

And when depression comes to visit, it isn’t really interested in a quick stop. It stays, longer and longer, gathering energy while we lose it. Depression is self perpetuating. It feeds on itself and gets bigger and bigger while our control on our minds gets less and less.

Writing has taught me this. It has made me stop and see patterns that never made sense before. It has made me realize that the only way out of this funk is to pull out the paddles and start rowing for dear life.

So I went to class today. I went even though I could only do half the moves. I went even though it meant that I had to modify all the other ones. Downward facing dog became dolphin. Plank was done on my forearms as well. I’ve never looked forward to doing warrior one and two nearly so much as today. I took child’s pose a lot. I did some of my favorite twists at other times. I tried some moves on my fists instead. It wasn’t that great.

But I went. And I stayed. And I did what I could do and didn’t push myself today. Sometimes yoga is about pushing. Sometimes it is about backing off. You don’t ever want to hurt yourself. The motto “No pain, no gain” is not a healthy mantra.

But really, I did push myself. I pushed myself to get up out of bed, and showered, and dressed, and to the class on time. I know me. If I’d let the doldrums win, that horrible inertia, that nothing that just feeds on itself and gets bigger and bigger, then I would have stayed at home all day and done nothing. Then I’d feel worse. Then I’d do more nothing. And I’d use it as an excuse to not go next week.

And while I wrestle with the concept of stillness, I know that doing nothing is death.

Poem – pain

There is nothing about pain
that is easy.
There is everything about pain
that is beautiful.

When we are lost
and hurt
and angry
and tired

and just plain sick of it all

there we are, stuck again
with pain.

We might as well pull it up a chair
and make it some tea
and get to know it

Because it isn’t going away.

Pain lets us know we are alive.
Pain lets us know we are transforming into,
evolving into,

The be-ing that we are.

We are human be-ings.
Not human do-ings.

We are who we are.

And sometimes what we are
is a big old bundle of nerves
wrapped up in feelings
that cross over and under
our past and our present and our future
and it just hurts to be alive.
But this pain is our awakening, our beginning, our opening.

Pain is how the Light gets in.

Give thanks for pain.
It is the bell that calls you to yourself.
It lets you know it is time to pray.
It lets you know it is time to make a change.
It wakes you up.

Give thanks.

The cyclical effect of pain – stress/pain/tension/pain

Our bodies feel pain in ways other than pain. Pain is the last part. Pain means that the problem has popped the fuse and we are now desperate.

When a baby is hungry he will make signs. He’ll smack his lips or suck his fist. Crying is the last thing he’ll do. If his mother doesn’t notice the signs in time he will get frustrated. His needs aren’t being met.

Pain is the same way. It has subtle signs at first. Our body wants to protect us from pain. Our adrenal system races to the rescue when we hurt so that we don’t feel it. This is backwards, because then we don’t know that there is a problem. We find out later when the adrenal system gives up and we are just like that baby, crying and miserable.

Pain has a cascade effect. It affects everything. It is kind of like dominoes. One thing leads to another. If we are in pain, our stomach will get in knots, our teeth will clench, and then we will get headaches. Our breathing will get shallow. We will become irritable. Then the tension from all of that will only make things worse.

Tension causes pain, and pain causes tension. Anger can cause tension which causes pain. Pain can cause irritability which leads to anger. It isn’t just a domino effect, it is circular.

You can feel pain in other areas than where the actual pain is. Acupuncture teaches us this. If you’ve ever gotten a tattoo you know this. If you get a tattoo on your ankle it can hurt on your lower back. If you get a tattoo on your upper arm it can hurt on your face. So be mindful that just because you feel pain in one area doesn’t mean that is the source of the pain.

You can head things off at the pass. You can learn to recognize the signs of pain before they are off the charts. You can stop the cycle.

Do a body scan every now and then, several times a day. Just pause for a moment and see how you are feeling. This is useful to do at least once an hour. You won’t remember to do it that often to start with – that is normal. Just do what you can.

How is your breathing? Deep or shallow? Fast or slow? You can change a lot by changing your breathing. Intentionally breathe in slowly through your nose, on a count of ten. Exhale slowly through your mouth on a count of ten. Do this for a minute at least. See how you feel. Do it again if necessary.

How do you feel? Do you have tension in your back or shoulders or face? Are you clenching anywhere? Intentionally release it. We tend to hold tension in our bodies. Tension raises our blood pressure.

Check your tongue. Are you pressing it up against the roof of your mouth? This is a sign to your body that you are under pressure. It will raise your blood pressure the same way that breathing shallowly or clenching your muscles will. Do your best to relax your tongue from the roof of your mouth as often as possible.

Remember that whenever you are checking your breathing or tension, you are making a positive change for yourself. Don’t get mad at yourself for having shallow breathing or clenching your muscles. This is totally normal. To get mad at yourself only causes more tension. Instead, focus on the fact that you are doing something good about it. Every little step towards health is something to celebrate.

Find activities that you enjoy to reduce stress. Do something creative. Draw, paint, bead, write, garden, cook – the list is endless. Pick one, and if it doesn’t work for you, try something else. Get regular exercise, and don’t make it “exercise”. Children don’t “exercise”, they play. They are better off for it. If you find some way to move your body that you enjoy, you are more likely to do it.

Look at the things that cause you stress. What can you do about it? Can you make a change? Can you ask for assistance? Can you tell someone that what they are doing is harmful to you? People can’t read minds – you have to ask for what you need. Sometimes just thinking about this can make you feel more stress! Pick a book in my “survival” books list and read it. They are lifesavers.

I wish you well on your journey. We will never be stress-free. Life is all about challenge and growth, and stress gives us opportunities for that. Stress and pain are just signs that we need to slow down and reassess things. In this way, they are blessings. Otherwise, we’d not grow, we’d not ask for help, and we’d forget to be thankful for all the many gifts that we have.

Sanctified (pain can be a blessing)

Pain can be a blessing. It can let us know something is wrong, so we seek treatment. This is true with physical pain as well as spiritual pain.

Anger, fear, anxiety are all names for spiritual pain. When we notice them, we have an opportunity to seek out a whole different kind of healing than our society usually offers us. Instead of taking a pill for these spiritual pains, we can choose to pray. We can ask God to come into that moment and be with us in our pain and our brokenness.

In this way we sanctify our pain. This is transformative to realize. When we do this, our pain becomes a reminder to seek God. It is like a bell, sounding the time to pray. Our pain becomes a pathway to God.

Of course this is easy to say when we are well. When we are sick, when we have pain or weakness or an unknown diagnosis it is hard to get enlightened. Every thought is about the pain and lack of well being. Everything is focused on the not-well-ness of how we feel. Our entire frame of consciousness is based on how we don’t feel like we think we should.

We have a hard time being objective about our subjective experience.

It is like being in the middle of an argument. It is easy to say that you should back off and not fight, don’t let the person bring you to their level. But when you are in the middle of an argument and the other person is yelling at you, right in your face it is hard to remain calm. All you want to do is yell right back and say what you really feel, free of all the social rules of being nice. This is true whether the fight is with a person or with a disease.

But it is worth trying. Yelling at the other person only makes the fight continue. Freaking out over pain only makes it hurt more.

Certainly, don’t let the other person walk all over you. Certainly, don’t ignore the pain because it might be a sign of something that needs treatment.

But part of being a follower of God is knowing that God is in charge. Even the “bad” stuff is part of the big plan.

We are told that every moment is the guru. Learn from everything, even your pain and suffering and doubt. Learn from the argumentative coworker. Learn from the annoying neighbor. Learn from the busybody aunt. They are all teachers. They are all pathways to God.

Resistance is indeed futile.