In the Midst of Confusion

You should see the sunset behind the mountains here in Asheville, NC.  The mountain ridge’s silhouette is framed by a deep red and orange sinking sun and a deep purple burst of clouds fan out and stretch upward to touch a gray blue sky with even grayer clouds floating above.  It’s beauty is not lost on me this evening as we move into the winter solstice:  the darkest time of year.

I live on top of a small hill on the second floor of an apartment complex.  The tulip poplars’ limbs reach upward and I can see eye level with their small branches that have ridges and grooves where leaves will sprout out in the spring.  These trees act as a fence and along with the pine trees and mighty oaks and regal maples they keep the soil intact so we don’t slide down onto the busy street below.

Fifteen minutes have passed since writing the first words, and the sun has disappeared behind the mountains.  It is pitch black, save the streetlights in the parking lot below.  The solstice is upon us and like the black bears here in the area, it is time to go inside and hibernate.  Except, I am already indoors nursing a mild cold that creeped up on me yesterday evening.  Metaphor then calls for me to know the next step of going inside:  to drop into my heart center and seek the mystery that has been calling me for awhile now.

Truthfully, I never fully understood why I came out here this past summer.  I told my friends and family it was just a breakaway from my old life and a chance to explore and do something new and different before I got too stuck in my ways.  On the surface, it was really that.  So, I put all of my attention and energy there and explored the city and met interesting people.

I also had grandiose ideas of starting my freelance writing career and making money by writing copy and profiles for businesses and small organizations.  I did that for awhile and I put all of my attention and energy there.  It was exhausting and not as rewarding as I thought it would be.  And, I wasn’t making any money.  That was Ok if I could drum up the business, but I was in a new town, a new environment, and without a lot of chances to network nor had I enough experience yet to even charge for my services.  I also had to admit that I was putting on a good show for myself and my friends and family as a way to prove that I would drum up business and support myself financially and one day this would become my means of support.  I see now that I was trying to put on airs to make this move, this leap, not appear so scary to me or others.  A way to justify my need to be accepted as a mainstream, career writer with a solid vocation that fit into society.

Then, I heard a voice tell me that it is inevitable that I should become a published writer since I am a former English teacher.  So, I put all of my attention and energy there.  And, that felt better, yet it was still exhausting and I realized I was going on a path where my ego was getting the better of me and telling me I was worthless as a writer if I didn’t publish anything any time soon.  I went to writer’s workshops and writer’s circles, and even joined a critique group.  And, I failed and I fell.  Hard.  (See last blog post about a  piece of fiction I workshopped before it was worth showing to anyone.)  I was expecting my transformation as a writer to happen over night because it is what I want.  In September, I had written one of the most beautiful pieces of my life and now it sits in online queues at numerous literary journals.  There is one rejection letter already in my email folder.  I tell myself that it’s all Ok because it’s the name of the game.

img_3153After a little soul searching, and laying my persona of an English teacher and an academic to rest, I returned to my first love of drawing.  I started a doodle of a sugar maple leaf and it turned into something that lit me up inside.  Here, tucked inside the leaf, were images of butterfly wings, pine bark, rocks from a creek bed, elderberries, and mountain ash berries and so many more things from my daily nature walks.  “Maybe, just maybe, I can consider myself an artist?” I thought to myself.  In a classic self-loathing fashion, however, I berated myself and told myself that I was a fraud on all creative levels because I never went to school for art and I spent most of my writing time in a classroom reading teenager’s essays and re-reading and discussing pieces of literature and poetry from textbooks.

I didn’t give up on drawing, however, and saw it as a new form of meditation that could replace my daily journal writing, which was becoming cumbersome, melodramatic and morose.  And so I went about my days drawing, working at Trader Joe’s, teaching yoga, and going on nature walks when I had the time and energy.

All seemed well and good at this point.  My easy-going lifestyle was nice when I was in the flow and enjoying my creative pursuits simply for pleasure and a release of years of pent up creativity that had no time or outlet to come forth.  But, life happened to me.  I began to get scared about why I was here in Asheville.  I worried again about living on a mix of a low income from the grocery store and my stored up savings account.  I began brainstorming of ways to fast track my creative pursuits and think of how I could develop them quickly and prove to myself and others that I wasn’t wasting my time here.  And worse, I began thinking of how to make my creativity the center of a new vocation or career based on the shaky skills I had pulled out from years of hiding deep inside of my psyche.

The universe brought to me an opportunity to teach a yoga and journaling workshop on overcoming and transforming fear.  I was (and still am) excited about it.  I even met with a doctor who has been practicing yoga and meditation for 30 years.  He overheard me talking about my workshop to a couple I know at Trader Joe’s.  To make a long story short, we met and he wants me to teach at his practice and also wants to introduce me to some friends of his that run a retreat center in the area.  So I thought to myself, “Aha!  This is what I’m supposed to do!  I can combine my love of teaching and yoga with my skills on how to write and I can make a living from this down the line.”  I abandoned my drawing and poured myself into my research and practiced breathing techniques and wrote lesson plans like I used to do when I was an English teacher.

I started to become confused.  Which path of creativity should I take in order to make a new life for myself?  Is this what I’m supposed to be doing with my life while I’m here?  How long am I going to be here in Asheville?  Will I stay forever or will I return to the Midwest or will I move somewhere else and do something else?  Will I run out of money before I accomplish anything in this world worth doing?  Am I on the right track?  Am I happy?  Where has my passion and my spirituality and deep connection to my heart and to the earth gone?  Why am I not feeling anything?  Why do I feel like I am off course?  What the hell am I doing here?  What the hell are we all doing here?  And down and down and down the rabbit hole I went.

I slipped into a mild depression without realizing it.   It didn’t help anything that I had suffered a very bad haircut.  A mop of hair with two different dye-jobs and  silver-white chunks sitting precariously on top of my head.  Zits popped up and a few pounds stuck to my cheeks (on both ends) from the treats at work.  Even my apartment appeared cluttered and small.  I piled up dishes in the sink and pulled out clean ones from the dishwasher. A tumbleweed of loose hair (mine and my pets’) drifted across the bathroom floor as I walked in and brushed my teeth the other day.  I shut off the sink and the lights when I finished and simply walked away.  Too tired to pick up a tiny mess.

A few days ago, I experienced the throws of angst in my body 2 hours before I went to work.  I was sweating.  My breathing was shallow.  I was jittery and couldn’t sit still.  My mind jumped around to all the “what ifs” and projected worries and difficulties that could and would happen.  I had the same exact feelings and thoughts I used to have before I walked into the hallways of Belleville West high school where I used to teach.  Trader Joe’s is a simple, albeit very physical, job.  There is no stress or pressure to it (although, there is some drama and some very real frustrations of dealing with a few of the arrogant young men that work there…I’ll save all of that for a later post).  Fortunately, I have an arsenal of resources and techniques I’ve cultivated over the years (ones that I will share at my workshop), and I tamed and curbed my anxiety and understood it for what it was:  an old biological and psychological pattern that is from my past and is revealing itself in my present.  The only control I have over it is to not let it be a part of my future.

My body wasn’t done with me just yet, however.  Yesterday was a full day of practicing and teaching yoga, meeting with a spiritual teacher for personal and workshop reasons, working on a writing project for him, all the while neglecting housework and life’s necessary drudgeries.  I sat down on my couch for a few minutes before getting ready to meet with a friend for a bluegrass concert, and my body took over.  I felt heavy and achy.  My eyes watered and a dry cough started in my throat.  I tried to fall asleep on my couch, but my dog barked at every single noise my upstairs neighbors and their wild dogs made.  I forced back tears and got up, showered, and went to my friend’s house and later the concert.  The food we ate was delicious and the band was amazing.  That perked me up until they took a break and I realized I needed a mental, emotional, and physical break as well.

I didn’t go to work today.  I knew it was time to purge myself of this cold and these negative thoughts.  To awaken my body again to its resiliency and awaken my spirit as well.  I took it easy this a.m. and when I had enough energy, I cleaned my apartment in a mindful way.  I threw out or donated what was no longer serving me.  In my spare bedroom closet, I came across a stack of my old journals with beautiful ideas and words in them.  I smiled and a memory of my 10-year-old self came back when I realized I loved words and wrote poetry about soaring eagles or about the soft glow of the streetlight as I walked our family dog, Oscar.  I also found a stack of drawings and doodles I did on my free time when I had a career.  They’re not too bad and they show that I do have an innate sense of perspective, color, and design and a creative and unique approach to my subject matter.

IMG_3313.JPG

img_3316

img_3317

More importantly, I know how I felt channeling the words and the images through my mind.  My hands.  My heart.  I know that mythical time is there to support me and this linear time of moving about my day and earning money does not always have to be 100% in alignment with that.  Times like the winter solstice can help us go inward and empty out all that is dead and not working for us.  We can open up space and shine a light inside our hearts as a way to nurture what is to grow next. We cannot force its growth.  It must germinate and emerge from the depths of our souls on its own time.  Just like Persephone’s return from the Underworld.  Her mother’s sadness of losing her daughter is the world’s gain in the future when Persephone walks the earth with her mother again for a short while.

img_3323img_3318

When I found these drawings, I almost wanted to say “Fuck off” to my old self who had locked my mind, body, and spirit into a very unhealthy way of being where I consumed myself with martyrdom, angst, worry, and an authoritarian mentality inside a world confined to a small classroom inside a brick building.   But I brought compassion to that old part of me that is still somewhat wired in my brain and my body and comes out in awkward moments like I mentioned.  What I do know is that inside me all along has been the writer, the artist, the communicator, the teacher who can express the tenderness and beauty of the subtle and mysterious world.  Who can tell stories and myths and weave them into a yoga class or a blog post.  Who can help guide people through their own personal journey that is riddled with fear and grief.  Who knows the way to creating a body-mind-heart connection, even if it is for a brief moment.  Who is not a fraud, but a growing being with human skin and bones.  Imperfect but authentic in her pursuit of something bigger and more meaningful and helpful to humanity that only her blip of a moment on this planet can provide.

img_3319

 

Advertisements

Heart Center

The white windmills on highway 47 north cut through the deep blue Midwestern sky.  I turned onto a side road and got out of my car to take in the sweeping panoramic views that included waving cornfields, blue wild asters, and a stoic barn in the distance.

FullSizeRender

FullSizeRender

When I arrived at the conference center in North Lake, Illinois, I didn’t know what to expect.  I was there to attend a weekend yoga retreat called BhaktiFest Midwest.  I have practiced bhakti (the yoga path of love and devotion) with Saul David Raye (an internationally known teacher) whenever he comes to the St. Louis area, but this time around I was going to immerse myself in the ancient traditions of kirtan, chanting (mantra), and breathwork (pranyama) as well as yoga poses (asana), and whatever other types of classes were offered.  I was curious to know if I would come away with a “blissed out” experience or if I was fooling myself into thinking that I could let go of conventions and old ways of being and allow my wild self to be present in the sessions.

I hesitated as I pulled in the parking lot next to a hippy van painted with a rainbow cosmic scene of Saturn and a guy on a surfboard.   A sense of loneliness and self-consciousness came over me as one of the volunteers wrapped the green band around my wrist and welcomed me.  Guys with man buns and lots of jewelry and women covered in tattoos and hairy armpits intermingled with men in kahki pants and Birkenstocks and women in all white with scarves around their foreheads.  Were “these people” part of my tribe now?  Did I fit in with hippies, love gurus, and mystics?  There were vendors selling their wares of mala beads, scarves, tie-dye, loose-fitting tops and pants, statues, and even cosmic readings.  I pulled my yoga mat closer to my chest and searched for the yoga room.  I wanted familiarity.  I wanted to distance myself from people who smelled like patchouli and rose water and roll out my mat and go through the motions of poses I’ve been doing for 15 years.  Thankfully, I didn’t get what I was asking for.  FullSizeRender

By the time I got to my second session of the day I had chastised myself for being so judgmental and dared myself to be more open-minded and open-hearted.  These people were fellow seekers of the heart.  People wanting to experience more than the ordinary and to be touched by the sublime.  And isn’t that what I’m doing too on this new journey?  Seeking a place where I can creatively express my emotions and experiences.  Seeking a way of being that is different than my traditional role as a mainstream English teacher, good and responsible daughter and sister, wild aunt, and single woman in a big house.  All roles I upheld by determination and default.

As I laid down on my back, preparing to be guided through a 2 hour session focused solely on the breath, I realized I don’t know that much about life or love as I pretended to know when I got to the conference. As Michael Brain Baker (the teacher, who was dressed in all white, had dreadlocks, and smelled of some heavenly rose watered scent) played cosmic sounds and chanted lullabies in Portuguese, Sanskrit, Hindi, and some other exotic languages, my body became awakened by my deep breathing (two deep inhales through the mouth and one long exhale through the mouth for 7 minute increments that were followed by periods of rest and then breath retention).  The breathing mimicked a buildup to a good cry.  The effect in the room was that of a wounded child sobbing for her mother.  I heard others wailing, crying, and moaning in anguish while my eyes were closed and we were all covered in darkness.  Anger and frustration awakened inside of me.  I wanted them to be quiet so I could have a peaceful, blissful experience.  I focused on Michael’s voice and directions.  I kept breathing, deeper and more fully, willing others to quiet themselves.  The more intense I became with my breath, the more my feet tingled, and then my hands and arms began tingling as well.  I got worried when my scalp tightened and my mouth started to go numb as well, but still I kept breathing faster and more intense.  One of the helpers in the room must have sensed my intensity and she came over and I felt some warm drop of rose scented liquid on my forehead.  Then, I heard her breathing, softly, sweetly, and calmly.  I took her cue and my short-circuited nervous system stopped going haywire.  She stayed with me for what felt like a long time.  Her presence at the crown of my head.  Cool air from the central air spread across my chest and I shivered then breathed, shivered then breathed.  I kept hearing her rhythmic breath and she was never far away from me, even as others cried and giggled and eventually burst into wild laughter and howling.  Next came pure silence as we rested our controlled breathing.  I felt like I was floating due to the fact that we had been oxygenating areas of our body that rarely get the deep benefits from our shallow daily breathing.  Peace flooded the room.  And silence.  And then it happened.  My heart cracked and I began crying.  The man who was moaning in sheer agony and pain across the room suddenly became my brother and I cried for him, imagining I was holding him in my arms, cradling him and rocking him through his pain.  Tears flowed from my eyes, and the man eventually quieted.

IMG_1464In the morning, I went to a nondescript workshop conducted by a 60 year old man with a scruffy white beard.  He was wearing jeans, a buttoned down long sleeve shirt, and tennis shoes.  He played the dulcimer and talked in a meditative voice.  The topic was on freedom and liberation of the soul.  We all have attachments and deep fears and the yogis and mystics say all attachments and fears stem from the greatest fear of all:  death.  He strummed the dulcimer that was in harmony with the pulsating, warping sound coming out of an amplifier.  This grandfather of a man told us we were all safe and that we had been in this cycle of birth and re-death for thousands of years, and would continue until we learned to face our own mortality and welcome it fully and with great love.

He instructed us to close our eyes and take an inhale through our nose, saying to ourselves, “Thank you, Great Spirit.”  And as we exhaled, he said, “I’m coming home.”  It sounded too simplistic for me to see how it could be a profound experience.  Yet, I listened to my intuition and allowed myself to be guided.  Eyes closed, I began to shed my inhibitions.  I tuned in to his voice, his words, his wisdom and guidance.  For awhile, my thoughts and breaths were mechanical and methodical.  The man literally struck a chord on his dulcimer right as I inhaled and said to myself, “Thank you for this breath, Great Spirit.”  I retained my breath for a few seconds; as he struck another reverberating chord, I gently exhaled and said whole-heartedly, “I’m coming home.”  A tenderness and warmth spread over my heart center and I started crying heavy tears that ran down my face and dropped onto my chest.  I kept my eyes closed, but I cried, and I kept the mantra and breath work going.  More tenderness, more tears.  Until after maybe a half an hour the breath became seamless and the words became truth.  A clarity came over me and it excited and frightened me at the same time.  I broke the moment by opening my eyes and looking at the teacher at the front of the room.  Too much to handle all at once I suppose.  Life turned back to the ordinary matrix we function in.  I had caught a glimpse of the sublime, however, and it was no other place but at the center of my heart.

IMG_0062

(P.S., I added this last picture in because it’s true and it’s also a reminder not to take myself too seriously either.  Ha ha!)

The Heart of the Matter: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 5

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on to fruit.
-Dawna Markova

Last month, I went to a yoga workshop taught by a renowned yoga teacher, Saul David Raye.  He practices and teaches a style of yoga called “Bahkti” – the yoga of love and devotion.  I’ve had the good fortune of taking his workshops a few other times over the years in St. Louis.  Sometimes, he moved me to tears, other times, he frustrated and confused me with his message of “Love is all you need.”  Looking back, I see that was only because I was stuck in a rut of seeing myself as a victim of love and heartache.  His message wasn’t the issue, my mind was.

This time around, I felt a strong connection to him as a person.  He spoke of the beauty of nature, of love of another person, of the connection of heart and mind as a way to feel fulfilled and wonderful about life’s mysteries.  I understood that the mind is a wild and beautiful thing of its own, but it can spin out of control if not synched up with a loving, open heart to balance and nurture it.  Under his guidance that day, I allowed my mind to follow my feeling heart and express my love through the live music and the yoga poses.  More importantly, I realized that my inner light burns the brightest when I am feeling fully present in my body, in my observing, wonder-filled mind, and loving heart center as opposed to allowing the wild, chattering side of my mind to wander off into the future to create untold disasters and hopeless scenarios in my tiny spot on Earth.

Fears, real and imagined (mostly imagined), have ruled my life for decades.  Monsters in my dreams. Sounds that go bump in the night.  Harsh, critical words and actions of ex-boyfriends.  The memory of my bipolar, schizophrenic aunt standing in our kitchen in full camo-gear complete with machete in hand.  Images of my grandmother’s scratchy hand-written letter to me in college describing her observations and sadness of her fast-growing, tumor that eventually split her brain in half.

As I came into my late thirties, I began to experience my daily life from a place of fear. I could feel every muscle twitch in my body and imagined I was beginning the sufferings of Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease.  I would sit in my recliner, alone at home, having a series of panic attacks because my shoulder was so tight that I could feel muscles twitching.  I could not breathe and choked on my food once and coughed so hard that spit rolled out of my mouth.  I thought then and there it was a sign that something neurological was going on, so I got on the internet and researched everything I thought could possibly be wrong with me. Every symptom was vague enough and so close to one another that I was sure I had that particular disorder.  This belief would send blood rushing to my head, sweat to my armpits.  My hands would become clammy and I paced around my house, crying and panicking while my dog circled around me, confused.

 I worried that my Wi-Fi and cellphone were causing a horrible brain tumor like my grandmother’s, and I began overanalyzing my food choices and focused so much on what I put into my body so as to heal myself or protect myself from any type of disease, that I didn’t realize I was already suffering the painful, slow, suffering death I so feared by not living a life where I felt part of the world and part of nature.  Love was not in my vocabulary.  I could have love and give love as soon as I fixed all of these terrible, horrible, no good things that were going on in my body and mind.  On the outside, I could laugh with my friends, practice yoga moves in classes or in my home, walk my dog, pay my bills, teach my students, drive my car, live a seemingly normal life, while on the inside I was fanning the flames of Hell.

I realized that I am a functioning neurotic.

What is different now, is that I can admit to that fact.  I now see the neuroses for what they are:  techniques I have developed over the years to keep me “safe” and “small” instead of risking my significance to bring out my talents and gifts of creativity, writing, and teaching.  When I am brave, I become vulnerable and open to love.  I can match my heart force to my soul force and share that with others so they can do the same.

The bravery comes from not turning away from my fears, but walking directly towards them, facing them head on.  Regardless of the outcome.

In my time out in Colorado, I learned this about myself.  A particular solo hike focused on finding a place and sitting with some part of ourselves that act as an Escapist from reality.  Before we all went our separate ways, I had joked with another group member about searching for a place off trail where I could pee freely like a deer.  (I had gulped a lot of water during our circle time.)  We both laughed and I walked away with the mantra “Pee like a deer,” in my mind.  I was all smiles and didn’t worry too much that I hadn’t found a spot nearby to go and meditate.  Fifteen minutes, a far way up the trail, and a good pee later, I saw an overhanging of rocks that sloped down into an area riddled with fallen timbers and dead or dying pine trees.  In a small clearing, rested a boulder.  I shuddered because I knew I had to go and sit on that boulder.  Alone.

11903982_10206779612640969_5567964020907306967_n

11259094_10206779612400963_5884284465797951420_n

I marked my spot, took a picture of the overhang so I knew what to look for when I came back, and I slowly climbed down the rocks.  The sky became overcast the closer I got to the boulder.  I climbed over fallen trees, untangled my pants and backpack from dry grass, thorns, and small, dry sticks.  I scrambled on top of the boulder and sat there thinking, “Now what?”

My mind was full of chatter and was working hard to take me out of this situation I had just put myself in.  I was nervous and kept waiting for some “A-ha” moment so I could grab my pack and leave.  But, I just sat there, feeling the coolness of the boulder seep through my pants to my legs.  It was soothing to be on top of something so solid.  I started breathing and thinking, “This is where my sweet deer live,” and I hoped that I might see one like I did the day before in the meadow.  I started to deepen my breath and relax into my surroundings.  Just then, I heard creaking and cracking noises.  At first I thought it was some animal, but a breeze blew through the trees and I realized it was the sound of the dying trees around me being moved by the wind.

Part of me wanted to flee, the other part of me wanted to see what would happen next.  As if on cue, the sky became gray and a stronger wind picked up.  The trees began to make a low whistling sound almost like a far off freight train.  I looked around and realized there were very few living trees in this area I was sitting.  In fact, I remembered a part of the trail I had traveled the day before was clear and today I had to climb over two fallen trees to get to where I was.  My breath became shorter.  I began seeing which tree would fall on me first, and what direction I could move to get out of the way.  Luckily I had put my whistle around my neck and my hand instinctively went to it.  Immediately my sacrum became electric and my hamstrings tensed up, which caused my back, shoulder, neck and jaw to tighten as well.  My muscles began to twitch.  I wanted to bolt, but some wise voice inside of me said, “Breathe.  Stay with the fear and just breathe.”

11914005_10206779612200958_9091906973701362821_n I took a few more breaths and started thinking about my imaginary deer I had hoped to see.  What would she do right now if she was foraging for food?  She would become alert, look around, evaluate her surroundings, and probably go back to eating.  She lives with the possibility of death and destruction every day.  I could die here as well.  A tree could fall on me and kill me instantly, or I could be knocked unconscious and die a slower death.  Why didn’t I make a run for it then?   I wanted to leave, but something anchored me there.  And without warning, a wave of grief rushed over me and I began to cry so hard that I was shaking.  I wanted my mother.  I wanted peace of mind.  I wanted to be able to live a full life and not become so trapped by my fears and illusions of fear.

The tears began to wash away my fears and in my mind’s eye I saw my doe in the meadow looking at me.  A warmth spread from my heart and went to every part of my body.  I breathed fully, deeply, richly, and safely.  True, I could die right here, right now.  But, I could also die from any number of things at any time.  And the fact of the matter was:  wasn’t I dying every day that I fed my neurotic fears so much that I allowed them to hijack my mind and body and paralyze me, causing me to suffer, and die a painful, agonizing death of spirit?  At least here, if I truly died on this boulder, I would have been alive to my emotions, my body, and have witnessed with all of my senses the beauty and power of nature.  And another thought came to me:  my one physical death would simply be a fade into more beauty and mystery.  Spiritual death, on the other hand, brings rot, disease, control issues, neuroses, pain and suffering among other things.

Once I had this breakthrough, another wind blew through the area, and I realized now was the time to leave.  I didn’t need to be so brave that I became stupid.  I picked up my pack and walked quickly to the overhang and back onto the trail.  I looked out at the boulder, brought my hands to prayer and bowed my head in gratitude and reminded myself that love got me through a dark moment and love will do that for me time and time again.

And so I have been working with this lesson for a few months now.  After the workshop, I went up to Saul and re-introduced myself and asked him if I could use his name and picture in a possible blog post about love and fear.  He smiled with such warmth and told me that not only did he want to contribute to that post in some small way, but that it was important to share this type of writing with others.  “There are two paths that intertwine: one of Wisdom and one of Love,” he had said during practice.  “The path of Love leads to Wisdom.  And the path to Wisdom leads to Love.  Feel with your heart.  Love is all you need.”  He then asked me if I would be in the picture with him.  He gave my camera to someone nearby and he held up his hand in the gesture of fearlessness.  Uncertain at first but in a moment of bravery, I put up my hand as well.

 FullSizeRender

My Underwear and the Path to Enlightenment

I am convinced my underwear are holding me back from developing a higher level of consciousness.  I recently bought several pairs of the jersey knit and spandex combo panties with no tags thinking they’d be a sure form of comfort.  Turns out, they’re hip-hugging, gut-pinching, inner thigh-squeezing mother f**kers.

I put on a pair of these name brand form-fitting undergarments and felt comfortable in them for about a half an hour.  They were just a twinge annoying when I made my fried egg for breakfast this morning.  They became an issue when I sat down to eat my egg and drink my coffee.  They kept riding up in places they were supposed to cover.  I got so distracted by them that after breakfast I went to my room and traded them in for another pair.  I paced around the house testing out the gray and blue-polka dotted skivvies I pulled from the drawer to make sure they wouldn’t ride up on me before I got dressed.  That’s when I noticed a burnt smell pervading my living room.  I walked in the kitchen to find my skillet was burned and the stove was still on.  I cursed and turned off the stove and mourned the loss of my $30 Organic Green Fry Pan I bought a few months ago at Target.

I tried to get all Zen by rolling out my yoga mat, but by my second down-dog my underwear were jamming into my inner-groin/thigh area.  My puppy thought it was play time and began licking my face and biting my hair as I wiggled and squirmed in the pose and balanced on one hand while I tried to pull out the underwear from my creases with the other.  She also sat in my lap and licked my face while I tried to meditate.  Om. . .lick, lick.  Om. . .lick, lick.  Om. . .and I cut the meditation short because the waist band was cutting into my flanks.

I would have changed into another pair of underwear, but at that moment, my friend texted me and told me she was on her way to meet me.  We had plans to meet at the mall so she could drive me to see her new house she and her husband just purchased.  I texted her a quick, “See you soon!” and went into my room, threw on a pair of khaki shorts and a t-shirt and tennis shoes.  I forgot to brush my teeth.  I threw my hair into a ponytail, and I saw the zit on my chin and mourned the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to do a cleansing scrub before leaving the house.

Before I got into her car, I adjusted my underwear that were now sitting high on my pelvic bones.  She gave me a strange look and I smiled and merely said, “Underwear.”  She laughed and told me I looked cute.  I glanced at her sideways (afraid to turn my dragon breath in her direction) and said, “Thanks.”  It was then that I felt the seam of my underwear pressing into my ass.  The rest of the afternoon went by in a blur and I did my best to focus my attention on my friend and visit with her and her two little boys instead of worrying about the lack of circulation around my middle.

After our lunch, we said our goodbyes.  I went to the department store nearby to exchange a few items and on my way to Customer Service, I saw the underwear section.  I debated on purchasing a few new pair, but decided against it as this was the place of origin for my 5 other pairs of “seamless panties”.  Plus, I had to pee and I didn’t want to use the public restroom.  It notoriously has dribbles of pee and wet toilet paper on the seats, but also I didn’t want to peel off my underwear and massage the indentions they left on my flesh.  That type of deep tissue massage is best done in the privacy of your own home where you can moan and groan to your heart’s content.

I returned home, used the restroom, massaged my thighs and undercheeks and then traded out that pair for another pair or revolutionary underwear technology.  These felt a little better, but I think it was the same mental trick you play on yourself when you kick off a pair of flats that you’ve had your feet crammed into all day only to put on tennis shoes and double knot tie them and hit the ground running for another few hours.

I met another friend in St. Louis for coffee and our weekly writing/critiquing session.  I was more at ease in these panties because I was drinking a chai latte and was in an urban coffee shop where I could be distracted by the crazy guy outside who was listening to music and doing a knee-jerk dance on the side of the street.  I was suffering a little from writer’s block and thought maybe I should’ve worn a thong.  At least that way the wedgie is self-inflicted and therefore an acceptable form of self-flagellation.

Two hours in to our discussion of our writing and the meaning of life in general, I realized I needed to go.  I told my friend it was because I had to go and walk my dog, but it was also because I had to pee again and I felt that I had to do another round of deep tissue massage.  The panty dilemma was creeping up on me again.  Before I got into my car, I casually looked around to make sure I was in the clear before pulling the wedgie out my butt.  That’s when I saw the yellow paper stuck to my windshield.  I had a $15 ticket for an expired parking meter.  I sighed and said, “F**k it,” and pulled the underwear out of my ass before putting the ticket into my purse.

Once home, I patted my dog on the head and raced to my bathroom where I peeled off the butt-numbing, wedgie-wielding, soul-sucking material and massaged my butt and hips.  I let out a whimper as I saw the red indentations.  I vowed that all underwear should be burned like the women who burned bras in the 60s.  I put on my loungewear, sans bra and underwear, heated up a frozen pizza and sighed, “Ohhhhh God. . .”  I sat down on my couch, similar to the Buddha who sat under the bodhi tree of wisdom, and surrendered to the naked truth:  painful panties are the root of all suffering.

images

Perfection.

From Google images
From Google images

“Megan’s perfect,” the dental hygienist said as she placed my file on the reception desk after my 6 month checkup.

“Finally!” I laughed as I raised my hands above my head.

She and the receptionist simply looked at me like I was a crazy woman.

What was merely a benign statement indicating once again that I have no cavities (33 years and going strong), I turned into a lifetime achievement award.

The rational part of my brain put everything into context, but the tiny little voice that drives my ego jumped and did a quick somersault of joy inside my head.  Someone finally announced what I’ve been striving for since I came out of the womb:  perfection.  Perfection.  Perfection!

Then, throughout that following week, everything went to hell in a hand-basket metaphorically speaking:  I spilled salad dressing on my shirt, stepped in my puppy’s poop in the backyard, lost a set of keys, forgot to grade a set of papers, screwed up my lesson plan, and re-injured my hamstring while doing a fancy yoga move. (To name a few of my daily screw-ups.)

Honestly, there was a side of me that got really angry and fixated on those small hiccups.  (I have always been a driven, anxious, analytical, and somewhat fearful person.  I was born a meconium baby and literally was scared shitless to leave the womb.  And, I had digestive issues, possibly ulcers, when I was 16 and worried about everything under the sun.  Back then, I would sometimes even be so anxious and hypoglycemic that I would pass out on the sidewalk or at a restaurant or in the clothing section at Wal-Mart  So, there’s been a pattern of high anxiety there since birth.)  Innocently enough, these little imperfections from that week then led to self-criticism and obsession on emotional pains of the recent past like an argument with a friend or an insult by a student.  These small past events then caused me to really delve into my past and psycho-analyze myself and others.  Which eventually led to my recurring health problems of muscle-twitching and neuropathy/burning sensation on my leg and face.

From Google Images
From Google Images

But on this particular day, I heard the phrase “Megan’s perfect” in my mind again and I started to laugh.  And something amazing happened:  the buzzing, burning electical sensations on my face and scalp stopped for a split second.  A quick little window of opportunity opened and I happened to take advantage of it.  Fortunately it was my planning period at work (I’m a high school teacher) and so I went underneath my desk at work and pulled out my yoga mat. I dimmed the lights, unrolled the mat and then flipped myself upside down in a forward bend and started to really breathe in deep inhales and soft exhales.  I then did a fun rabbit pose (imagine curling yourself into a ball and arching your back while trying to touch your forehead to your knees).  Again, I breathed deeply and exhaled softly.  Over and over again.   Moving out of rabbit to another forward fold to a triangle pose and then an extended downward facing dog all the while breathing deeply and softly.  And something beautiful happened:  my heart led the way and my mind and body followed.  All the weird body sensations disappeared.  My  heart beat wasn’t rapid anymore.  My anxiety had passed through me as did all of those obsessive thoughts and stresses.  All that remained was a brief moment of perfection when everything was in tune.

I went back to the business of being an English teacher and I started grading research papers again.  The rest of the day, my body felt amazing and my heart was open.  The day unfolded quite nicely without any direction from my little ego-centered voice that lives somewhere inside that analytical brain of mine.

Google images
Google images

Last spring/summer and early fall, I flipped out when these bodily sensations happened and later got a perfunctory diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) by a shoddy ER doc who didn’t have much patience in listening to my complaints.  Nor did my general physician want to take the time to figure out what could be causing these sensations. (See my older post “When to Punch Your Doctor In the Face”)

What happened to me this time around was not because I reached a state of full time perfection (as the dental hygienist so unwittingly led me to believe).  It happened because I opened myself up to discovering more about myself which included paying attention to my body and what it is trying to tell me.  I was referred to a functional medicine/preventive medicine doctor in St. Louis who gave me the gift of her time, intelligence and wisdom.  She is originally from India and holds special degrees in internal medicine and rheumatology/chronic illnesses from U of I Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis.  But, she believes that the whole body, the mind and the emotional/spiritual side of a person needs to be examined and treated.  On that rainy day in October, she held my hands and listened as I told her what was going on with my body.  In my life.  In my heart/mind.  She smiled and said, “I don’t believe in the idea that a physician cures all.  I’m your partner in this.  Are you willing to do the work to help yourself get more balanced and healthy?”

“Yes?” I questioned while trying to hold back tears.

“No, I’m serious about this.  You can’t expect me to just give you some pills and push you out the door and tell you you’re cured if you take these.  This is a journey where we will work together to fine tune things specifically to your needs.  I’m willing to get down to the physical part of what is going on with you, but you really need to decide if you’re willing to get down to the core of you as well,” she firmly but lovingly said in her beautiful, powerful Indian accent.

“Yes, I’m ready,” I said as the tears rolled down my face.

Google images
Google images

We talked about MS symptoms and how other neuropathic pain sometimes can hide under that umbrella of a diagnosis.  We talked about stresses in my life (from the really big ones to the small ones and everything in between).  As I talked and she listened and asked specific questions, she took copious notes.  At the end of our one-hour session, she asked me if I was willing to get a MRI to rule out (or rule in) MS.  I said, “No.”  My grandmother had a brain tumor that killed her and my mother went through the MS diagnosis procedure (complete with MRI, muscle probing and spinal tap) with no real diagnosis as well.  I didn’t want to go down that path.  “Plus,” I said sheepishly, “I have a gut feeling that it’s connected to stress.  I know that sounds stupid, but well, I don’t know, I just feel like my gut is right.”

“I think your gut is right, as well,” she said and then smiled and reviewed her notes with me.  She was leaning towards neurotransmitter issues (hormones produced in the adrenal glands) and asked if I was willing to do a series of tests that looked at my cortisol, adrenaline and serotonin production as well as another test to analyze my Crohn’s ilietis and digestive problems.

Fast-forward through the urine, spit, fecal samples I had to collect and ship out as biohazard material via UPS and FedEx.  Fast-foward through the serious attention I now am giving to the food I eat by trying to “eat the rainbow” for better digestion, nutrition and prevention of dis-ease.  Fast-forward through my readjusting my sleep patterns and deepening my yoga and meditation practice.  Fast-forward through the monthly therapeutic massages I go to and the mindful, joyful living I try to do each day. Even fast-foward through the discovery that I had high cortisol levels and malabsorption of B vitamins, and fast-forward through the follow up appointment I had to get the pharmaceutical grade vitamins, supplements and pro-biotics to help me balance out my system.  Push pause on the particular moment that I realized I was in charge of my healing, my health, my happiness and my journey.  Let’s examine this moment briefly together:  how amazing is it that I get to choose how I experience, react to, enjoy and heal my body?

True, my analytical brain wants to do a somersault and joyfully scream, “Megan’s perfect!” but my heart knows better.  My heart, being in the center of my body, knows that this journey is more about joy, about laughter, about breathing, about discovering, and about self-love and the giving of love than it is about my physical sensations and quirks that will need to be fine-tuned every so often.  For me, this knowledge I have gained is perfection for it was given and learned as a way to be free from all defects, real or imagined.  Moment by moment I can tap into that knowledge to set myself free.

Google images
Google images

Stoking The Fire

My lovely fireplace.
My lovely fireplace.

The crackling logs in my fireplace are so beautiful with the dancing flames on top.  I like sitting in front of the fire and staring into it, being lulled by its warmth, its noise and even its smell.

I’m constantly fiddling with the fire:  poking the logs with a poker, scraping them and moving them around with a small shovel and then rocking the logs back and forth with the poker to fuel the flames up the flue.  Then, I sit back down and stare into the fire.  It’s a constant dance of relaxation and nervous energy for me.  My dog and cat are immune to my intrigue of this novelty in my new home.  The dog sleeps on the couch and stretches his little legs and the cat sleeps in the recliner and yawns a lazy sigh before curling up into a little ball again.

This image wasn’t so Norman Rockwell-esque the first time I tried to start a fire last weekend.  The fire was a bust.  I didn’t have the proper kindling or starter log.  I spent 2 exhausting, frustrating hours weaving newspapers in between, on top of, and underneath the logs and setting the kindling on fire with the extended hand-lighter and later a series of long kitchen matches.  I had properly opened the flue and opened the patio door next to the fireplace to allow the smoke and fire to draw upwards.  But every time I set fire to the newspaper, I just couldn’t get the right rhythm going with the small fires that petered out after a glorious start.  Oddly enough, I was mad at myself and caught my mind blaming myself.  By the time my mental roughing up was over, I had decided I was a failure at my life up to this point.  Anger creeped up my shoulders and locked in my jaw.  The next thing I knew, I was achy and tense all over.  My body was reacting to my mind.

The second attempt at a fire later that week was a blast.  I invested in a fantastic product called “Fire Nugget,” which is essentially pine shavings shaped into a small ball and held together by a thin layer of wax.  I cleaned out the blackened newspaper ashes from the previous attempt.  Then, I configured my logs and kindling into a little nest-like setup and set the fire nugget in the center and lit the little nugget.  In under 2 minutes the fire glowed and raced up the flue with grace and enthusiasm.  I fanned the flames and slightly opened the patio door and watched the fire glow and grow even stronger.  Excitement, touched with a twinge of anxiety, filled my stomach and chest.  I hovered around my fire all night and neglected my schoolwork because I was so proud and entranced by my creation that it was all I could think of.  Once I became more comfortable with the idea of a fire burning in my home, I gave myself permission to relax.  Immediately all the stress and tension I was holding in my shoulders, hands, legs and jaw loosened and I could breathe and enjoy the moment.  At that moment my mind was reacting to my body and my anxious thoughts were quelled by my breath.

As the night drew to a close, the embers from the beautiful fire were glowing and slowly dying out.  I’m sure I could have gone to bed having damped and banked the embers underneath and behind the cooled ashes; but I wasn’t so sure.  I stayed up well past my bedtime waiting for every single little glow to flicker out and die.  Anxiety rushed in through every pore any time I heard a snap or a crack.  All the beauty and joy of the evening was erased by my racing worries that rushed through my brain and came to rest in the stress pockets I’ve created in my body:  joints, jaw, shoulders, calves and hands.  Finally in bed, I became restless and tossed and turned and woke up with bizarre dreams filled with the worries of my day, my week and my life in general and the drama I’ve experienced, whether real or imaginary.

The third attempt at the fire tonight is peaceful and joyful.  For whatever reason, I’m fine with whatever course the fire takes.  It’s an energy that I can build or lessen by moving, poking, scraping or ignoring the logs.  I’m learning.  It’s a dance, and the fact that I can build a fire and watch it grow and unfurl its mystery is enjoyable in and of itself.

FireTonight’s fire is a nice reminder about dancing with my inner fire, that part of me that is so amazing, radiant, beautiful, warm and powerful.  I’m learning how to fuel and stoke my inner fire.  Sometimes I feed it the wrong fuel, like blame, guilt or anger, and it blazes then coughs and sputters and goes out, leaving me angry, dejected or annoyed.  Other times I feed it with bravado mixed with anxiety and it burns bright and fast, but then feeds on the fears that I harbor in the dark parts of myself.  Then, there’s tonight, when I approach my inner fire with a sense of play and wonderment and I let my mind and body connect and communicate with each other and just be all of the emotions and sensations that are flickering, twisting and dying out among the flames, the embers and the ashes.

It’s Like Riding A Bike. . .

It seems like the change of seasons wreaks havoc on my mind and body every year, and the older I get the more I notice all the subtleties within my mind and body in connection to my environment.  The pulsating call of the cicadas, the chirping of the birds and the squeaking of the crickets are like the orchestra to my thoughts while there’s also this wild surge of energy in certain parts of my body as this natural symphony plays around me.  I have to really force myself to practice yoga and help my mind and body get more grounded and centered.  Lately, I have let that practice slip, or I have been doing easy-peasy yoga poses because I’m just so tired and/or anxious.  I know the answer to the crazy chitter-chatter in my brain and the untamed energy in my body is to do a bit more intense yoga where I hold the poses a little longer and breathe a lot deeper.  For whatever reason, I’ve resisted doing the practice.

Then, like a good girl, I went to yoga class this morning.  My regular teacher was out and there was a substitute, Rick.  He is learning to become a yoga instructor and Sarah trusted him with our class (he practices with us weekly as well).  He did an amazing job, and his class was all about getting grounded and holding poses a little longer, moving slower and breathing deeper.  He also played his acoustic guitar during meditation and relaxation pose which was super cool.

I carried this grounded feeling with me the majority of the day; but there was still this lurking anxiety in my mind and in parts of my body.  I knew if I didn’t do something about it, that anxiety would come and bite me in the ass again later.  So, I tried to move slower and breathe deeper as I completed my mundane chores around the house.  I tried to take a nap.  That was a big mistake as my mind was very active and focused on every nuance in my body and drove me crazy to the point I had to get up and make myself do something worthwhile.  I thought, “I’ll go shopping.  Get my mind off of things.  Go buy myself some new clothes for work.”  The next thing I know, I was taking a drive around town with my windows down.  I drove in and around some historical neighborhoods and admired the old homes.  I used to walk around those areas for hours at a time and enjoy myself.  At that moment, I realized that spending money on clothes would be fun for a few minutes but that I couldn’t sustain any sense of peace or contentment once I hung them up in my closet.

Before I knew it, I was walking in to Wal-Mart on this gorgeous fall day.  I went to the “Sporting Goods” section and started looking at all the bikes.  I haven’t had a bike in probably 10 years.  I used to ride one all the time when I taught junior high in my old college town.  I rode it on the bike trails around campus and even rode it to work, parking it in my classroom.  I’ve had the idea of getting a bike in the back of my head for awhile now, and I thought “Better now than never.”  20 minutes later I was wheeling the snazzy Schwinn purple and cream colored bike out to my car.  A Kiwanis club member doing a fundraiser helped load my bike up and gave me suggestions on great trails in the area.  I thanked him and drove home with my bike packed into my car and one of the doors slightly ajar.

My latest purchase.  Ain't she a beauty?
My latest purchase. Ain’t she a beauty?

I went inside and changed and then unloaded my bike.  I saw my neighbors across the street and they commented on my new purchase.  I was nervous about riding off in front of them because I had nearly crashed in the aisles of Wal-Mart when I took it for a spin.  I talked to them for a bit and walked the bike down my drive.  I joked and told them to come looking for me if I wasn’t back in at least an hour as that was proof I was probably mangled from a certain crash into trees or shrubbery.  They laughed and I waved goodbye, hoping to God I didn’t “biff” right there in front of them.

I started down my street.  The wind was in my hair and I felt happy.  I felt like a little kid.  I stood up and peddled faster and then reached the top of the hill and put my feet out and went coasting down, only having to pump the hand brakes twice out of fear of falling on the hard concrete.  All of my bike skills were returning and I was able to turn and weave between the posts that marked the bike trail in my neighborhood.

On the trail
On the trail

Once on the trail, I rode at a quick but easy pace.  It was so easy riding my bike and I felt so alive!  I went up and over small bridges that crossed the little creek and the tires crunched over fallen, dried leaves.  Then, a bug hit my sunglasses and splattered all over the lens.  I started to laugh and hit into a long strand of a spider’s web.  I closed my mouth at the right time because another bug hit my lips as I was trying to get the web off of my face.

A few minutes later, I turned around and headed back home.  The ride was tougher now.  My calves were straining and I felt muscles in my inner thighs contracting.  My lower abdominal muscles were clenching and I was breathing a little heavier than when I left my driveway.  And, I was sweaty.  I paused at a shaded area of the path and caught my breath.  Although my body was getting a good workout, it felt alive and that once untamed energy was in check.  My mind was clear and my breathing was deep and steady.  Before I started back up again, I noticed something about myself:  I was smiling.

Smiling
Smiling

I guess that old saying is true about many things in life worth doing, “It’s like riding a bike, you never forget. . .”

For those of you following my 100 Day Creative Writing Challenge, this post is Day 74: Satisfied

Domestic Goddess

I wake up early this morning and have a sense of inner calm, which is good seeing how my day has been anything but that.  I shuffle into the living room to grab my tennis shoes so I can take the dog outside.  I switch on a light and look over at my green recliner, the one I use when I drink my coffee, write and read my book.  Smooshed into the cushion and covering almost half of it is a big glob of cat puke.  “Awesome,” I mutter and grab some paper towels as my dog is barking at me and begging me to take him outside.

Once back in, I spray stain remover on the cushion and feed my dog and cat and pour the hot water into my French press for my morning coffee.  I grab a sponge and clean off the chair as best as possible.  Suddenly, I hear a retching sound and watch as my cat throws up again near my feet.  I sigh and turn around to grab more paper towels and have to yell at my dog who is getting too curious with the cat hack.  I clean that up and fix myself breakfast and a cup of coffee and set everything on the end table.  Looking down, I notice there is what looks to be a piece of a granola bar wrapper on the floor from yesterday’s breakfast.  I reach down to pick it up and come up with a smear of cat puke on my fingers.  I clean that up and finally sit down to drink a lukewarm cup of coffee and read my book.

Awhile later, I hear rustling from the laundry room and look around.  My dog is nowhere in sight.  I know he has moved the litter box again and found himself a tasty breakfast morsel that is not on the menu.  I know I’ll have to clean that up, but I choose to do yoga and prepare for my day.  Wearing my tight spandex yoga clothes, I unroll my mat and start doing a “sexy” butt wiggle practice, channeling my inner goddess and laughing at the mundane yet gross start to my day.  I shimmy my hips and dance and breathe and do core bicycle work and sweat and breathe and shimmy my hips some more before I end with relaxation pose and sit in a deep meditation.  I am ready for whatever my day hands me, and somehow I know that it will not be the type of day where I get to go out with friends and dress up and look pretty.  But, I still feel the need to connect to that inner sexy goddess that has been begging to be recognized for awhile now.

My sexy morning continues with the cleanup of said litter box, which includes a thorough suctioning with the vacuum hose of the entire laundry room because my dog isn’t the neatest when he goes on a cat turd raid.  I rationalize that the cleaning shouldn’t stop there and I vacuum and sweep and do dishes and organize the clutter in the usual drop spots.  I reward myself with a hot shower and feel confident that my day is about to begin and something fun and interesting will arise.  I decide that today would be a good day to blow dry and straighten my thick, curly, wild woman hair, but tell myself that I should also throw in a load of laundry while I work on my uncontrollable brown locks.

And somewhere in the mix of all of this I get a wild hair up my ass to make guacamole.images

Midway through my styling session, I hear the washing machine go “thunk,” and then it doesn’t progress to the rinse cycle nor drain any of the soapy water.  I investigate and even stick my hand down in the warm soapy suds and feel around to make sure no clothes are stopping up the flow of water.  I reset the rinse cycle again and the washing machine starts up.  “Awesome,” I say and go back to running the straightening iron through small sections of my hair.  “Thunk,” goes the washing machine and the rinse cycle stops.  I walk back in and repeat the process and start the machine up again.  This happens 3 more times and I finally admit defeat.  I have a broken washing machine and a load of my delicates floating around in warm, soapy water.

I call my dad, frustrated at the fact that I am going to have to spend some money at some point to get this damn thing fixed or replaced.  Dad tells me not to call a repairman on a weekend or I’ll have to spend a lot of money then.  Instead, he tells me to take a bowl and scoop out the water and dump it into the laundry sink next to the washer.  “Awesome,” I  say and start looking for a bowl (after I finish straightening my hair and getting dressed in cute capri pants and a sexy little summer top).

Broken washing machine
Broken washing machine
Scoop 1. . .2. . .3. . .
Scoop 1. . .2. . .3. . .

I look and smell pretty and I am standing in front of my washing machine with a tupperware bowl that fits down into the basin, but cannot be pulled out without angling it and spilling out all the water.  “How is this going to work?” I ask myself.  Then it hits me:  I’ll just ladle the water out of the basin, put it into the bowl and dump the bowl into the sink until it’s empty.  This won’t take long.  I squeeze out each piece of clothing and toss them into the dryer for a half an hour.  Then, I begin scooping out water with the ladle in my left hand, and dumping it into the bowl with my right, and then pouring it into the sink.  A rhythm sets in.  So does my OCD and before I know it I’m counting out 10 ladle scoops of water into the bowl and counting how many times I pour the bowl into the sink.  “Scoop 1. . .2. . .3. . .4. . .5. . .6. . .7. . .8. . .9. . .10.  Pour 1.”  50 times.  And I’m in sort of a trance as the dryer whirrs next to me and the counting, scooping, pouring continues.  I would’ve kept going on ad infinitum but my cell phone rings and it’s my dad asking me if I’ve checked the circuit breakers and can I get behind and see if the hoses are completely connected.  I’m a little miffed that he’s broken my rhythm and I say, “I don’t know.  I’m not gonna check that crap.  It’s broken.  I’m not going to fix it.”

He says, “Yeah, probably not the circuit breakers.  Just keep using a bowl to dump out the water.”  I told him I was using a ladle to dump it into the bowl and he got quiet and said, “Why not use one of your big cups to pour into the bowl.  It will go a lot faster.”  It’s been almost an hour and I’m only at the halfway mark of the basin.  “Awesome,” I say to him and mentally kick myself for not thinking of a faster solution.  I grab a 32 oz plastic cup my mom has collected and kept at my house for years.  Immediately I see results and the basin empties in less than 20 minutes.  The downside is that I am no longer in a zen state and realize that I do miss the elegance of the ladle, the bowl and the counting.  That moment has passed however and by now it’s past lunch time and I’m hungry and want some of that guacamole I made earlier.

I go into my bathroom to freshen up and see that my straightened hair is in disarray, I have a new zit on the side of my mouth and my hands are cracked and irritated from being in soapy water for almost 2 hours now.  I clean up, eat some of that guacamole and feel better.  I debate whether I should eat one of the juicy peaches I bought at the grocery store yesterday.  “Later,” I tell myself and resolve to get my soggy loads of laundry finished before the evening is over.  Unknown-1

I load up the laundry, making sure my underwear and bras are stashed down at the bottom.  As I pull out of the garage, thunder and lightning fill the sky.  I decide to keep going and get a $20 from the bank ATM.  I pull up at Jessica’s Coin Laundromat and watch as a jagged line of lightning pierces the sky.  I dash inside and feel the blow fans inside toss my “straightened” hair over my face and every which way.  “Awesome,” I say and let out a sigh.  I am hoping that they have a big change machine that gives out dollar bills at least and another small one that gives out coins.  No such luck.  I stick the $20 in the coin machine and laugh as the quarters come tumbling out.  I stash them in my billfold and when that fills up, I toss them into a hidden pouch inside my purse and add a few to my pockets.  I look around and see that “The Honeymooners” TV show is blaring on the TV screen above me and Ralph is yelling at Alice because she screwed something up to ruin their momentary domestic bliss.  I laugh with Alice as she gets the best of Ralph:  “Hardy har har, Ralph”.  I walk over to the row of plastic chairs and pray that a torrential downpour doesn’t begin as I’m walking to my car with my clean, dry clothes.

An hour passes and nothing dramatic happens at the laundromat.  photo

My clothes are dry and thank God my sexy lingerie are intact (if you call polka dotted underwear and yoga pants sexy).  The fans in the laundromat mix with the outside breeze of the storm that passed overhead.  I stand in front of one of the big blower fans and fold my delicates as the generated wind tosses my hair over my face and all over the place.  The sun is shining and my purse is heavy with silver coins.  I shimmy my hips a little bit and pretend for a split second I’m Cindy Crawford in one of her famous Pepsi commercials.  I laugh and walk outside with my bundle of clothes and dream of the juicy peach I’m going to eat while I lie naked in my bed and reign over my world like the domestic goddess I am.

From Google Images
From Google Images

Day 55 of 100 Day Creative Writing Challenge:  Calm

When To Punch Your Doctor In the Face

from Google images
from Google images

For the past month, I’ve had some weird tingling and burning sensation on my right side.  Seeing how I have a few health problems like Crohn’s (an autoimmune disease) and circulatory problems, I thought that it was time to get it checked out so I made an appointment with my doctor.

Skip ahead to this past Monday.  I went in expecting to get a chance to tell him all the nuances I’ve noticed in my body that I feel are connected to these weird flare-ups.  I am not in the medical profession (I couldn’t handle seeing someone’s insides or have to deal with all the years of medical school and loans), but I consider myself to be somewhat intuitive with my body.  After practicing yoga for 10 years, I feel like I am at a point in my practice when I am open to listening to my body and pushing it to bend and twist in certain ways while also acknowledging its limitations.  I try to eat healthy (with Crohn’s that’s a must in my book) and I try to stay active (so I don’t suffer clots from my Leiden Factor 5 genetic issue or my heart murmur).  So, when I described that the tingling and burning were on my cheek, my arm and my thigh and that I noticed they’re most prevalent when I’m under stress or sleeping on my right side, he immediately said, “This seems to be stress-related.”  I told him that around those areas I also have a sensation of pinched nerves and that when I press on trigger points those sensations go away.  He immediately disregarded what I said and told me that there is no one nerve that connects all the way up and down the side of the body.  I asked him if it could be cardiovascular and he told me that I’m too young to be in the range of having a stroke.  I asked if it could be circulatory because I notice that in those spots my skin is cold, and he told me it is neurological or maybe, just maybe, he said it’s “psycho-somatic.”  Code for I’m imagining things.

He then threw out the deadly phrase “systemic MS” but “poo-pooed” it because he told me that he would like to see a lot more symptoms pop up before even suggesting I go see a neurologist.  To cover his butt, however, he had me do a series of balance and motor skill tests.  Then, he told me that I passed with flying colors.  “Ok,” I said, “Now what?”

“What do you mean, ‘Now what’?  Stress can do a lot to our bodies.  You said you were under a lot of stress, right?”

“Well, yeah.  I have been worrying about paying a double mortgage and have been trying really hard to get my old house to sell.  I am having some money issues because of that.  I’ve had close ones in my family who are going through serious health issues and I am trying to get ready for teaching new classes this year.  But still.  This feeling is just so weird.  I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I’ve dealt with a lot of stress in my life.  My nephew had a bone marrow transplant 2 years ago.  That was extremely stressful.  Wouldn’t this problem have occurred back then as well?”

He had no reply.  None.  Zip.  So, I mentioned my Crohn’s and said that I know that sometimes patients have a hard time absorbing vitamin B12 which can cause neurological issues.  “Could it be that?” I asked.

He jumped in and said, “Yes, well, that was my next step.  We’ll get an order for you to have a blood draw and we’ll go from there.  Call me if the problem persists,” and he shook my hand and told me the nurse would come back with my paperwork.  When she did, the reason for the blood draw said “Anxiety.”

I left feeling defeated.  I should’ve punched him in the face.

***

Tuesday morning came and I got 3 vials of blood drawn and a big bruise to show for it.  No phone call with the results the following day, so when I had a stronger tingling and burning sensation in those places late in the evening, this time with tingling in my feet and a sensation like I had popped a thousand blood vessels, I called the doctor’s exchange.  The doctor on call got aggressive with me and told me he couldn’t do anything about it over the phone and I better get myself to the ER.

His tone of voice made me want to punch him in the face.

****

One of my best friends was with me and she spent the four hours with me in the ER.  She left my side later that night to go to my house and walk my dog.  While she was gone, I was tired and thirsty so I pushed the call button to see if a nurse could bring me in some ice water.  (It also should be noted that I sat back there for almost 2 hours prior to this with no nurse or orderly coming in to check on me.)  My curtain had a gap in it and my door was open, so I could see a night nurse in front of me.  She picked up the microphone and said, “Can I help you?” but the speaker in my room wasn’t working.  She was maybe 10 feet away from me, so I simply waved at her and said, “May I have a glass of ice water, please?”  She pointed at my speaker and mimed that I should pick it up.  I did and told her in a louder voice, “It’s not working?”  She said from her desk so I could hear her, “Try it again.”  I put the speaker up to my mouth, pressed the button and loudly said, “It’s not working!”  She rolled her eyes, and defeatedly asked, “What do you need?”  I gave her my request and she barked to an orderly, “Can you go see what she needs?”

I wanted to punch her in the face.

****

After meeting with the ER doc for 5 mins and giving him a synopsis of what’s going on, he ordered a CT Scan of my brain and said they should have my blood work results in about an hour.  My nurse finally came in and saw that I wasn’t wearing a hospital gown.  He gave me one and he handed me a pee cup and told me to go to the bathroom and pee.  I did as ordered and came back and put the ugly gown on.

About 2 hours post CT Scan and blood draws that left another bruise on my left arm, the doctor came back in and said, “Well, I have good news.  Your CT Scan showed nothing and your blood work came back excellent.  Everything looks great, but I think your problem is neurological.  I think you have MS.”

I immediately retreated into myself.  “What is going on?” is all I could think.  I pulled back up from a drowning sensation in my mind and I heard him talking to my friend saying that he recommends a great neurologist and that he will do a MRI and can see the MS problem right there.  I asked him, “Is this debilitating?  Are you sure?  Can you diagnose this without further tests?”  It was the best I could muster seeing how I felt like I had been punched in the face with his words.

He bested me and said, “Oh, a MRI will show more than what a CT Scan can.  But your symptoms are MS symptoms.”

I got scared and asked, “Can this be debilitating?  Is it urgent that I get this taken care of right away?”

He then replied, “Oh, some people can go their whole lives with minor symptoms like you have, while others can become very debilitated and wind up in the nursing home.  It’s a very debilitating and unpredictable disease, for sure.”  He then handed me the paperwork and told me the doctor’s name and excused himself and said, “Good luck,” and walked out the door.

I was left with my friend holding me as I cried and imagined that I would be alone, curled in a fetal position, drooling and living in a nursing home before I was 40 years old.

I should’ve punched him in the face.

****

I’ve had a few days to think about what happened in the course of less than one week.  I’ve not ruled out going to see the neurologist, in fact I scheduled an appointment for next month.  I found out that my B12 levels are fine as well, so it’s plausible that my Crohn’s is not a cause of what’s going on.  And that’s the thing, I just wanted to have an opportunity to talk to my doctor and have him listen to me before sending me into a tizzy about what was happening with my body.  After all, I am the one experiencing all of this and notice all the nuances and factors that are bringing these sensations about.  Now, after seeing him and having my traumatic experience in the ER, I sit and worry about whether me forgetting my friend’s friend’s name in a story we were sharing is a symptom of MS.  Or, if me feeling a little woozy and nauseous today is a sign of MS (turns out it is more likely a sign of a scone and coffee not being a substantial breakfast).  Or, when I bump into something while I’m thinking about all I have to do that day is a sign of MS.

I’ve gone through a range of emotions these past few days and talked to my friend who has had a definitive diagnosis of MS.  She told me that during her journey to getting diagnosed she learned that doctors liked to use MS as an umbrella term for any neurological issue they can’t explain right away.  She did reassure me that if in fact I do learn that I truly have MS that I can lead a full, happy and normal life and manage it just like I manage my Crohn’s.  She encouraged me to keep a positive attitude and to call her at any time.

I didn’t want to punch her in the face.  If I could’ve jumped through the phone, I would’ve hugged her.

Where I stand now on this issue is that I want to go deeper in my yoga practice and work on meditation and doing poses that make me feel strong, grounded and stretched out and pain free.  I do notice that when I am calm, the burning sensations go away.  I also know that I want to listen to my body more and explore Ayurveda medicine which looks at your body, mind and spirit as being part of a big system, and work in conjunction with Western medicine, which breaks the whole into smaller parts.  I booked a massage with the best massage therapist I’ve ever been to and explained to her what’s going on with me.  She is working on putting together a session that will address those issues.  So, I’m good.  I will honor my body and do what I feel is best for it.

True, glitches in our physical bodies are out of our control and sometimes we need medical treatment to heal, manage, or eliminate them.  Our mental attitudes on how we approach the treatments and the medical process are not out of our control.  From now on, I’m not going to let doctors bully me, ignore me, or see my body as just car parts.  I sometimes think we forget in this society that we’re paying for their services and they have an obligation to us to heal us, and part of healing is how they listen to us, speak to us, and honor our wishes and our bodies as well.  They don’t control our mental outlook on our bodies, our journeys in this world through our physical beings.  That’s for each and everyone of us to determine in this lifetime.

But, that philosophical platitude being said, If I see any one of those doctors on the street, I might just punch him in the face.

from Google images
from Google images

For those of you following my 100 Day Creative Writing Challenge, this is Day 33: Anger

 

When to Hold On, When to Let Go, and When to Dance In Between

As I sit on my new front porch, the soft summer breeze cools my skin and makes me shiver a little bit.  The rain is gently falling and I am safely sitting out of the elements.  How nice it is to simply be free and let my mind wander and dream about life right now.photo

Lately, I’ve been trying to ground myself in my new reality:  a new home that is way bigger than the one I left; a new literature class to teach in less than a month that has me scrambling for materials and research; a plethora of big and small tasks awaiting my attention, and a tight budget that has to stretch enough to pay off two mortgages, two sets of bills, groceries and weird odds and ends that keep popping up unexpectedly.  I have to hold on to this rocking boat and wait it out and wait for everything to settle into a new normal.

Then, there are old feelings, old worries and old fears that keep creeping back into my brain.  They’re mixed in with new feelings, new worries and new fears as well.  It’s been hard discerning which ones are real, which ones are “obstacle illusions,” which ones need my attention and which ones I need to let go of.  Throw in the fact that I have an overactive imagination and a very analytical mind and I sometimes am on the verge of having a slight anxiety attack at any given moment.

To combat this anxiety, I used to busy myself with “piddley-squat” ridiculous tasks and errands that had me running around like a crazed lunatic and feeling physically and mentally exhausted afterwards that I would take a nap and waste away a few hours and not have to confront my day (or my mind).  I graduated from that bad habit to combining it with a burst of wild, creative energy where the end result was either interesting or a bust, and then I would take a nap and escape my day and my mind.  Now, however, I feel a little more grounded (maybe it’s because I’m a bit older and a little bit wiser) and I find myself following “the flow” of my life a little bit more and letting go of any preconceived notions of what I should be doing at any given moment to escape my thoughts, worries, fears and anxieties.

I’m not a depressed person by any means, but I am hard on myself and I’m a perfectionist.  My mind is like this devoted warrior to his quest:  I want something, and I will work so hard to go get it, despite all of the obstacles.  I think I can control every outcome in my life if I just think about it hard enough, work for it hard enough, or follow a specified set of rules and regulations well enough.  But, life really isn’t like that.  I had a crush on a guy a few months back and we had an amazing date and great chemistry leading up to and on the date.  I opened myself up to all the possibilities that could come through this connection only to not have him on the same page as me.  He dropped me.  He walked away with no explanation and he left me confused and with hurt feelings.  I mentally poured over everything I said or did that could have changed how he was feeling about me in less than one day’s time.  I’ve been holding on to the idea of him and wondering when or if I will ever have a similar experience like that again with him or with any other man.  I started worrying that maybe that was my one and only shot at finding love and I blew it for something I said or didn’t say, or that I wasn’t pretty or smart enough for him.  I was using his rejection as a gauge for how every man is going to view me from here on out.  I wasn’t willing to admit that it is his problem not mine and I can’t control his actions or feelings anymore than I can control anyone else’s on the face of the earth.  And, I did start reverting into my bad habits again:  running around setting up fruitless tasks, pouring myself into a creative frenzy and avoiding any form of acceptance of what is really happening in my life and instead let myself create damning thoughts about my life and my future.  I was doing the same thing with money as well except that I was freaking out that I was broke yet still wasting money on fruitless tasks and expenditures and not reaching out or asking for help when the help was offered.  In yoga terms, these negative playbacks are called “samskaras,” and act like the ruts and grooves in a stuck record that keeps repeating the same line over and over and over again.  It’s only when we are willing to acknowledge and search for the truth about ourselves and look at our lives honestly that we can begin to break these samskaras and let the flow move us to our next destination in our lives.

My trusty yoga mat.  Just unrolling it and seeing the beautiful tree reminds me to get rooted and grounded while remaining open to what is in my life and to what will come my way.
My trusty yoga mat. Just unrolling it and seeing the beautiful tree reminds me to get rooted and grounded while remaining open to what is in my life and to what will come my way.

I feel that awakening happened to me when  I was in Ireland for 8 days this summer.  I felt a sense of freedom in my mind.  A complete letting go of the negative thoughts I told myself about myself and everything I perceived of as a failure in my life.  I opened myself up to every moment and expected to be pleasantly surprised at any given time.  And, by going with the flow and being in the moment, I experienced a widening of the mind and an opening of the heart that made me feel joyful and excited about all the possibilities that are awaiting me whenever I am ready to open myself up to them.  I also chose not to fall into other people’s dramas as they were unfolding on the trip.  I met someone on the trip who was on a quest to find her an Irish boyfriend and ease her loneliness and boredom in her life and was therefore acting absurd and desperate and was attracting men who preyed upon that type of desperation.  I walked away from her and wound up meeting interesting Irish men for myself who enjoyed talking to me about literature, politics, culture, writing, music and life in general.  I met another woman who was being bossed around by her friends while on the trip and told me her whole entire sad story while her friends were off on a small excursion apart from the tour.  She tried to latch on to me and escape her experience instead of standing up to her friends.  I listened, spent a lovely morning with her taking her on a walk and asking her questions about her life, and then spent the rest of the trip smiling at her and making pleasantries but avoided getting involved in her double talk about her friends behind their backs.  Instead, I relished in the small amounts of my alone time on the trip and sat at cafes, in parks at pubs and people watched and soaked in the realization that I was in a country that I have dreamed about for a long time.

In those 8 days, I was open, happy and loving my life because I didn’t overanalyze or try to think of ways that past outcomes could have been different nor did I worry and fret about what was going to happen or not happen in the immediate or near future.  Instead, I fully experienced each moment and  held on to my belief and vision that this trip was going to be a fulfilling, meaningful experience for me.  Then I let go of how I thought the trip should pan out in order to get that end result.  All the other perks (and hiccups) of the trip revealed themselves to me when the time was right and for each experience, I was pleasantly surprised and realized I couldn’t have planned any of that out any better than what happened.

That’s when it hit me:  why am I holding on to old habits and routines in my daily life that obviously do not function for me anymore?  Why am I not living more like I did in Ireland?  True, when we are on vacation we give ourselves permission to be more “free” because we consider it a break away from the societal expectation that life’s successes are supposed to be hard won and that we should be bogged down by the day-to-day grind and drama-laden moments of our daily lives.  But, why does life have to be so hard or so melodramatic every single second of every single day we are not on vacation?  Aren’t we inherently meant to be happy than we are to be miserable?  Can’t I have love in my life without having to feel like I have to suffer from someone’s inattention?  Isn’t it Ok to say “thank you” and accept money from your parents when they know you are financially responsible but are in a tight spot right at the moment?  I’m not saying that anything worth having is going to always come easily into our lives or that we’re not supposed to do anything to get it, but we should work with a sense of freedom in our minds and an openness in our hearts.  We should hold on to our visions that will create more happiness in our lives and let go of the minutiae, the melodrama and the “obstacle illusions” we believe need to be present (and to be controlled by us) in order to get what we want.  That’s the dance.  That’s the flow.  And that’s the higher path I choose and I’m going to let my mind and heart lead me there.

For those of you who know about my 100 day creative writing challenge, this post is Day 18 topic:  “Holding”.