Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Today is the first day of Autumn, a shift from the brilliant colors and deep solar heat of the summer in the northern hemisphere to the cooling weather and warmer tones of fall. Each year the back-to-school feeling from my youth turns into a back-to-the-grindstone feeling of my adult years.

This morning in meditation a stink bug sat on the front of my cushion. I would love to say I was so non-violent as to have no thoughts of exterminating all those stink bugs that have begun to congregate at my windows and sneak into my house. But I did.

At first I thought at least the stink bug was sitting facing forward. Maybe it was meditating with me. But no, soon afterwards it started moving around my cushion and towards my lap. Ugghh. Go away.

With Thich Nhat Hanh's word fresh in my memory, there is only now. Just breath in and out. I am breathing in. I am breathing out. I am...watching that damned stinkbug move all over my legs and then head back to the front of my mat. Good.

Judgement. Good, bad, stinkbug, damned stinkbug. Just words. The truth is that I don't really mind their smell. Sure, it is strong. But it doesn't really bother me. I grew up on a hog farm. I don't really register smells in the same way others seem to do.

So what bothered me? Why did I have an urge to get rid of it, exterminate it?

It seems to be my tendency to want to get rid of things that bother or inconvenience me. This is a hard thing for me to face. I want to be helpful... to a point. Then I get overwhelmed and want to walk away or get rid of the "problem."

Thoughts. I am breathing in. I am breathing out. I am breathing in. I am breathing out.

The thoughts came back. It was time to end. I took the stinkbug by its shell and put it outside.

The work is always here no matter the season.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

While Waiting for the War to Stop

While waiting for the war to stop

Dedicated to the women and children who have struggled and perished in war, and to the peacemakers risking their lives to prevent or help others heal from the wounds of war.

While waiting for the war to stop she:
patched clothes, made gruel
sought refuge from the midday heat
played with the kids hide and seek while on the run
gathered wood, tried to find water
nursed her sister's baby and her own baby
and cried.

On the road
Dried hide in the dirt
Run over, walked over, baking in the sun
Leather that once was a child.

The second part of the poem is based on a story told to me by David Zarembka from Friends Peace Teams. He said that Alison Des Forges an expert on Rwanda (and who died in the Buffalo plane crash last year) said that she was called in to help after the genocide. When she stepped out of her car, she stepped onto a dried carcass that she recognized as the body of a very young child. This story is the genesis for the poem.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I am learning

I am almost 50 years old and still learning to live with family members with mental illness.

A recent turning point was finally getting up my nerve and attending a local National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) meeting. This group provides peer support for family members of those with mental illness. No one would go with me from my family.

In many ways, my family members have found ways that work for them right now. All of my siblings and I have found our way to therapists to help sort through the ashes of our family life. One sibling moved to the west coast. Another family member has created a schedule so full that she has no room for anything but work, caregiving and church. Attending NAMI was my work to do.

Recently one of the untreated, aging family members was in need of additional support for physical problems. With more intense involvement, new issues were brought up and old ones re-ignited. Here I am a therapist. Can't I figure out how to manage or deal with this? The answer is no, not alone.

That first meeting was difficult. The participants asked hard questions, pointed out patterns of behaviour that they had experienced themselves and listened. They challenged some of my rationalizing of certain behaviors. Instead they emphasized the need for a good psychiatrist who worked on medication issues, along with a good therapist and support services for their loved one. They also advocated setting clear boundaries.

At one point this felt like an Al-a-non meeting, the family support version of AA, where family members are encouraged to not let those with mental illness control everyone else's life because of their inability or choice not to follow-through on treatment or make good decisions.

I was surprised by the attendee's knowledge of mental illness. In the process of caring for their loved ones, they had become experts in medication and treatment that worked for that person.

It was strong medicine to sit in their company and humbling to be a therapist. But also, we were all there as a family member struggling like everyone else in that room to love someone who has mental illness. In some cases, the loved one's illness tore the family apart. We all needed each other.

I've been on this journey my whole life. I often want more for my loved ones than they want for themselves. I cannot do their work for them. I cannot prevent them from their life lessions.

I still have a lot to learn and it has to do with my responses. I can love them, but I am learning to be supportive while not losing my self in the process.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Showing Up and Impermanence

Showing up.

This morning I got a late start.

At first I thought I was getting an early start by getting up at 5:15 a.m. with my husband. But after some work around the kitchen, the fatigue from a poor night's sleep and the thought of my two-year old grandson coming for the holiday weekend, I headed back to bed. This would be my nap since I had other things to do later today.

I rise from sleep the second time today at 9:45 a.m. After getting a cup of cocoa, I start my practice of sweeping the patio outside for meditation. This is done on nicer days. The breeze was working against the sweeping. I notice the mortar breaking up between the stones in some spots. "What am I doing?" I ask myself, as I notice that my sweeping was missing leaves. "Sleepwalking?" I answer to myself.

I prepare the meditation spot by placing a candle on a wooden box holding kindling and a bird's nest. I put my mat on the patio facing east. Chimes and a book I read from sit beside the mat.

I bow to the east, the south, the west and then the north before sitting on my mat. I ding the chime once.

The book I'm reading from is called Wabi Sabi: The Art of Everyday Life by Diane Durston. The section I read from is called Impermanence.

Two of the quotes really resonate for me:

To what shall I compare this world? To the white wake behind a ship that has rowed away at dawn? - Priest Mansei

A ruin is not just something that happened long ago to someone else; its history is that of us all, the transcience of power, of ideas, of all human endeavors. - George Schaller

My minds drifts into deep thinking: Yesterday many of my friends and family posted a notice on their Facebook sites to give attention to the need for accessible healthcare in the United States. I am too tired for this fight. I've heard analysts talk about how the reform is about all the stakeholders, except the patient or the consumer. I have lots of thoughts about this around who is in power, who controls the dialogue, what ideas are missing from the public conversation, and how when one is in the midst of an illness insurance often adds to the problem, not help.

A female hummingbird hovers by the feeder to my right. I hear first the rapid quiet buzzing of her wings. Then I see her shadow by my mat. Her wings flutter so fast that the shadow looks larger than she really is. I look for her in the light. Oh, there she is. She is not much more than three feet from my shoulder.

I worry that she might come closer. Why, I think, am I worried about whether a hummingbird would hurt me? What am I so afraid of?

But she moves away to drink from the nectar nearby.

How old is she? Will she be back next year? In a few weeks, the hummingbirds will be gone for the winter.

I shift my eyes downward in front of me, trying to relax my gaze. I remember the sweeping of the stone on the patio and relish the thought that I am now trying to sweep thoughts and attachments out of my mind. Even though the dirt and leaves blow back in my mind, the act of sweeping polishes the stone.

This feels like a sacred act of participating and witnessing wabi sabi - recognizing the impermance of the world, but living in it respectfully anyway, seeing it for the deep imperfect beauty that is always there. I did not make the stone so beautiful. The stone was organic material heated and crushed over eons. Humans cut it; use it to build a patio; people walk on it; I and others sweep it.

My act over a lifetime won't make an impact. But I think of the sacred sites around the world with stone worn by pilgrims, wearing the stone down, creating a path for others to follow. This is very slow and invisible work shared by many.

With this deep thought, I look at my wooden box and realize that I forgot to light the candle. Do I get up and light the candle or let it go. Would this count as a proper meditation if I didn't light the candle? I catch myself going down the path of beating myself up over this and attempt to let it go. The sun will have to do as the meditation candle for today.

Soon enough, the chimes ring three times. It is time to pack up and start the day, again.

I laugh. I do not know what to make of these pieces of impermanence, human endeavors, a hummingbird, forgetfulness and showing up.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Self Care and Breathing

Wow. I keep having to learn the same lesson over and over again: I can't help anyone if I don't take care of myself.

It is counter-intuitive for mothers to put the oxygen mask on themselves first and then their charge if an airplane drops the masks. Or, continuing with this metaphor of breathing, ... as a person who works with elders, I learned that many pulmonary doctors ordered anti-anxiety medication for people with breathing disorders. Apparently, it is human nature to feel a little panicky when it is hard to breath.

This brings me back to self-care. I've been missing my morning meditation. Sure I get to sweep the patio and sit outside under the blue sky on the cool mornings - when I can. But the problem is that I don't get there as often as I'd like.

My meditation practice suffers when I miss too many mornings. Consider mindfulness meditation my medication for anxiety and worry.

Thankfully, I am home for a few weeks and the fall weather is kicking in. While I am a summer gal, there is such beauty sitting outside in the cool mornings with sunlight shining through the trees.

I am beginning to feel like I can breath again. Maybe I will remember how good this feels as I face changes. Maybe I will figure out how to stay in touch with this practice. I will love myself and others enough to keep attending to this practice.