Friday, May 14, 2010

Just ask the Universe

Maybe this story will help someone. I don’t know.

It began with the usual things. I’ve been known to have aches and pains. It’s just one of those things. If the pain got too bad, I’d take aspirin or the like.

I practice meditation. I try to avoid dairy because of allergies. I try to stay active. But things got hectic and I stopped going to the gym.

Recently, I went to an acupuncturist for a spring treatment. It’s kind of like spring house cleaning. After the first session, I felt like I’d been in a wreck. Wow, I thought, that was powerful stuff. For my next session, she dialed back the treatment. Yet, the aches and pains were getting worse.

Somewhere along the line, I thought that with everything going on in my life, maybe I was depressed or anxious or just needed to chill. I kept trying to figure out if there were psychological reasons for my pain. I felt that maybe I just wasn’t doing the right things. Maybe I needed medication.

I’d seen plenty of women go to their doctor’s for pain and were told that they had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and were prescribed anti-depressants. I dreaded that.

I began to kid with my family that I thought I was having mini-strokes. In the evening, I seemed more fatigued, had painful headaches, and was garbling my words. I was having difficulty swallowing. It was like there was a lump in the base of my throat. My vision didn’t seem right either.

Maybe I’m just getting old. Or, maybe these are menopausal symptoms. I noticed that I was taking more and more steaming hot baths after midnight because of pain.

I called my acupuncturist. She said the treatments wouldn’t cause this stuff. She’d already talked to me about the possibility of thyroid issues. But I’ve been checked many times, and it never shows up as a problem. But, wasn’t my body changing? Maybe I really needed to check this again.

This week, I bought a thermometer to check my base-line morning body temperature for low thyroid. I’ve always run a degree or lower than the “average.” The morning I checked my temp, it was almost 100 degrees. That’s not right, I thought to myself. I must be working on something.

That was enough to get me to make a doctor’s appointment. I was seen that day.

I live in an area that considers Lyme disease an epidemic. We’ve had an early spring. Apparently, Lyme disease is showing up a lot in this practice. Except for the bulls-eye rash, the symptoms seemed to match up. Lots of blood was drawn to rule out other things. But I was sent home with an antibiotic prescription. I was told: if this is Lyme’s disease, the antibiotic will make you feel worse before you feel better.

Having gone through this treatment back in 2003, I also remember how the antibiotic made me nauseous.

After I left the office, I drug myself around various stops to finish up some errands. Passing over the Shenandoah River, I decided to pull off and park. My mind was swirling with so much.

It might sound crazy, but I sure hoped it was Lyme disease since I was afraid of the neurological symptoms. If not this, then what?

What purpose does this illness serve? That seemed like an absurd question.

I am so tired of this, whatever this is – mostly tired. Tired of the headaches, the pain, the self-doubt and inward blaming, the house that is falling apart, my partner’s slow recovery from his accident – something that is taking much longer that either one of us expected.

When will it end? Meaning, when will the illnesses, accidents, heartaches, and all the other injustices end?

Every time I came close to despair, a large fish jumped out of the river. What’s that about? Like a fish out of water? Seeking a bug for nourishment? Jumping for joy? Fish suicide? Taunting the human or the predator?

I would also see a heron about the same time. The heron has a connection to the ancestors among the Northwest Indian tribes. Talk to me. Tell me what to do or stop doing? I did get a honk once from a heron up stream, but I couldn’t assign any meaning to it.

I wanted to cry, but seemed frozen. It dawned on me after a cool breeze caressed my face that the Divine is everywhere. Nature is here to support the cycle of life. Crying would be witnessed in the same way that everything else is around here. Just get it out.

None of my tears made it into the river. But the sobs relaxed my body. I didn’t need to cry gobs, just release some sadness and fear.

Lots of birds had been singing. Something caught my ear.

I couldn’t tell if I had just heard a dog or a barred owl. I waited. Then with a much stronger, maybe closer hoot, I heard two cycles of the chant, “Who cooks for you.”

Thank you. Thank you.

The barred owl has been an important companion on my spiritual journey for the past several years. One nested in a sycamore tree for a few years near my home. It let me photograph it. My grandparents had a general store named “Sycamore Super Service.” How was this tied into my desire to be of service, my connection with my ancestors,and my soul’s purpose?

All that I really want is an affirmation that in the great Mystery of life, that I am connected to something larger. Standing by the river in the woods, I had gotten an answer. My suffering is not in vain. I didn’t have to know why. I didn’t have to know how.

I drove home and started the medicine.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tumble Bear Practice

How does one sit with strong thoughts and feelings?

Recently, my beloved was doing yard work on the property and hurt himself. After a trip to the emergency room (ER) to make sure there were no broken bones, he learned that he wasn't out of the woods yet. He had to make sure to keep swelling to a minimum to prevent more serious problems.

Once home, my attempts to hover and provide care were resisted. On the one hand, he was grateful for the immediate response to the emergency. On the other hand, as he figured out how to care for his own needs, he didn't really need me. In fact, we annoyed each other after the first 24 hours of bed rest, ice, etc.

If you are interested in cosmic twists, we missed seeing the play JB that night. Our oldest daughter was directing this modern play based on the Book of Job. As I drove to the ER knowing we'd miss the play, Job's plight put our problems in perspective.

Afterwards, I wanted to sit on my cushion each morning. I wanted to take Enkyo O'Hara's advice and just show up on the cushion and breathe. But it was hit or miss as I my routine was out of whack.

Instead, I started with a prayer of gratitude because I had been scared. He had flipped a quad/4-wheeler which pinned his leg. When I heard his cries for help, I was worried that it was a chain saw accident and fretted about how to deal with that as I called out to him that I was coming. It took two tries to get the quad off of him enough that he could pull his leg out. Leg intact, no major bleeding. I got the truck and drove it down the hill beside him. I was feeling better about this. The adrenaline was working.

So here I am several days later dealing with the emotional fall-out.

The trouble is that when I've had a series of events that keep triggering my anxiety or depression or funkiness, then the catastrophe keeps growing. Somehow sitting on the cushion starts out as a well-intentioned idea that if I just show up, these things will get better or go away.

It hasn't worked that way for me.

Showing up means being present to the thoughts and emotions I keep trying to push away or wish I didn't have.

When I take out the content of the current drama, my thoughts go something like this:

Why did this have to happen? Why did this happen to someone I love? Why does my heart hurt so much? What can I do to stop these things? I am sick and tired of dealing with traumas and hurts. I just want off the merry-go-round nature of these things. Please make this stop. Where is the joy?

The thing is, there is no great answer to any of these questions - even philosophic or self-help responses do not take away the pain.

There is often a distinction made in Buddhist circles between pain and suffering. Pain is that which we cannot help and is a part of our existence as feeling beings. We all feel physical and emotional pain from very real hurts. But beyond that, there is suffering. This suffering is what we do to ourselves - an equivalent to pressing the bruise to remind us of our former wound.

Pain is useful. It tells us that we need to pay attention and attend to something. Suffering is more like a web we find ourselves in, causing us to get more and more caught up in ourselves. It's not considered useful. It is a product of unskillful thinking or ignorance.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference. This is where discernment comes in. I've read about it in books. But I have to say, I'm still working on that one. The Quakers have taught me a lot about discernment, but it is more along the lines of doing or not doing something. Buddhists seem more interested in the mind or nature of things.

The sky has been a beautiful clear blue for the past two days. My beloved is cranky and sore, but okay. I am cranky and sore, but okay. The heart-felt pain of witnessing someone in pain is a wretched feeling. It is also one of the most intimate things I have ever witnessed.

A family friend is an EMT. He talks about the time he responded to an accident and found himself talking to someone pinned in a vehicle. He knew that when the pressure of the vehicle was removed, this person would quickly bleed to death. He didn't tell the person that, but instead talked to them in a comforting way while waiting for help.

I'm not sure who was helping whom. Something very profound took place in that event that has affected my friend to this very day. Is he evoking personal suffering by telling the story or is he healing from a pain or loss? Perhaps something else may be going on.

This has the feeling of a koan. With what starts out as an illogical question, provides a prism to see some part of the truth.

Somehow, these traumas and wounds seem part of the deal and create the very grist for appreciating life and seeing beauty. Perhaps that is just another way of saying I am relieved to have my beloved sitting beside me as I read and he watches TV - even if we are bored and cranky. I am also not sure what to do with my fear of losing him.

My grandson fell down the steps and did a complete somersault the next night. It scared me to death as I watched helplessly from behind. His dad scooped him up. He cried a little, nursed, and then got up a little teary. The next day, he told his mom that it was fun. This little guy has been taking a gymnastics class called Tumble Bears. As I watched him go down the steps, I could see him roll with the fall. I wish I could do that.

My meditation group often talks about the possibility that we have only two basic emotions: Love and Fear. With their kind words and a Tumble Bear practice, I hope to carry my breathing with ease throughout my day as I hold both love and fear in my heart.