On Cutting Back and Simplifying

Last Wednesday I started a cleanse.  Most people set a New Year’s resolution to change their diet, but my birthday is in January and so I never do that.  February is a good month for me, and this year I waited until after Valentine’s Day!

Some people ask me, “Why do you do this when you cut so many foods out anyway?”

And my answer is, “I want my body to function as optimally as possible.”

Because I have a chronic illness, this takes a lot of work.  Throughout the year, I reintroduce new foods to see if my body can handle it.  Then some coconut milk ice cream, tortilla chips and popcorn slip in.  To many people these little changes are no big deal.  And yet for me, it’s helpful when these foods are purged for a complete month out of the year, for my body to reset.

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It’s helpful to eat very simply again: meats, vegetables, soups, healthy fats and minimal fruit.  No baking. Eating out less often.  Declining some people’s invitations.

I used to think these decisions felt like “missing out.”  Now my body’s wisdom just tells me that simplifying is what it really wants.  And the benefits of the cleanse can be felt within a few days: less brain fog, deeper, more restful sleep, greater concentration, and more energy.  And if I’m honest, these are the gifts I truly long for.

It’s scary to cut back at first.  I know that the first step is facing into how tired I actually am, even with all the improvements in my health.  There’s still fatigue there, and some days it’s still a lonely reality.  Yet healing does start with observing, noticing, and lingering with reality, in whatever form it chooses to be.

So for the next four weeks, I’m intentionally making room.  Making room to focus on myself, to be present in my fatigue, to celebrate healing and to say no.  I’m choosing to be more still, to move more slowly, to sink into yoga more deeply.

I thought that when I started this healing journey, that healing meant back to doing more.  It’s actually come to mean, making space for doing less.  Simplifying actually brings greater layers of wholeness into my life.

What’s Saving My Life-Winter Edition

Quite simply, this winter, learning to practice yoga and meditation as a regular practice are saving my life.

I’m learning to be still, to breathe deeply, to be present to this moment, which is a gift I so often look past.

At this place in my healing journey, I expected my life to become faster-more health, more vitality, more relationships, more things on my calendar.  And yes, I can do so much more than two years ago.

And yet the transforming parts of this season are in the stillness, often on my yoga mat.  My life is getting slower yet.

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My prayers are quieter.  There’s just not as much to say.  I’m less reactionary in my conversations with God-not because I’m lessening my honesty or the intensity of emotions.  But instead, because if I’m actually present to a moment of solitude, not much is happening.  Through meditation, my brain is changing (and if you’re a doubter, read this), and I’m practicing paying attention to my body and my breath.  I’m re-teaching myself, that my true self is not necessarily the thoughts I think.

What may be more true about myself is how I breathe and the messages my body is telling me.

It’s not been an easy process (what process is?!).  When I started, I could not touch my toes, and my mind would wander constantly.  After six weeks though, I’m seeing small changes.  I come to a place of stillness more easily.  I’m gaining more flexibility and my posture is improving.  But I’m not practicing yoga for the quick changes.

The most powerful, subtle change has happened in my mind.  Yoga and meditation has helped reduce anxiety.  It has allowed me to take a more receptive approach to life.

I’m learning to see more kindness, rather than threat.

More safety, rather than violence.

More love, rather than hate.

More acceptance, rather than self-destruction.

More friendship, rather than exclusion.

More inclusiveness, rather than competition.

 

I want to be someone who views myself and the world from a place of compassion.

A person who can be still enough to see reality for what it actually is.

A person who is gentle and empathetic, and yet isn’t afraid to speak honestly.

My life is being saved in the daily moments, and I’m grateful.

What is saving your life this winter? 

The Art of Receiving

As I wrote about on Monday, today is my Diagnosis Day.  I’m not really sentimental about this actual day, and yet this year, I wanted to set it aside, and celebrate.  This year, today deserves some attention.

Two years ago, I was so desperate to know what was wrong, and how I could help myself.  These longings were the beginning of self-compassion.  I knew that I would need to receive my illness, to work with my body, and learn how to live well, while being sick.

I knew my lifestyle was about to change, although I didn’t exactly know how.  It meant continuing to slow down, to see the miracle of my body’s healing capacity–when I had lost faith in my body altogether.  It seemed like my enemy and daily it worked against my wellbeing.  Little did I know, the pain, the fatigue, the inflammation, the brain fog, were all warning signs that my body was out of balance.  My body was fighting so hard to keep me alive.

And in this fight to stay alive, I’m learning to receive, rather than strive.  To give out of abundance, rather than emptiness.  To embrace my limitations, rather than run from them.  To be hopeful, that even greater things are down the road.

And so I pass along these lessons.  May you receive them, as I have learned to receive them, even if its with reluctance and cynicism (which was often the case with me!)

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I’ve learned to receive the nutrients my body needs.  I spend much more time cooking and savoring good food.

I’ve learned to receive the invitation to rest.  I don’t nap much anymore (I don’t need to!), but I do structure my time in a way that allows for self-care, whether in reading, watching a movie, talking a walk, going to yoga, spending time with a friend, playing with the dog.  I’m learning that rushing through life does violence to myself and others.

I’ve learned that my mind only registers thoughts from my heart and my body.  I’ve learned to receive the messages my body sends me, and place those messages as a higher priority than my thoughts.  I’m learning to strengthen the mind-body connection through centering prayer, meditation, and yoga.

I’ve learned that I don’t really miss out on much if I go to bed early.  While this lesson continues to be a difficult one, adequate sleep continues to be a key element in my healing process.  While I live counter-culturally in many ways, I’m learning that when I can be present in a social setting, I have much more to give in attention and presence, if I first take care of myself.

I’ve learned to receive the art of balance, both at work and home.  I know that working 40 hours per week will be too much for me.  And so I work 26-28 hours per week, in a job that I continue to grow to love.  I teach students how to thrive despite their own limitations.  On weekends, I need plenty of downtime to rest, enjoy time to be creative, and prepare for the week ahead.

I’ve learned to receive help and kindness.  It’s difficult to believe in abundance, in the worst seasons of an isolating chronic illness.  And yet, there were people right around me who helped with meals, moves, cleaning, doctor appointments, living situations.  Some people just listened.  Some have taken the risk of learning from me, especially at my worst moments, which gave me a sense of dignity, enough to keep fighting to heal.  Some have offered hospitality, and just said, “I’m here” and let me take them up on their offer when I was ready.

I’ve learned to receive my intuition and listen to it carefully.  I’m grateful for the healthcare team I have in place, and yet I typically know what’s best.  I’m learning not to doubt myself.

I’ve learned to receive my own strength.  My drive to live, to heal, and to thrive continues to grow. It’s one of my more beautiful traits.  And on those hard days, it’s perfectly okay for my mantra to be, “You’re a bad ass!”

I’ve learned to receive my illness as a gift.  I don’t say this lightly because I think suffering is horrific, both my own and others.  Yet, through illness my life has been completely deconstructed.  This has been a scary and unnerving experience, and yet I have gotten to start over.  I get the chance to receive who I truly am, rather what I was trying to make myself into.  Striving led to complete exhaustion, while rest and centeredness leads to contentment and peace.  I’m on a much better trajectory.

 

May you and I receive the love hidden in our own stories and right before our eyes.

 

“You Have Hashimoto’s”

On Friday of this week, is my Diagnosis Day.  Two years ago, I was told, “You have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.”

I was both relieved, and at the same time intuitively knew, this was only the beginning.  I had a long journey ahead of me.  And yet the diagnosis was step 1.  And after 10 years of searching, I finally knew what was wrong.  There was nothing particularly special about that day.  After a 2 hour diagnosis appointment, I went home and laid in bed the rest of the day.  I’m sure it was a combination of research, of Netflix, of napping.

It was both an ordinary day, and in a very real way, my life had changed.  I knew how to help myself.  In the middle of winter, I received amazing clarity.  I wasn’t lying for 10 years; I was right.  I was in pain, I was fatigued, and I was unfortunately moved around the healthcare system, without answers.  But the clarity that came to me that day was a glimmer of hope that I could trust my intuition, and that a few people must know how to listen.

At first this listening came in the form of doctors, and yet as I learned how to talk about my condition, compassion from others followed.  And then there’s “knowing” from an author I will never meet.  This blessing, written by John O’Donohue, felt like it was written for me.  I came across this last summer, and the thought of “harvesting this slow light” put words to the journey I wanted to embark on.  And now, I’m trying to listen to the wisdom in these simple, yet powerful words.

 

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For a Friend on the Arrival of Illness

Now is the time of dark invitation

Beyond a frontier you did not expect;

Abruptly, your old life seems distant.

 

You barely noticed how each day opened

A path through fields never questioned,

Yet expected, deep down, to hold treasure.

Now your time on earth becomes full of threat;

Before your eyes your future shrinks.

 

You lived absorbed in the day-to-day,

So continuous with everything around you,

That you could forget you were separate;

 

Now this dark companion has come between you.

Distances have opened in your eyes.

You feel that against your will

A stranger has married your heart.

 

Nothing before has made you

Feel so isolated and lost.

 

When the reverberations of shock subside in you,

May grace come to restore you to balance.

May it shape a new space in your heart

To embrace this illness as a teacher

Who has come to open your life to new worlds.

 

May you find in yourself

A courageous hospitality

Toward what is difficult,

Painful, and unknown.

 

May you learn to use this illness

As a lantern to illuminate

The new qualities that will emerge in you.

 

May the fragile harvesting of this slow light

Help to release whatever has become false in you.

May you trust this light to clear a path

Through all the fog of old unease and anxiety

Until you feel arising within you a tranquility

Profound enough to call the storm to stillness.

 

May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:

Ask it why it came.  Why it chose your friendship.

Where it wants to take you.  What it wants you to know.

What quality of space it wants to create in you.

What you need to learn to become more fully

yourself

That your presence may shine in the world.

 

May you keep faith with your body,

Learning to see it as a holy sanctuary

Which can bring this night-wound gradually

Toward the healing and freedom of dawn.

 

May you be granted the courage and vision

To work through passivity and self-pity,

To see the beauty you can harvest

From the riches of this dark invitation.

 

May you learn to receive it graciously,

And promise to learn swiftly

That it may leave you newborn,

Willing to dedicate your time to birth.

 

On Friday, I will write about what it has meant to receive an illness,  to train my eye to see the slow light that is emerging daily.

Health Update-Winter 2017

Last week, I met with my doctor.  These check-ups are met with a variety of emotions: anything from a bit of nervousness, to feeling calm and relieved.  While we generally only discuss the past several months since the last appointment, I still bring my whole medical journey with me.  It doesn’t get left at the door.

I’ve now been seeing doctors regularly for about half my life.  And for most of that time doctors did not know what was going on with me.  I was told that I was fine or that my symptoms were in my head.  I’m glad it’s different now.  I’m completely believed and my medications and supplements are prescribed mainly for how I feel, before how I feel is proven by a lab test.

And I’m glad to report that I’m doing really well.  Minor changes were made to my treatment plan, but the overall message was “Keep doing what you’re doing.”  My doctor told me that I’m doing better now than he expected.  While there still are minor setbacks, there still is a sizable forward momentum.  I’m starting to feel what it’s like to be healthy again.  And it’s a good feeling.

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While you as the reader can’t see the few tears while I write this, writing this post is emotional.  I didn’t think I would experience the day when I felt as good as I do now.  I didn’t think it was impossible.  After 10 years of no answers and my health continuing to get worse, hoping for relief felt exhausting at best and stupid at worst.  And despite my doubt and resignation at times, I have quite a team walking this with me.

I have supportive doctors and nurses.  I have health food stores, farmer’s markets, and an online community that helped me figure out how to make things that actually taste good.  I have friends who are sick and friends who are healthy.  I have nature, walking trails, a yoga studio close by.  I have books that I’ll just plow through on my more tired-and-stay-inside kind of days.  I have people to help me process my spiritual journey, and how my illness has transformed and continues to transform my relationship with God.  In fact, my illness has been the reason why I ever met a gentle, weeping God in the first place. I have a job that I enjoy.  I have a lifestyle that continues to help sustain my healing.

As I keep healing, there’s a question that keeps circulating in my mind, “What now?”  There’s no clear answer or plan to this question.  Yet for a few years, all my energy went into healing, and I had to turn inward, just to survive.  Now all the lessons and gifts I’ve received by learning to take care of myself every day, can move outward.  I look forward to exploring this question more this year.  But for now, here’s a poem by David Whyte that resonates with me and my journey.

Journey 

Above the mountains

the geese turn into

the light again

painting their

black silhouettes 

on an open sky. 

Sometimes everything

has to be

enscribed across

the heavens

so you can find 

the one line

already written 

inside you.

Sometimes it takes

a great sky

to find that 

small, bright

and indescribable

wedge of freedom

in your own heart.

Sometimes with 

the bones of the black

sticks left when the fire

has gone out

someone has written

something new

in the ashes 

of your life.

You are not leaving

you are arriving.

Practices Towards Non-violence

Today I am going to a spiritual direction appointment.  This is a time for me to reflect on the past month, a time for centering.  I’ve come to love this precious time and am glad that spiritual direction has become a rhythm in my life the last 1 1/2 years.  This practice helps me to be aware of my own life, to notice spiritual themes, and pay attention to invitations I may be receiving.  Through spiritual direction, I know myself better.

I have kept going to yoga four times per week.  My body is getting stronger.  I’m getting more flexible, day by day.  I’m learning to be more mindful.  And listening to my breath. My mind is more clear.  I am more aware of where I can push myself, and where I must limit myself.

Over the past year, I’ve tried to take seriously what it means to rest.  My body is learning to adjust to how much I need to rest on the weekend, after adding in more work hours during the week.  Weekends are a time for sleeping in, for cooking, for yoga, for writing, for time with friends.  Weekends are a time for play and rejuvenation and not for work.

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For me, these must be the foundation for non-violence.  If I live a greater percentage of my life from a centered place, I am observant, yet not reactive.  I may have the courage to name an injustice I see, yet I may see more clearly how I should respond, from a place of knowing myself.  From this calm, self-aware place, I am more willing to embrace another, than build up artificial barriers.

If I choose busyness and running myself ragged, I am choosing to be violent towards myself, and that, no doubt, will be violent towards others as well, whether it surfaces in the form of ignoring, of poor listening, of constant talking, of fighting or simply not expressing that another has value.  If I choose busyness and constant distraction, I am not choosing time for hospitality, for paying attention to nature, for tending to my own health.  I am not choosing what is best. I am not choosing to listen to my life of the lives of others.

Yet, these personal practices, should not just be limited to myself.  These practices actually lead to an outward focus, with increasing desires for justice and peace in this world.  These practices allow me to see suffering (rather than ignore it), and lament.  These allow me to listen, without my own agenda getting in the way.

Martin Luther King Jr’s first two principles of non-violence were:

  1. Non-violence is a way of life for courageous people.
  2. Non-violence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

These words were timely then, and most needed now.

May you walk through your day with ease, even while being observant to injustice that lurks in power-hungry institutions and lonely corners.

What are some non-violent practices in your own life?  

How do these help you know yourself more deeply?   

What I’m Learning in Yoga

The past few Decembers, I’ve taken a silent retreat at Sustainable Faith Indy, as part of my celebration of Advent. I also write down my longings for the year. The first one I wrote down for 2017 was:

Establish a regular yoga practice at Breathing Space

 

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Over Christmas break, I was going to this yoga studio daily, and it’s still my goal to make it at least four times per week, now that work has started back.

This longing is no longing to meet an exercise quota, but because I feel so much better.  I have enough energy to work towards a new goal and try something new.

I get to embrace a form of exercise I never would have if I hadn’t gotten sick.  I choose to move towards yoga with a smile, even though flexibility has never been my strong suit.

My life is slowly being altered as I make these small decisions.

To enter into a sacred space, where I’m encouraged to honor my body and its limitations.  I’m deciding to enter into a yoga studio, rather than buy a gym membership.

To listen to my breath, to notice how relaxed or stressed I am.  I’m deciding to observe my body’s reactions, rather than judge them.

To hold a pose when I feel the right amount of tension, neither under-extending or overextending. I’m deciding to listen to my body’s signals, not to ignore pain or think I can master it.

To stay in the present moment.  I’m noticing when my mind drifts and remind it to come back into focus.

To honor my body’s innate knowledge.  To listen to my body’s wisdom, rather than believing that wisdom just comes from my head.

To rest in Shavasana.  To remember that the culmination of work is rest, not more work.

Here’s to more flexibility and healing in 2017!

What new habits are you taking up in 2017?