Reserving and Expanding

It’s a season of reserving: my energy, my resources, my health.  My own body thinks it feels counter-intuitive to rest more in the summer.  People are swimming, going to sporting events and concerts. The sun is out and typically people feel more free.

Again, I’m learning to sink my patterns to my own body, rather than mainstream culture.  And I’m wondering about new ways that I might be able to be more active in the winter, when others decide to stay inside.

One of the early lessons to learn in chronic illness is to reserve your energy, to use it on the things or people most important to you before you run out of energy for the day.  It’s a hard reality to keep coming back to-especially in my 20’s.

But after years of learning to reserve my energy-it’s all bottled up.  And yes, I have given to others in these past several years, and yet there’s more.  There’s more I want to say, do, experience.  I feel that my youth does not match the severity of my illness.

And that lends itself to these awkward growing pains.   The tension of letting myself dream and asking myself questions like, “What do you want?” and also being willing to let go. And let go again. And let go again. And still having the courage to wake up in the morning wanting to have fun, not just manage an illness.

Yet, it’s also a season of expanding. Of a new job. Soon to be a new home. Of investing time in new friendships. Learning more about mold toxicity and what I need to be aware of. Letting others help me.  Empowering others so that they can begin to understand what I’m going through.

What I continue to be amazed about, even in these days of fatigue and nausea from detox reactions is that my body tells me all I need to know.  Of course I need help from doctors and friends-but my body tells me all I need to know.

The key is to listen–and have the courage to listen to those quiet whispers day after day after day. Your body tells you that you’re reaching your limit or that it’s time to take a risk.  It tells you if you need to reserve or expand.

The truth is: My body doesn’t lie. And on the hard days of chronic illness it would feel better to be ignorant of this fact.  But the more I learn to lean into the tension, I more I learn to appreciate all my body has to say.

Those years of severe inflammation was the communication of an autoimmune disorder.  My body was trying to alert me to the fact that my body was beginning to attack itself. My brain fog alerts me of chemicals and mold. My fatigue was a result of severely depleted thyroid and adrenal glands.  All this was hard information to swallow-yet my body doesn’t lie.

Yet, so much gratitude exists in a clear mind, a strong body, sleeping eight hours per night and waking up rested.  My body is communicating, “You are on your way toward health. Be thankful for each moment. Pay attention. Beautiful things are happening right now.”

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In order to listen we must be still.  In order to be still, we must accept ourselves.  As we accept ourselves, we have the capacity to build this self-awareness.  And out of this self-awareness and love comes compassion.

Be compassionate towards your body-in all it’s resilience and limitation. As we accept all that our body has to say, we will be able to listen to others.  We will be able to accept them as they are- in all their resilience and limitation.

We will learn to reserve and expand together, honoring each others needs and celebrating the milestones.  This kind of relating is hard work and yet I think it’s possible.

But first we must be still.  We cannot relate authentically if we do not first do the hard work of listening to and accepting ourselves. I’m learning to do this better and better every day.  Some days get pretty ugly, yet the outcome is worth it.

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Choosing Small Wins

I’ve started this practice this summer to write down 10 small wins from the previous day when I wake up in the morning.

An author who writes about healing Hashimoto’s encourages this practice in his book.  I’ve found this habit to be met with much resistance, simply because it’s hard.

Summer is the hardest season on my body and mind–so many days I wake up with big losses on my mind, rather than small wins.

However, on the days, I practice this, I do notice a shift in my perception.  Sometimes doing this exercise brings tears to my eyes, which is probably why I try to avoid it.  Sometimes I write phrases like, “I got out of bed today” or “I didn’t get tired driving to work” or “I listened to my body and cancelled hanging out with a friend.”

Sometimes the exercise feels too painful and I skip it altogether.  You see, it’s hard to admit, but sometimes gratefulness brings up this ache that I am indeed sick, and although I can heal, chronic illness is something I manage every day. When I write things like, “I didn’t have a reaction when I stepped into an old building today” I know that my healing is far off-far off from what I want it to be.

The liberating piece, though, is that I claim reality for what it is.  In doing so, I open the door to be compassionate to myself, and in writing my truth, I can be compassionate to others.

The more I am in touch with my body in my illness and in touch with contemplative practice, I live into the obvious-that I am dying.  In Western culture, this seems morbid, something we don’t talk about and avoid.  And yet, I feel this strongly living with Hashimoto’s.  This spring I realized that I desperately needed a spiritual practice that could affirm suffering and also help me detach myself from it, so that my suffering could be the very place where transformation occurs.  Enter centering prayer.

So my mornings look like writing down things I’m grateful for, recording 10 small wins, and sitting for 20 minutes in silence, practicing the art of letting go.  This practice is shaping me.  Although it’s human and messy and ungraceful, it’s a rhythm I’m trying to cultivate.  I’m engaging in the practice and art of learning how to die before I can die.  For in dying to myself, I will learn how to truly live. I will see myself for who I truly am, see the Divine for who he/she truly is. I will see people as human with similar needs, wants and desires as mine, longing for connection and intimacy.

Last week a small win included quitting my job at Fortune Academy, a job I really did like.  A place I hoped that I could step back into the classroom. But I needed to let it go, along with the dreams and hopes I attached on to working there.

The thing about letting go is that is always leads somewhere else–it doesn’t lead to nowhere.

So I’m practicing small wins, sitting in silence, going to yoga, finishing well with my tutoring students this summer, and letting go of dreams, big and small. I am more than my pressing thoughts, emotions, jobs, failures, victories, and the extent of my healing.

I am connected to this expansive, good, and abundant universe and to people who just want to see me thrive. Seeing small wins and learning to let go are daily invitations to a larger and more vibrant perception of myself and the world.  I want to live there.

Learning to Sit in Silence

Ever since I got back from Omaha, I have tried to maintain  two 20 minute silent prayer sits per day. Forming a habit is a messy process, so sometimes I forget, other days I only do it once, and I’ve played with the best times of day.  I’ve also attended a weekend meditation workshop at my yoga studio, and picked up some pointers there.  One helpful hint was to meditate before dinner, but that doesn’t really work for me because I’m so hungry by the time I get home!

 

But even though this habit is imperfect and in-process, it’s still forming.  I wake up, and these days I’m trying to wake up without an alarm, and hit my sounding bowl 3 times.  I sit with my back against the wall, on my yoga mat and I close my eyes, placing my palms on my knees.  Some days I hold a more traditional meditation practice repeating a mantra, accepting all the thoughts, emotions and sensations that come up.  Other days, I practice centering prayer, which is more about releasing those thoughts, emotions and sensations, returning to my sacred word, not as a mantra, but when a thought or emotion comes to mind.  The focus is on letting go.  I repeat this same practice right before bed.

There are not really “a-ha” moments.  It’s just a practice in being still. It’s a practice in letting go, so in my active life I will know how when the time comes.  Contemplation and action are not truly separate.  However, even in only intentionally practicing this for one month, I am noticing some shifts.

In silence, it is much easier to embrace the reality that we all are one. And that at the core of our being, we are full of love and goodness.

Not every day, but slowly, my mind can come to stillness more quickly.  In the beginning, I felt like I was constantly returning to my sacred word because my mind could not come to quiet.

It can be quite emotional.  Being quiet and still in our culture is hard!  Hard memories have come to the forefront of my mind.  There has been some freedom for me in letting them go in my prayer sits, but processing them in counseling.

My true self surfaces in these prayer sits and I’m asked to shed my false self.  Letting agendas, plans, titles, and relationships fall away is both scary and a relief.  I am more than what my culture, family, or friends say about me.

Simply, it’s an embrace of the unknown.  And in this quiet space, my perception slowly shifts.  I see reality differently. Once I emerge from my prayer sit, hopefully, I am more grounded, and over time full of compassion for myself and the world.

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.

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? 

 

 

Poetry for Your Monday

So, life has been a little crazy.  Between my last post and now, Chels and I have moved again (not because I wanted to, but environmental issues in the house were making me really sick)!  So, we found an apartment quickly and moved in last Monday.

It’s been a whirlwind and I’m exhausted.  Yet, in the course of this crazy week, I still have managed to:

  • Walk on the Fall Creek Greenway close to the apartment.  There are beautiful homes on small lakes and best of all, it’s quiet. (Rabbits like it too!)
  • Venture into Half Price books and buy some poetry.
  • Visit the Harrison Center and admire Jed Dorsey’s artwork.
  • Play with Chels’ new dog Cash.
  • Sit in a local coffee shop and read, while listening to old men talk about the election.
  • Explore a new farmer’s market and decide that I like the Broad Ripple market better.
  • Fall asleep watching the Olympics.

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Slowly, my longed-for rhythms are returning, which are little reminders of the abundance that is mine.

While my life just seems like transition after transition, William Stafford has helped me slow down and see that wisdom can even be in the chaos.

 

The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune

Wisdom is having things right in your life

and knowing why.

If you do not have things right in your life

you will be overwhelmed:

you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.

If you have things right in your life

but do not know why,

you are just lucky, and you will not move

in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

 

The saddest are those not right in their lives

who are acting to make things right for others:

they act only from the self–

and that self will never be right:

no luck, no help, no wisdom.

Stepping Back

I’m stepping back into routine today, as I had a week off from work before I ramp up for the summer.  And it was healing to step back.  I watched summer sink in as the weather was in the 90’s and the Indy 500 celebrated its 100th race 3 miles from my apartment.  I rollerbladed on a flat trail by my parents’ house, went to a coffee shop and shared a pitcher with coffee with Chels.  I visited two different farmer’s markets, buying maple syrup, rhubarb, kohlrabi, and lettuce.

I baked a vanilla pudding pie, and it melted in the Memorial Day heat.  But even in its soupiness, it was delicious.  I threw a frisbee and a football for 15 minutes until it got too hot.  I sneezed like crazy and my feet got scratched from the tall grass.  I watched Food Network while getting my long awaited IV.  I ate dinner and listened and talked with people from church at the barn.

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Chels and I signed our lease and are getting excited about moving in July, especially about having more room!   Chels and I celebrated her 1 year remission day by going out to lunch at Garden Table, which then extended to dessert after.  My sister Laura spent the night and we celebrated her being done teaching by getting tapas and dessert and falling asleep to Gilmore Girls.  I had a few coffee dates with people from church.  Chels and I went to explore 8 different houses in the Meridian-Kessler home tour, which made it feel like participating in a local HGTV show.

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My mind had time to wander and wonder about my health and my vocation.  I had time to write and brainstorm about what I hope the fall will look like.  I let myself feel small pangs of anxiety of my health flaring up, yet hoping that my work is sustainable even as though it’s looking that my diet will need to change somewhat again.

Yet, the past 10 days has been this beautiful free space.  Space for me to be still and hospitable.  Space for me to feel intense fatigue and still have trust in this healing journey.  Space to put work away for awhile and engage in deep conversations with people.  Space for my to dream and hope and know that I’m truly living in abundance.

 

“Summer is the season when all the promissory notes of autumn and winter and spring come due, and each year the debts are repaid with compound interest.  In summer, it is hard to remember that we had ever doubted the natural process, had ever ceded death the last word, had ever lost faith in the powers of new life.  Summer is a reminder that our faith is not nearly as strong as the things we profess to have faith in-a reminder that for this single season, at least, we might cease our anxious machinations and give ourselves to the abiding and abundant grace of our common life.”

-Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Writing My Story

On Monday, I shared a poem on exhaustion.  I needed this poem last week.  In some ways, I’m trying to lengthen time between treatment, and I needed to wait a week for a vitamin IV, when I really needed it that very moment.

I laid on the couch.  I tried to read, but could not focus.  My allergies seemed to ramp up.  I couldn’t come up with coherent thoughts, and I was brought back to what so many days last year, beauty mixed with sorrow.  While I don’t wish for those days when my body doesn’t cooperate with me, there is a hidden beauty in relinquishing expectations, canceling plans, and watching TV.  There’s much I continue to learn when I admit that I need rest.

Thanks for reading and joining me on this healing journey.

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I wanted to let you know that I’ve been working on several poems on the theme of body.  It’s a collection of poems both of me speaking about my body and my body speaking about me.  It’s been healing for me to write, to process healing, being sick, and to reinforce that I have a sacred relationship with my body.  I need to listen to my body, to know how and when it speaks.

I will be sharing a few of these poems on the blog over the next several weeks.  I would love your thoughts and feedback in the comments section!