Cancelled Plans

I have cancelled many plans the last six weeks or so.  Late spring is a temperamental season for my body.  Some days I have energy, other days I don’t.  Some days the pollen and mold counts are high, and I’m doing everything I can to make it through the work day, just to rest enough to hopefully still keep my commitment to yoga.  Some days my students are more trying, zapping my energy faster.  Some days I react to a damp building, and some days I’m going into a situation where I know I will have some sort of reaction.

 

And I go back to the word that’s so hard to say sometimes: No.

No, a word that swims against the cultural norm.

No, a word that a 27 year old shouldn’t have to say so much.

No, a word I often say with tears in my eyes.

 

No, a word I am learning to befriend.

No, a word that helps me pay attention to myself day after day.

No, a word that isn’t a threat, but an opportunity to shed some of my “shoulds.”

No, a word that my friends know how to accept well.

 

Recently, I received the gift of acceptance from a friend.  She is getting married next month and I had to cancel attending her bridal shower because I just needed to rest that day.  On top of that, she stopped over on her lunch break for a quick cup of tea and to open her gifts.  Before she left she made sure to say, “You know, if you can’t attend my wedding because you’re not feeling well, it’s okay.  I know you care about me.”

My friend knows me well enough that she realizes that attending her wedding could be difficult for me.  But my saying no at times doesn’t threaten her.  She accepts it in stride and she knows that many times I say No, I really want to say Yes.

Friendship actually is about presence and absence.  About get-togethers and cancelled plans.  About silence and conversation.  As I’ve adjusted to a lifestyle that’s sustainable for a life with chronic illness, I’m still enough to grasp the nuances of relationships and the commitment of friends.  I know that my silence and the times I have to say no, actually do add something to a friendship. The times where I’m confined to my bed, unable to be with people, has allowed me to re-imagine how I can communicate my care and concern without actually being present much of the time.

The kindness and acceptance of others helps me in turn to be kind to myself.  I’m hoping over time to see cancelled plans as an opportunity to sink even deeper into stillness, to honor myself by resting, and by doing these things, bringing more peace to myself and my relationships.

Below is a picture of a walk I took with Cash last weekend, when I basically cleared my schedule for the weekend in order to read, rest and walk.  He was one happy camper!

 

Simple Questions

Last week I listened to a podcast, where the person being interviewed expressed that the words of her yoga teacher were still rattling around in her mind:

“How tender do you want to get? How soft do you want to become?”

Those words made me stop.

I want to be a person who can receive. Someone who can be present, accepting the simple moments as they come and go. I want to be able to be still myself, so I realize what I need and want, and not be so terrified of my fatigue.

I want others to know that they are so important, that I’m willing to get close enough so that they change me.

And yet I’ve lived enough to know that this vulnerability is costly.  My generation values authenticity and vulnerability and yet it’s hard to be the first person to speak, the person to say, “I’m not okay.”

These months have been ones of seeing myself more honestly, seeing my protective walls, and knowing that they don’t just come crashing down in a moment.  It’s more like a slow melting away.

Receptiveness doesn’t mean being a push-over, just as sacrifice means that one must first recognize that there is a self to sacrifice. Without a discerning eye, receptiveness could look like people pleasing and helping could be avoidance.

So I keep returning to stillness, to myself and the Divine, to see how much my ego actually is at work and to see my own goodness and worth more clearly.

Sometimes receptiveness looks like receiving love, being affirmed, being reminded of how valuable I am just for being me. It could mean a hug, a compliment, being still enough to receive this moment, and the unknown that comes with it.

In order to be soft, I want to live into my body, knowing its joys and its pains.  I want to feel what I’m actually feeling, when my jaw tenses up, when my shoulders scrunch to my ears, or when I can actually touch my toes! I want to know when my breath is shallow and when its full. I want to listen to the emotions that rise up in me.

As I daily pay attention to myself, I will be more attune to others, having extra capacity for laughter and tears.

For in times of vulnerability, there is a shared tenderness, and we both could become softer as a result.  Of course, the choice is ours.  We have to be willing to sit “on the mourner’s bench” as Nicholas Wolterstorff likes to say.

The one who is tender speaks bravely, inviting everyone else in the room into a softer, gentler place.

Into a more expansive view of the world.  Into a new emotion, understanding, or empathy.

But there is no force. She could be met with unhelpful silence, misunderstanding, pet answers.

But she also could be met with love and acceptance.  There is great risk in seeking to be tender.

Yet there’s also an invitation to everyone else in the room.

Do you want to be tender and soft too? Will you join me on this journey of honesty, risk, and feeling deeply?

 

 

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.

When Chronic Illness Feels Like a Downward Spiral

For about two months, I’ve slowly been getting more and more fatigued.  It’s undramatic, yet noticeable.  I’m at the point where I have significantly limited my activities outside of work hours.  My goals are to keep up my healthy rhythms, eat, sleep, go to work, and rest at night.

It’s a hard place to go back to. It’s limiting and requires and embrace of solitude that I don’t really want to face right now.  My limits are even more apparent than usual, inviting me to pay heed to them and rest.  It means facing difficult memories about my illness and coming to rest in a reality that “Everything is going to be okay.”

There have been beautiful things about these last two months: a trip to Omaha, a baseball game after work, early morning walks, reading before bed, an Easter meal at my sister’s apartment, a walk at Eagle Creek, an unexpected card in the mail, a friend bringing me a meal, even though I had to cancel dinner plans.

However, what is difficult about experiencing wonderful memories in the midst of relentless fatigue is the numbness in the body.  I feel as though I’m watching the memory and I’m not truly part of it.  It’s fatigue’s curse.  There’s a sense of disconnection from the body that causes anxiety and a sense of separateness that can be overwhelming.

 

After living with chronic fatigue for the past 10 years, I’m learning to grieve and pay attention to the subtle, mundane ways I feel energy leave my body in a day’s time.  Not for lack of boundaries or overextending myself, or a poor night’s sleep.  Simply because going through life’s tasks can be exhausting.

Some days driving 15 minutes can wipe me out. Sometimes having music on is too overstimulating. Thinking about cooking a meal can put me on edge. Brain fog caused by seasonal allergies can send me to rest on the couch from after work until I go to bed.

I can see though that with each downward spiral, I seem to have more tools to deal with my state of health.  That means that in the upward swings, I have made great strides.  I’m going to yoga and sitting for meditation twice a day. I practice abdominal breathing.  I have a few more people who know and want to learn more about my illness.  I’m back in therapy, working through some intense memories of my healing journey.

Even in these days where it’s a struggle to make it to work on time, I’m seeing my students flourishing, whether I’ve worked with them for 3 months or over a year.  Often, they mirror back to me my own condition.  With dyslexia, “a chronic learning disability,” as one of my students framed it the other day, means that some days reading is harder than usual, for no apparent reason other than fatigue.  Other days it’s easier. Many days I have the eye to see what they don’t.  That they are making small strides.  That their self-confidence has improved tremendously. That they are reading and writing more fluently, even if they still don’t like it. That they are learning more about their strengths and weaknesses and how to monitor their emotional reactions to mistakes they make.  They are learning to persevere and to bring a sense of humor, rather than self-consciousness to the learning process.

If, I take a longer view, I too am flourishing, even though it doesn’t feel like it, or it’s hard to notice.  I’m glad others are noticing for me. I’m glad I work with kids, who remind me daily how to be more childlike. Working with limitations brings out the full range of emotions–and yet I know this reality of honoring my limits, and finding that this is where my strength lies, is a necessary good journey.  The feelings will come in time. But I do want to take notice, express my grief, and be willing to face into the unknown with a quiet confidence, a peaceful mind, and a rested body.

The Alphabet of Right Now

A blogger friend of mine wrote a post like this last week, and I thought this would help me summarize the last month I’ve taken off from the blog.  It’s been a full, hard month, but also transformative with many new experiences.

 

 

A-Amino Acids– I receive this wonderful nutrient with my monthly IV’s at Dr. Guyer’s office.  These help with detoxing, energy, mental clarity, stable emotions, and quality sleep.  These were on national backorder for 8 weeks now and my body has suffered.  I’m exhausted, and spend many spare moments lying down, trying to find energy for my next task.  I’m glad these got into my doctor’s last week!

B-Beauty and the Beast–  A lovely re-make.  I waited awhile to see it in theater.  So on my Spring Break, during the mid-afternoon, with a group of middle school girls behind Chels and I, we watched, and laughed and sang along in whispers.

C-Cash-Chels has gotten busier with school and stays up later doing homework.  So many nights of the week I get a little extra cuddle time before I fall asleep.

D-Dwelling Place-A wonderful place to celebrate Good Friday and Easter.

E-Easter-My sister, Laura, and I made Easter lunch together at her apartment before the food coma hit.  She let it be nice and healthy so we weren’t making two meals!  But eating bacon while we cook isn’t too bad!

F-Fortune Academy– I spend 4 mornings/week here now.  It’s a lovely, calm place to work.  Still, it feels solitary at times, but I am forming quality relationships with my students and helping them grow.  (But it’s after Spring Break and they are so antsy right now!)

G-Giver-I am reading this beloved children’s classic with two of my students right now.  Such a great book!

H-Haircut-My hair is a lot shorter now and I love it.  Very low maintenance for spring and summer!

I-Intuition-I keep returning to the wisdom of my intuition.  Answers are already inside me, but many times I’m afraid to ask the question.

J-Jars-I have so many glass jars.  And I’m still saving jars from salsa and sauerkraut.  I probably should stop, but I don’t!

K-Know-Right now, I’m spending more time getting acquainted with some recent past events that hold both beauty and immense pain.  I want to know myself in these places in a deeper way.

L-Lawton Loop– There’s this beautiful loop in Lawrence, Indiana right where Fortune is located.  Now that it’s spring many mornings I walk this loop before walking into school.

M-Meditation-I’m learning more about the importance of meditation for my own life, and for the lives of those I encounter.  I took a meditation workshop hosted by my yoga studio last weekend!

N-New grocery store-So the close Aldi is undergoing renovations, and will be closed until Memorial Day.  So for a few weeks I will need to drive to another Aldi!  I don’t like change that much 🙂

O-Omaha-Over my spring break, I took a weekend trip to Omaha to participate in a silent retreat hosted by the Gravity Center.  It was hard and delightful, and full of yoga, silent prayer sits, spiritual direction, massage, and ended the day with the practice of Examen. I also had enough energy to make all my food ahead of time and drive there alone.  Some big steps in the healing journey for me!

P-Patience and Perfume-On Easter morning, I braced myself that I probably would need to walk out of church, but that I wanted to stay.  Only the moment can tell me how to act within that tension.  A holiday where people dress up for church normally means perfume.  And I got hit pretty hard with brain fog (also, there wasn’t much reserve because of the lack of amino acids!).  So I’ve had the opportunity to practice patience, to cancel plans, to let my brain have time to heal, which usually means no reading 😦

Q-Questions-I’m writing a lot less, but asking more questions.  I have people asking questions of me that I don’t know the answers to.  Both of these are good, in their own way, even if tears follow!

R-Return-This anchor word has found me recently.  Its invitation is to return to God, return to others, myself, to the present.  Its invitation is to quiet my mind’s chatter, to be still and to stop.

S-Starbucks-I’m here a lot lately.  Various ones around the city depending on my schedule.  I’m being listened to well.  I also recently sat outside drinking Passion Tea with a new yoga friend before yoga class(good accountability to actually make it to yoga on a Friday!)

T-Therapy- Recently, I’ve gone back to therapy.  There has been much relief already that this is the next right step for me right now.

U-Unwind-The experience of my Spring Break.

V-Vacuum-A new vacuum has made all the difference in the cleanliness of the apartment!

W-Writing-I’ve backed off a lot.  I didn’t really know what to say.  And that’s okay.

X-not gonna try-

Y-Yoga-My yoga studio is my second home these days.  I get stronger and my mind gets clearer and I’m making new friends.  A great combo.

Z-Zip-I’m driving a lot these days.  I-69 has seen many miles this spring.

 

 

A Blessing for the One Who Listens

 

Sit quietly, plant your feet flat on the floor,

and take a few deep breaths.

Settle your anxious mind.  Do not let thoughts

run circles in your imagination.

Let your breath guide you to a deeper place of seeing.

Let your solitude linger. Try to not be afraid of where

this quiet journey takes you.

 

And when others enter your company,

they will recognize this sturdy ground you stand on.

They probably will not have words to describe your presence.

Yet you are marked by a quiet self-confidence, listening,

attentiveness, tranquility, and joy.

When others spend time with you, they feel honored.

 

However, this is an act of returning to the quiet,

and learning to listen to the daily whispers of God.

 

So return, and keep returning.

The quiet will soften you and make you

open to the world.

Open enough to realize there is someone

always yearning to listen to you.

A Blessing For My Soul

May you continue to show me all the ways you have stayed alive,

even thrived.

Invite me, coax me at times to follow you,

especially when it doesn’t make sense.

Show me the wild, spontaneous side of my nature that hasn’t died,

even after a long descent into grief.

I commit to nurture the tender side of you,

the part that is slow to come out of hiding.

I will share you with trusted friends who exercise empathy and compassion.

Guide me out of my head, and into what is most real about me.

Keep on ploughing greater depths, that I may inhabit a deep solitude,

that heals without me saying a word.

A Blessing for My Body

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For so long I knew you to be my enemy.

You were attacking me, as my health continued to decline-

or so I thought.

Now I know you were just trying to keep me alive.

You gave me warning signs that all was not well-

and you were compensating the best ways you knew how.

 

And so today, I honor you.

May you keep restoring me to balance,

day by day.

Bless you for teaching me how to care for myself.

Keep me in tune with your signs, that I can accept

the gift of equilibrium.

Remind me when I wander outside my capacity

that not everything is my job.

Allow me to experience the fullness of my breath,

that I am alive:

no matter how great fatigue’s presence is today.

A Blessing for My Mind

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some blessings I’ve written recently.  The theme that has surfaced in all these blessings is gratitude.  Gratitude for this journey I’m on and those on the journey with me.  I’ve written these blessings to myself, but also knowing that the blessing extends to others as well.  May you join me in blessing your integrated self: mind, body, and soul over the coming weeks.

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A Blessing For My Mind

May you keep growing in me dreams and wonderful thoughts.

Enlarge my imagination so I may perceive new worlds.

May some ponderings surprise me, leading me to new places and people.

When you get cloudy and exhausted

lead me to nurture my body once again.

As I sink into my breath, may your rattling thoughts cease.

Allow me to inhabit my body fully.

When anxious thoughts take over,

bring me back to my breath in silence.

May you know your limits, that sometimes what you say isn’t true.

May you know when to step aside, so the body’s knowledge

which never lies, can speak.

 

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.

Version 2

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.