Joy, But…

I have been getting scans every six months for the past two years and I find that I am hesitant to make any plans past the next six month mark.  It’s easy to get in the pattern of living your life six months or one year at a time between those scans.  It feels like too much uncertainty for me to commit to anything because, “What if I’m in cancer treatment?”  Or, “What if this is it and I get horribly ill and they can’t even treat it and I die?”  And then I will have wasted energy making plans that will be tossed aside.  Not planning anything past six months from now means that I’m not looking forward to things that happen past that point and that just plain sucks.  I have talked with other breast cancer patients in the same boat and they report the same feelings of living scan-to-scan.

Some cancers are curable and if you get one of those and they cure you then you have no more of a chance of getting that cancer again that someone who never had it to begin with.  All cancer sucks.  I am not-so-secretly admitting, however, that I envy people who have come through those cancers.  With breast cancer you are only considered cured if you have a really early stage cancer and then you make it ten years with no recurrence.  Once you have a higher stage you are never  considered cured.  And it seems the scans are never 100% clear.  There is always some small something that they want to “watch.”  This really messes with my head.  It’s uncomfortable living without absolutes, isn’t it?

When I was in treatment I was aware that I felt I had a hope gap.  Many of my friends and family have filled that gap for me.  I think I’m on the verge of closing it up a bit after these last scans.  Partly because they are ordering fewer scans every six months now, and partly because I learned about foreboding joy and I realize that it perfectly describes the state of joy that I have felt since all of this started.  I don’t want qualifiers attached to my joy.  I want JOY, not “Joy, But.”

Thank god for providence!  I have been reading “Daring Greatly,” by Brene Brown.  She talks about the idea of foreboding joy.  She says, “In a culture of deep scarcity…joy can feel like a setup.”  Ding!  She hit the nail on the head.  That describes what I think when I begin to feel joy creeping in.  That it’s all a setup.  That if I allow myself to really throw open the curtains and feel the sun on my face I will eventually get smacked back down into despair.  That if I allow myself to celebrate being NED (no evidence of disease) it will all be made a lie because the cancer will come back anyway.

Just when I think I’m awesome at vulnerability I see that in order to feel unqualified joy I have to be vulnerable.  I have to be willing to be clear about my current reality (no cancer, yay!) AND I have to accept that cancer might come back a third time.  Byron Katie would say I just have to love what is.  I often counsel others not to borrow trouble.  This year I will pull the plank out of my own eye and be vulnerable enough to feel unbridled joy.  Joy.  JOY.

 

 

Fear and Abundance

This has surely been an exciting few weeks!  And by exciting I mean I have had many opportunities to practice my yoga in the “real” world off my mat.  December 23rd I received notice that my Medicaid for Breast & Cervical Cancer Patients was not renewed and that as of January 1 it would be expired.  It was too late to call my oncologist or Medicaid to figure out why this happened.  I would have to wait until the 26th to figure out what to do.  And I had a sinus surgery scheduled for January 6th and several scans at MD Anderson on the 15th and 16th of January.  I lay in bed that night unable to sleep.  I was stuck in a loop:  ”Oh my God this is so hard why did I even get treatment if I am going to have to struggle with this shit for the rest of my life!  No, don’t worry because it will all work out.  Oh my God I’m going to die of cancer because I won’t get scans and it will come back and nobody will know and then when they find it it will be too late to do any thing about it.  No, it will be fine.  Oh my God if I lived in Canada or one of the many other countries with socialized medicine I’d be asleep right now.”  For hours I played this loop in my head.

At dinner that night, though, we celebrated Grace’s 13th birthday at my ex-in-laws’ house.  My boyfriend, Tom, came.  My ex-husband’s girlfriend came.  And it was wonderful.  It was beautiful to see that even though we completed our time as a married couple that our new relationship as co-parents is going swimmingly.

Christmas Eve we attended the church service where my ex-husband plays in the church band.  Again, Tom came.  Afterward my ex’s family and Tom and my maternal grandmother and brother came over for chili.  The next morning my ex came over for Santa, then Tom joined us for breakfast and presents.  It was like a millennial Norman Rockwell around here.

Until Christmas morning when I got the call that my grandmother fell and fractured her hip late on Christmas Eve.  Now if you’ve been reading my blog for a bit you’ll know that my family is cattywhompus because of various addictions and long-held patterns of enabling and bad boundaries.  So for the next week or two I was sucked under a bit thinking that I had to do something.  Then I realized that I was having bad boundaries and that I need to take care of my kids and myself and that the other “grown ups” in the equation had less on their plates than me and could handle it.    Byron Katie says there’s my business, your business and God’s business.  I use that as a guide when I realize I am having boundary problems.

Of course the medical insurance issue got worked out – it was a simple mistake made when someone misread a form.  But the panic I felt over that issue left a mark on me and I’m trying to figure out what to do about it.  Maybe I’ll run for Congress (only kidding).  The surgery went fine, although  I keep waking myself up snoring because I still have some dissolvable dressing in my sinuses.  Which was funny to me at first but after a week it’s less humorous.  I do not know how people with sleep apnea manage!

I went into the new year with renewed faith in abundance.  My friend Magda said to me one day, “You can bring a thimble to heap of abundance, or you can bring a dump truck!”  This year my only intention/resolution/declaration is that I am going to continually renew that faith in abundance.  Since I declared that I have received many unexpected gifts, some of them even anonymously.  I am already receiving abundantly.  Happy 2014 to us all!

 

Oh, the Humanity

In February 2011 I had health insurance.  I did not have a great, comprehensive plan because my employer did not offer benefits and I was no longer married.  What I had was an affordable, catastrophic health coverage policy because I was young and healthy.  And because a comprehensive plan was going to cost $375/month.

On February 28th, 2011, I went to the doctor for biopsy results and she told me I had cancer.  We talked about treatment and scans needed and I got the pink bag full of information.  Then the scheduler came in and told me that my insurance was not going to be helpful because it didn’t offer enough coverage and that I was better off dropping it, becoming uninsured and applying for one of the programs for cancer patients who need health care.  And she said to call their office when I had payment figured out so that they could schedule the scans and we could get started on treatment.  Oh and that I should hurry because my cancer was very fast-growing.

My boyfriend at the time and my ex-husband both offered to marry me that day if it meant I could get health care.  It would not have helped because it would not have covered a pre-existing condition.  That week I received a bill for almost $6,000 from the doctors’ office for the biopsies.  And I got a call from the lab that had analyzed the biopsies saying that my crappy insurance was not going to cover them and that I would be getting a bill for $11,000.  Luckily I have an uncle with financial means and he offered to pay the $6,000 for the MRI and BRCA gene testing so we could at least get moving on that while I was trying to figure out how to pay for surgeries and treatment.  That’s $23,000 before I ever had any treatment for cancer.

I was able to qualify for a charity program sponsored by Komen called The Bridge Breast Network.  The Bridge helps women with stages 0-2 cancer.  When I was first diagnosed we thought I had Stage II cancer so I met that requirement.  I made more money than would allow me to be in their program, though, so I took a pay cut so that I would qualify.  I had more scans, port placement surgery and  started neoadjuvant chemotherapy because I was inoperable at diagnosis.

After my fourth round of chemo (I had six total) my case worker called and said that I was running out of funds for their program and needed to find another option.  The only one available at that point was Medicaid.  Texas has a special fund for breast and cervical cancer patients so I set about researching if I could qualify for that.  I had to take another pay cut because our household income for a family of four could not exceed $44,000 (including child support) in order to qualify.  But if you have to choose between potentially life-saving treatments and financial security you choose treatment because all the money in the world does not matter if you are dead.  Plus I’d love for my children to grow up with their mother.

Fast-forward to today.  I’m slowly paying off my medical debt and still living on less than $44,000 a year so that I can stay on Medicaid. Although I think the limit is being raised to $47,000 for next year so maybe there’s room for a little more financial prosperity next year.

Unless you live under a rock you are probably aware of all the health care talk in the last few months with the issue of the Affordable Care Act.  I had decided before the market opened on October 1st that it would be in my best interest to hang back and see how it shakes out a bit before I try to change my situation.  As it is, I can stay on Medicaid as long as I’m in treatment for side effects or cancer and meet the financial requirements.

Medicaid has rejected many scans that my doctors would like me to have.  My medical oncologist told me to have a chest MRI every six months for the rest of my life because of my Stage IV recurrence and Medicaid will not cover another one unless I develop an overt symptom of metastasis (which would make it a little late in the game for swift treatment!).  But Medicaid is better than nothing.

Because if you have nothing doctors do not have to treat you.  Emergency rooms are required to treat emergent problems but doctors do not have to see you in their offices.  And why should they?  They have bills to pay just like the rest of us.  People say there is not an easy solution.  But I think that’s a bullshit copout.  There is a solution.

According to The World Health Report 2000, as reported by The New England Journal of Medicine, the US health care system ranks 37th in world.  We rank 36 for life expectancy.  39th in infant mortality.  43rd for adult female mortality and 42nd for adult male mortality.  Yet we spend the most money per capita on health care.  The countries that rank higher than we do and spend less include  Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand.  They all have socialized medicine.

People try to make this issue about politics.  Or about the Constitution.  Or about democracy.  But health care is not about those things.  It’s about humanity.  It’s easy to dehumanize this issue, just like it’s easy to dehumanize welfare in general, and make it about people not doing the right things to take care of themselves financially.  But so often it is not the sick or hungry people’s faults that they are sick or hungry.  It’s not that I didn’t plan enough.  I was being as responsible as I could have been, with my body and my finances.  And yet, I was in the position of needing welfare to get health care.  I am working to overcome the shame associated with my situation.  A shame I would not have if I lived in a place where health care was given to all.

I’m still taking that welfare to get my health care because I’m still a cancer patient.  I am not lazy.  I work as much as I can.  I am not out buying fancy clothes – I buy most of my clothes at the Thrift Store or go without new ones.  I drive a van that has almost 160,000 miles on it because I cannot afford a car payment and the van is paid off.  I can’t roll down the driver window anymore because it will not roll up.  I have never had less financial prosperity in my adult life than I have at this exact moment.  And it is directly a result of my cancer diagnosis and the hoops I have had to jump through to save my life.  I am not being dramatic.  This is reality for many of us.

The Affordable Care Act might help some people.  But even that won’t help cancer patients who want to get off Medicaid because Texas Oncology doesn’t take the insurance that’s offered through it and almost ALL of our providers in DFW are with Texas Oncology.  Insurers cannot turn you away, but doctors don’t have to take all of the insurance plans.  So I continue to be on the dole.  Just like many other Americans who’s kids go to your school, or who live next door to you.  I hope we can all work to see this issue clearly as an issue of humanity.  We can do a better job in our great country to take care of our sick and our hungry.  In the words of the late Nelson Mandela,  ”It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Photo credit to Stacie Albrecht

 

When You Have Faced Your Own Mortality It’s Hard To Do The Dishes

Written November, 2012…

When I was in treatment I heard a few references to the fact that post-treatment is often when people have the most problems psycologically.  I can say for me that has been the case.  During treatment I was on auto-pilot for the most part.  I had psychological problems, but they lived in a little compartment that I never opened because I had too many other things to deal with in front of me.  I could not possibly have handled emotional issues.  And I think post-traumatic stress makes it hard for your brain to process emotions because your brain is busy running from the cancer bear that’s chasing you.

In January the dust started to settle and the doctor appointments dwindled from 2-14 per week to two or three a month and I was left wondering what to do next.  The moment  you get diagnosed your plan is pretty much put into place for you.  You can disagree and change things up, but it’s pretty much A to B to C and so-on.  Which in a way is comforting.  In my case when I had the recurrence during radiation, which is very rare, I left the map that was already determined.  This really sent me for a loop.  I thought, “Well hell.  If you people don’t know what to do then I’m screwed because I sure have no clue.”  So my doctors and I went forward with our own educated, best guesses about the next right step.  This is not where you want to be when you are a cancer patient.  Seeing doctors scratch their heads is not comforting.  In fact, it makes you think you are a goner for sure.

Except I’m still here!  Yay!  Recurrence or not, many other cancer survivors I know have wrestled with the idea of death.  We have wondered, “What does death feel like in your body?”  “Will I be scared when I’m dying?”  “Will I know ahead of time?”  When you have faced those questions and then someone hands you back the keys to your patched up car and says, “Go.  Be free.  Drive away!” you wonder where the hell to go.  You wonder if the car is going to fall apart while you are driving it.  You wonder if it has lost it’s value.  A smart woman recently used the analogy of a five dollar bill.  She said whether it’s crumpled up or not it’s still worth $5.  This helped me to see that just because my body is rearranged and functions on a different level than before does not mean that my value is diminished.

I find it hard now to re-ingage in the details of life.  Before cancer I rarely went to bed with dishes in the sink.  Now I think, “Dishes or cuddling?”  And dishes never win.  I do manage usually to get them done every day or so.  And perhaps I needed this new perspective.  Still, though, to be a householder in this world you have to earn money and clean up after yourself and your kids.  But  really what I’d like to do most of the time is sit and read with the kids.  Take walks.  Meditate.  Write.  Draw.  Practice asana.  Now that I have faced my own mortality it’s hard to do the proverbial dishes because I know that in the end dishes do not matter.

You can get a new, clean mug like this amazing one from my friend Andrea Freeman – a.freemanclayworks@gmail – dot – com.

 

“What I Did At Camp.” Or, “How I Became a Nude Model at 40.”

I flew to Atlanta a couple of weeks ago to Patti Digh’s Design Your Life Camp.  When she announced she was having one I knew I would go.  Just like you know when it’s time to quit a job or eat lunch.  Then Patti asked me to come teach yoga at camp, and suddenly going to camp wouldn’t cost me anything except time.  Of course I said yes.  Cancer taught me to say yes to big adventures as often as possible, and sometimes when it seems impossible.

I planned the class I was going to teach, but other than that I did not plan anything for camp.  I did not research the resort, make a packing list, look at the schedule, or pay much attention to who was going.  My “plan” was to show up and have fun and be authentic and open.  This, I have found, is the best plan for life because when I try to map out every detail, accounting for variables and road blocks, stuff happens that gets in the way and completely shuts off that path.  When I pay attention to the divine flow and where it’s leading me things work out much better for me.  (See my previous 847 posts about cancer).

I showed up.  I was authentic.  I kept saying yes and having crazy inspirations about what the next right thing was.  The first night I met a woman named Sharon.  She is a sixty-six year-old breast cancer survivor who is five years out from treatment.  The next day I met Martha, a fifty-five year-old breast cancer survivor who is also five years out.  By the end of the first day I was meeting a photographer named Keith who’s first wife died of breast cancer.  He is a gentle, sweet soul, and within five minutes of meeting him I asked if he would be interested in taking pictures of my scars.  He said yes, and that I should come to his studio sometime.

“Sometime” in another state was not going to work for me.  I also realized that maybe I needed a little posse for this project.  So I asked these strangers who were really sisters if they would be willing to do a shoot with me.  And I asked Keith if he would be willing to shoot us at camp.

It seemed unlikely that I would ever take my clothes off for a camera.  I don’t even like the lights on during sex, for God’s sake, and those are fleeting moments which are not recorded for posterity.  And with someone I love who probably isn’t even thinking about my cellulite. I don’t have long legs.  My arms aren’t particularly toned, although underneath those floppy, wavy arms there are some strong biceps.  And now I have a road map of scars on my front side, fifty-two inches in all.

I’m betting Sharon and Martha didn’t think they would be posing in the buff, either.  Yet there we were.  The three of us with no shirts on.  Our arms around each other.  Our warm skin touching.  We weren’t even wearing make-up.

And there was Keith, gently telling us how to stand or what to think about to elicit the face he was looking for.  I was having a hard time with the non-smiling face because I always think I look severe in photos when I’m not smiling. Then Keith’s wife, Ren, said to think about what got me through all those horrible treatments so I thought about my kids and how I persevered so that I could be here with them as long as possible.

When we finished the shoot Keith asked if we wanted to take off all of our clothes and do a shot completely nude.  If he had been anyone else I’m sure we would have all said, “No way.”  But because he is who he is it was okay.  The next thing I knew we were all three standing there naked, with our scars and our cellulite out under the lights.  And our hearts were out, all of them.  There was laughter and love and healing for us all.

I can think of many more things to write about from camp.  How the talent show was awesome and made me wish I was a little braver in the area of performing in front of people.  How I met some beautiful souls at camp that I can’t wait to talk with, hang out with and collaborate with. How the speakers were so insightful that I will still be processing some of what was shared when I go to camp next year.  How sometimes a grilled cheese sandwich from room service eaten with a friend under the covers while having girl talk is better medicine than anything else.  Oh, and I went ziplining!  You’d think that would be my headline from camp:  ”Cancer survivor flings herself from trees while sitting in a rope harness and hanging on a bendy line!”

But the headline for me is that I bared my scars.  In the light.  With strangers who weren’t really strangers after all.  And it was more than okay.  It was a holy moment.

This is a self-portrait I took for photography class in college. I was naked but you can’t tell because it was a study in moving objects. Maybe one day we will share the pictures from camp. That day is not today.

 

A CALL TO INACTION

My cancer is not for sale.

It’s October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I’m sure you are already aware of that because of the inundation of pink everywhere.  I like pink, I really do.  What I don’t like is people using pink to advertise their products and then not giving proceeds to help cancer patients or cancer research.  They do it in the name of “awareness,” where “awareness” really translates to “greed.”

I had my breasts amputated.  I lost twenty six lymph nodes.  I had my ovaries cut out.  I had my skin burned FORTY ONE times.  I lost my hair.  I was bedridden from chemotherapy and felt like shit for over a year.  Some days I still feel like shit and I was diagnosed 2 1/2 years ago.  I have permanent nerve damage and neuropathy and lymphedema.  My children watched their mother be tortured with those treatments.  That’s what breast cancer is.  When someone tries to tie a pink ribbon on that to sell products it feels like they are pimping me out.

I have called out one shoe company that makes ungodly expensive ballet flats for doing an “awareness” campaign with no actual support behind it.  This month I’m going to call every company I see using breast cancer awareness to sell products that cause cancer and are packaged in pink “awareness,” and companies that are using cancer awareness as a facade for profit.  I’ll be respectful AND direct.  It may not change anything, but it’s like voting.  I can’t complain if I’m not willing to vote with my dollars and use my voice.

There is something you can do for me.  Consider it a call to inaction.  Don’t buy products this month that claim to support cancer awareness or research and that actually cause cancer.  If you see a product that is using cancer to sell something and not giving to the cancer community please don’t buy it.  I am happy to field calls and emails if you need more information.  ThinkBeforeYouPink.org, EWG.org and the Pink Daisy Project FB page are great resources.   The Pink Daisy Project is featuring some gritty images this month of what breast cancer treatment really looks like.

 

Why You Might Be Having a Nervous Breakdown

Many people have called, emailed and sent instant messages on Facebook asking for help lately.  They all have similar issues – skin eruptions and rashes, high anxiety, hot flashes, marital or other relationship discord, and a constant feeling of falling short of the mark.

I can relate to many of these symptoms because, like most of the people who have sought out my help in particular, I have what we call in Ayurveda high pitta in my constitution.  Pitta is a fancy word for lots of fire.  Which serves me well in many circumstances – I can be direct and get to the heart of a matter, I can accomplish Herculean feats (like surviving cancer) and I’m very “bright.”  In this hot season of August in Texas, however, the less appealing aspects of my pitta nature are exacerbated and my skin breaks out,  I feel dull and dizzy, and find that anger lurks right under the surface waiting to pounce on some poor unsuspecting person if I don’t maintain my mindfulness.

Of course, everyone is hot right now.  But some people are actually happy about it.  I cannot relate to that.  I am hot enough on my own, thank you.  We pittas don’t need help burning things down.

So what to do to balance ourselves out when we feel like we have a forest fire burning inside of us?  I have good news for you!  There are many, many things.  Some of them will not be easy because they ask us to go against our nature.  For example, slowing down.  Pittas don’t like that.  We have things to do. We would do well to cut our list to “essentials” and then cut it in half from there.  Because of course our “essentials” are not really all essential we just have impossible standards for ourselves.

Another helpful thing is to soften.  Fire is not soft.  It’s hot and light and sharp.  Softening in our faces and bodies and minds is helpful for pittas running amok.  Doing some gentle yoga with hip openers, smiling more and cuddling are great ways to invite softness.  Softening around ideas is helpful as well.  Instead of giving 100% maybe strive for 80%.  Because if you have high pitta your 80% IS everyone else’s 100%. Like a fire, we like to keep burning unfettered.  But if we do that we will burn ourselves out.

It’s wise in this hot season to avoid people who you know are going to cause you aggravation.  This is not always possible, but when it is within your control it’s a good idea to stay away from someone who pushes your buttons.

Meditating is helpful for every circumstance at any time.  How you can apply it to this high pitta season is to meditate on releasing anger, aversion and attachment.  Just sit or lay down, breathe with your nose, and as you exhale say to yourself, “I release all attachment.”  Next exhale, “I release all aversion.”  Next exhale, “I release all indifference.”  It doesn’t matter if you even know what all you are attached, averted, or indifferent to.  Just have the willingness to release those things.  Another cooling meditation idea is to find a guided meditation that involves going somewhere watery.  Or just sitting in a room and playing some music that involves a waterfall or ocean sounds.

It’s cooling to rub coconut oil all over yourself about 20 minutes before you shower then in the shower gently wipe off with a wash rag.  Take cool to warm showers instead of hot.  Exercise in the early morning.  Avoid spicy, salty and fried foods.  I could keep writing forever, but hopefully this will give you some ideas.  If you want individual Ayurveda Yoga Therapy to help you please shoot me an email or send me a smoke signal off your fiery head.  Namaste!

 

Receiving the Good

Tomorrow the kids and I are closing on a house.  This process has been different for me than any other house purchase.  For one thing, I have no co-borrower to sign with.  It’s the first house with only my name on the mortgage.  I have had many moments of self-doubt about that, but then I remember what my wise friend, Mary, said to me one time.  She said, “I think you should put on your cape and remember who you are.”

Another difference is that I have not made any major purchases since being a cancer survivor.  The loan process was different; I had to write a detailed list of the dates of my chemotherapy treatment and surgeries to provide to the underwriters.  I have exposed myself during my cancer journey in many ways, not the least of which has been this blog.  But this letter was an invasion to me. I understand where the money lenders are coming from – they don’t want to give me a huge loan if I’m going to die soon and default.  But it’s another way that cancer has entered into my life.  Just when I thought I had figured them all out – HA!

The biggest way that the process of home buying has been different for me is that I have struggled with feeling worthy.  I have explored this struggle in my meditation practice and my journaling.  What became clear is that I have, unbeknownst to myself, been harboring a mistrust of good things coming into my life.  A mis-trust of happiness.

The ultimate life smack-down, cancer, took away my ability to trust in happiness.  Which is saying a lot for me because I was born with sunshine coming out my backside.  I am a summer baby and I love fire.  Ayurvedically speaking I have a lot of pitta, which is the fire element.  When people describe me they use words like sunny.  They say that I light up a room.  Some nurses said that to me even when I was in treatment and did not feel sunny at all.  I am an eternal optimist.

Recently I have discovered that I have dulled around that optimism.  The underlying belief is that I don’t deserve good things, or that good things won’t last.  I kept thinking, “Who am I to buy a house?  What if cancer comes back and I go into treatment again and then other people have to help me pay for the house or take us in?  What if I die then someone else has to sort this all out?”

Someone even pointed out to me after a bad inspection on a different house that I was trying to buy that I had better not get that one because it needed too much work and if we moved in and then I got sick again it would just be a big mess.

Of course, anyone who buys a house could get sick and die.  But people who have not had a life-threatening illness probably do not use that as one of their filters when making large purchases.

I “happened” across a poem this week that I had read before, years ago.  It came at the exact right moment.  It’s about receiving and flowing with happiness.  Tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 I’m going to sign on a hundred dotted lines, get some keys and move my kids into our new house.  I am going to receive the love and divine gifts that are mine.

So Much Happiness

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

~Naomi Shihab Nye (You can see her read it here)

 

“I can’t meditate!”

When I tell people that I teach yoga and meditation people that have no relationship to yoga and meditation tell me all the reasons they can’t do them.  Or that they have always wanted to do them but don’t.  Or that they have tried them and that yoga and meditation just aren’t for them.  That’s like someone saying food is not for them because they have only tried liver.  Liver is fine for some people but other people detest it.

There are many types of yoga classes like there are many types of foods.  And there are many types of meditation.  Most people who have told me that they can’t meditate say they can’t be still for very long or their mind wanders.  I tell them “I have good news!  Everyone is fidgety and everyone’s mind wanders!”

When I first started meditating I set a timer for 3 minutes.  It was torture.  I couldn’t sit still.  My back hurt.  I was certain there was a bug on my face.  It was an eternity.  Longest.  Three.  Minutes.  Ever.  But I committed to practice for 40 days.  So every day I sat.  And slowly I realized that I was less uncomfortable.  That my mind wandered less.  I just kept practicing.  I thought, “Even if I think about my to do list the entire time I am not moving from this spot.”

Over the years I have learned many types of meditation.  There are walking meditations, meditations I say to myself while I am driving or sometimes in the middle of an argument or crazy situation.  There are meditations I have done laying down (this comes in handy if you are in cancer treatment and sitting up is simply too much effort) and guided imagery meditations.  In fact if you google meditation you will find thousands of sites offering up meditations that have been helpful to someone.

I credit my meditation practice for helping me stay somewhat sane through all of the trials of the past six years, and if you have been reading my blog you know there have been many.  Now when I sit to meditate my altar is like an old friend.  Oh, there’s the cross that Great-Grandma Werner gave me, the card from Beth, the lavender from Janet, the Ganesh card from Tom with the silly drawing inside, spaghetti sauce wishes from Patti, water from the Ganges gathered for me by Rudra Das, a crucifix from a student, a mala from Cliff, angels that represent friends, the Maha Mritanjaya Mantra in gold from Swamiji Kalihatti, and many other tokens that link me with love.  When I sit in front of them and light a candle I sigh with relief.  It’s the same feeling I used to get going in the back door at my grandmother’s house, or when hugging my mom with my head on her bosom.  It’s home.

And my mind still wanders often.  But instead of fussing over it I rejoice in the knowledge that I am aware that it’s wandering.  Because before I learned about meditation and started practicing it I was living with only a wandering mind and without the awareness of who I really am.  Meditation for me is about connecting to that divine part of myself that flows with the universe.

Minds are like three-year-old children.  When they  wander off we have to call them lovingly back to the matter at hand.  Hopefully you wouldn’t yell at your toddler for wandering; don’t judge your own mind for wandering.  It’s what minds do – they look for something to focus on.  Over time you can train it to focus on what you want, just like over time you can train your child to focus on reading, or math, or gymnastics.

 

You Never Know What You Are Going to Get

There was a time when I didn’t think I’d make it to forty.  I used to say I was going to live to be 102, then I got diagnosed with cancer at 37 and was not so sure.  Now I just take it a day at a time.  On June 11th I had the honor of turning the BIG FOUR OH.  It was a day without much fanfare but in my heart I was just so grateful to have made it.

I often spend time reflecting on my birthdays.   This year especially I reflected on all that I have been through in my life that has led to this moment.  And I reflected on all of the blessings that I have that I could not have even dreamed of.  If I had designed my three children ahead of time – how they look, how they love, how they see the world, how their minds work – I could never have come up with anything remotely as amazing as they are.

If I had thought out who my friends would be as I made this milestone I would have greatly underestimated the brilliant, loving, spunky women and men who I have the honor of calling my friends.

When I was in my twenties I disliked most of my jobs.  Now I work with someone I respect and I have the privilege of teaching  yoga and helping other people find a little ease in their lives.

I would not have guessed that by forty I would have published columns in the Dallas Morning News, have an essay published in a book, speak in front of hundreds of people or have courage to go on stage as a part of The Vagina Monologues.

When I turned 35 I wrote a piece about that milestone and at the time would not have guessed that five years later I would be divorced.  But even that has turned out beautifully and Chris and I have found a wonderful way of parenting together even though we have chosen to end our marital relationship.

I would never have guessed that I would be honored with a tea party for my birthday by the mother of my high school sweetheart with my grandmother, daughter, ex-mother-in-law, ex-sister-in-law, and my high school sweetheart’s wife, step-daughter and sister as attendees.  And yet, there we were having a great time eating dairy and gluten and drinking champagne.  It was perfect.

Forest Gump’s mom was right.  You never know what you are going to get.  And I have more than I would have ever thought possible.