what I learned from waking up with the flu on my birthday

spending time with someone you care deeply for matters more than having a party

nausea is the worst

handmade gifts are the best

birthdays can be rescheduled

the present moment cannot be rescheduled

mama’s chicken soup is better than every other food

birthdays don’t have to mean quite so much

feeling taken care of means so much

one year older doesn’t feel very different

not having the flu will be my belated birthday gift

gratitude gratitude gratitude

in honor of my birthday

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In honor of my birthday tomorrow, I am going to do one of my favorite things: I am going to share poetry with you. Mary Oliver’s new collection Blue Horses is everything I need to hold onto the awe of life, if we only remember to live in wonder.

THE FOURTH SIGN OF THE ZODIAC part 3
by Mary Oliver from Blue Horses

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same. 

So why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

Here’s to a year belonging to the world. Writing music and poems. Listening and touching.
Using the darkness to get me going.

what will be my pct?

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Do you know that feeling when you finish a book and you feel it wedged in your chest? You don’t want it to be over but you also know it’s not over because it’s still weighing on your heart, making you think about your own life, and replaying itself in your mind?

I am wary of reading big bestseller books, often finding I enjoy less “heard-of” books more,  but I recently made an exception. To get me through the madness of working in retail throughout the month of December, I decided to read #1 New York Times Bestseller Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It was a gift to myself, returning home from work after being screamed at by customers who wanted our return policy to be different and having credit cards thrown at me with no eye-contact or smiles accompanying the piece of swipeable plastic. I let the world of insane capitalist consumerism fade away as I read Strayed’s autobiographical account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on a healing pilgrimage when she was twenty-six. I loved walking with her as I read the book. I remembered my own experiences backpacking: smelling the crisp air, re-living the joy that comes from excruciating physical pain and complete exhaustion and utter triumph in physical and spiritual accomplishment.

Upon looking at Crater Lake: “This was once Mazama, I kept reminding myself. This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12,000 feet tall and then had its heart removed. This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash. This was once an empty bowl that took hundreds of years to fill. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them in my mind’s eye. Not the mountains or the wasteland or the empty bowl. They simply were not there anymore. There was only the stillness and silence of that water: what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing began.” –Wild by Cheryl Strayed, page 273

I still have a spinal injury. I can’t go on a long backpacking trip. But I am on a journey of making a wasteland beautiful and filling an empty bowl. What will be my Pacific Crest Trail?

meditation practices after trauma

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Trigger warning: sexual abuse and loss of air flow

When I was thirteen I decided I wanted to learn how to meditate, and from about ages fourteen-seventeen I meditated daily, sometimes for as long as forty-five minutes each sit.

When I got to college my practice ebbed and flowed. But it always felt like something I could return to.

No longer.

I have tried several times to meditate in my new life of being a survivor and living with PTSD. Each time has led me to some sort of panic attack or flashback.

Last night I tried meditating, but this time with somebody else present, hoping that in not being alone, I might be able to settle into the old joy and relief I experienced meditating.

After less than ten minutes, I was crying, standing up, leaving the sitting area, and shaking from a flashback.

I went online and decided to do some research. I had a feeling there must be resources out there on meditating after a traumatic event. My feeling is correct. There are so many!

The first article I clicked on felt like gold, because it validated so many of my experiences, and gave tips and encouragement.

“The body and breath are anchors for awareness that can be returned to again and again. Mindfulness of the breath is especially useful for trauma survivors, who tend to hold their breath as a way of not connecting with the present moment. Holding the breath is an unconscious response to anxiety, and may also be part of the process of dissociating from the experience. If, however, the trauma was related to the act of breathing (such as choking or oral sexual abuse), then the breath is obviously not the best meditation anchor. In these cases, during “sitting” periods, try listening meditation, body sweeping, mantras, or touch points.” -Amy Schmidt and John J. Miller

Such a relief and validation to read these words. I had been feeling ashamed that I wasn’t able to do my old practice, which always included “watching the breath” as a central approach. But reading the above passage made so much sense. Integral to my trauma is the loss of breath. No wonder this does not feel like a safe place for me to start.

I kept reading: “It can be helpful for survivors to practice in a way that seems contrary to the traditional Buddhist teachings. In the sutras, the Buddha advocated a warrior-style practice: ‘Let only my skin and sinews and bones remain and let the flesh and blood in my body dry up; I shall nor permit the course of my effort to stop until the end is reached.’ Instead, trauma survivors need to learn what one teacher calls the ‘reverse-warrior’ practice….working with trauma is like having two jobs: You’re doing the practice of meditation and the practice of healing at the same time. In this regard, the meditation focus needs to be on simple, small steps.” -Amy Schmidt and John J. Miller

This passage also feels tremendously helpful. However, I happen to quite like seeing myself as a warrior. So instead of “reverse-warrior practice” maybe it can be “adjusted-warrior practice.” So I can still be warrior, but also remember it’s okay to make adjustments to common practices in honor of healing and being kind and gentle to my own personal practice.

For anyone interested or who thinks they might be helpful for you or someone you know, below are some of the links I stumbled upon last night after trying to meditate.

May each individual remember that meditation practice is not only a practice, but a personal practice, and depending on our life experiences and circumstances the shape and form of the practice might need to change. This does not mean we are not warriors.

http://www.amitaschmidt.com/PDFs/HealingTrauma.pdf

http://www.meditation-ptsd.com/

http://www.healingmeditations.co.uk/index.htm

http://www.giftfromwithin.org/html/Guided-Meditations-for-PTSD-Survivors.html

solstice, new moon, and a blessing for the chickens

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This morning I woke up and was soon told about the death of one and the serious injury of two chickens at a dairy farm I spend a great deal of time at. An animal had gotten into the henhouse during the night. A second chicken, of the three attacked, passed within a few hours. As far as I know, the third chicken is still hanging on, but in critical condition.

I saw them this morning, lying on the ground outside the henhouse, two farm-dogs barking at the chickens, motionless on the frozen earth.

I had to drive away, to a meeting about art and writing. I was engrossed in the conversation about inspiring possibilities for collaboration and creation and skill-building. I couldn’t stop thinking about the chickens. About how often I eat chicken and don’t think about the chickens that were killed in order for me to eat them. About the chickens lying lifeless, and about all the chickens still alive and well in the henhouse–how vulnerable and helpless all the chickens still alive they are. I thought about animal vulnerability and human vulnerability. And I also thought about creation: the creation of art, the creation of meaning through words. I myself felt helpless. Nothing I could do for the chickens or for the dear one who had to grapple with their death. But somehow it felt like all I could do to be inspired and pulled to creating beauty and meaning through art. Because such is the cycle of life and death, birth and rebirth. Transforming tragedy into something new. Otherwise, it gets stuck, does it not?

We are at a powerful moment in the calendar: “It’s the great turning point of the year; you can feel it in your bones.  Here in the Northern Hemisphere we come to the extreme of stand still where the Sun now pauses and touching the darkest still point, begins the ascent into light.  Those fortunate ones in the Southern Hemisphere are basking in the fullness of light as the Sun reaches maximum flooding them with vitality and energy.  Solstice, a power point of the year, and this year, lordy, lordy, we are blessed with a New Moon just a couple of hours after Solstice when the Sun enters Capricorn and we astrologically begin the New Year.  Western astrology is Sun based.  Here’s what to do with that double do-wop combination:  Set your many faceted, detailed intentions from your heart for all that you want to create in your life in the next year.  Take some time with this.  It’s impactful and important.  Go deep into the darkness and Get Very Clear about what you want to get rid of in your life, write it down and burn or bury it. You have been gifted with a huge reset as we enter the realm of Capricorn.” –Patricia Liles from The Power Path website

So many intentions for my heart. So much I am ready to let go of. So much I hope to manifest. Patricia writes above “a huge reset,” not “a complete reset” and I am thinking maybe it is never possible to completely reset. I can’t entirely shake off the feeling of seeing those chickens. I can’t completely release the traumas and challenges of recent times. But I can work in each moment to release as much as possible, and what is left, I can attempt to transform into something beautiful. Blessings to the chickens. Sadness for the chickens. Intention towards exuding the positive energy necessary to transform.

ayn rand, eckhart tolle, the power of the novel, and the power of critical reading

I love listening to books on tape, books on cd, and books on my iPod. I love to read of course, but there is something very comforting about being read to. About having the words wash over me and keep going even if I missed something. Even if i didn’t comprehend every word perfectly. The story continues. Life continues. I am alright.

The library was closed. I went on an application on my iPod that downloads free audiobooks that are older and in the public domain. I chose at somewhat random. I happened to choose Anthem by Ayn Rand.

I recognized her name from the bookshelf in the bookstore where I work. I could picture where her books sit relative to the other last-names-starting-with-R fiction writers. But I knew nothing about her as a person or a writer.

I began listening.

At first I was reminded of 1984 by George Orwell, which I have not read for many years but has stuck in my brain stronger than most books I have not read for many years. A future dystopia, this one thousands of years into the future. Complete control by leaders, to the extent that the characters of Anthem refer to their own individual self as “we.” The word “I” does not exist in the language. Everything is done for the good of the brotherhood, with no questions asked.

Then I kept listening. I began to get suspicious about what this author was trying to say. As the narrating character began to transgress, get caught, and escape into something described very much like “The Forbidden Forest” in the Harry Potter books, I became more suspicious. Then I saw it: one extreme to another. Showing communism gone completely wrong to suddenly showing individualistic capitalist ideals at their most heightened and dangerous:

“Neither am I the means to any end others may wish to accomplish. I am not a tool for their use. I am not a servant of their needs. I am not a bandage for their wounds. I am not a sacrifice on their altars. I am a man. This miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before! I do not surrender my treasures, nor do I share them. The fortune of my spirit is not to be blown into coins of brass and flung to the winds as alms for the poor of the spirit. I guard my treasures: my thought, my will, my freedom. And the greatest of these is freedom. I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others. I covet no man’s soul, nor is my soul theirs to covet. I am neither foe nor friend to my brothers, but such as each of them shall deserve of me. And to earn my love, my brothers must do more than to have been born. I do not grant my love without reason, nor to any chance passer-by who may wish to claim it. I honor men with my love. But honor is a thing to be earned.” -Ayn Ran, Anthem

Just as the word “I” was banned from the language early in the book, in this second-to-last chapter, (quoted above), the narrator suggests that the word “we” be banned.

I finally did some research on Rand’s other writing and her legacy. it is no wonder that she has been such an inspiration to libertarians and American conservatives. From one extreme to another. Oppression of strict individualism moves suddenly to the obliteration of any value in community, working together, or any common sense of responsibility to or justice for others.

 And this is just her novella. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are much longer, considered to be her masterpieces.

This whole experience has gotten me thinking about the power of text interpretation. And the power of fiction to push a strong agenda, whether or not the reader is consciously aware of it. It is rare these days that we read something written by someone we know nothing about—such is the digital age. I am glad I had the opportunity to discover for myself that there was something inherently very problematic in the message of the novel, before my research confirmed my fears.

We must read critically. We must realize the many ways texts can be interpreted (for example, at several moments throughout reading, the passages felt like beautiful and spiritual testimonies to solitude, something I care deeply about. But the entire text, and eventually the context in which it has been written and used, must be taken into account).

The novella ends with this passage:

“And here, over the portals of my fort, I shall cut in the stone the word which is to be my beacon and my banner. The word which will not die, should we all perish in battle. The word which can never die on this earth, for it is the heart of it and the meaning and the glory. The sacred word: EGO.” -Ayn Rand, Anthem

This was a terrifying and chilling end. I immediately felt Eckhart Tolle’s presence with me, and I felt safer. I will end this piece with Tolle’s words about the ego, so that I can walk away from this exploration with a feeling that I have put Rand and Tolle in conversation. That is my hope.

“No ego can last for long without the need for more. Therefore, wanting keeps the ego alive much more than having. The ego wants to want more than it wants to have. And so the shallow satisfaction of having is always replaced by more wanting.” -Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth 

“The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just an old, conditioned mind-pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist.” -Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth 

complicating “free time;” acknowledging “the disease of being busy”

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Omid Safi, a weekly columnist on the OnBeing Blog, writes wisely about the disease of being busy (he also emphasizes the “dis-ease,” the discomfort of not having time to be at ease within ourselves).

“I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing? I am taking the time to reflect on my own existence; I am in touch enough with my own heart and soul to know how I fare, and I know how to express the state of my heart. How is the state of your heart today? Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

Yesterday someone pointed out that I had one day off work in ten days. I honor that having a job is a privilege. I honor that having a day off is a privilege. I also honor myself, and the way I felt having my second day off on the eleventh day: depleted. Spent. Unable to create in the written, visual, musical ways that are integral to my spiritual practice. Needing to sleep and sleep and sleep some more, not only to catch up on hours but to process the mini-traumas that had occurred during my days being completely “on”–those days that hadn’t allowed time for processing.

When I am in the midst of the business, it feels good. It feels like a high. It feels addictive.

But when I climb out of it, and have time to slow down, be still, be silent, sleep, and process, I feel the lack of sustainability. The need to be in nature. The need for more solitude. The need for more time to be in my creative mind.

I hold the awareness of the national and global suffering that is occurring at this moment. Sometimes getting myself to work and through the work-day, given my current health problems, is all I can do. It is my “showing up.” It is my turtle presence.

Mr. Safi writes, “How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?”

I think this conversation is integral to activism. Reflection and community are integral to productive social movements, in addition to being crucial for mental health.

Free time is a complex issue, very linked to class. We must think of unemployment when we glorify free time: unwanted free time for lack of job options or availability. There is a difference between those who choose to work extreme hours because they love or are addicted to or are stuck in their jobs, and those who have no choice but to work extreme hours, simply in an effort to support themselves and their families.

I am not suggesting a simple examination of free time. I am suggesting a complex one. Let us complicate the disease of being busy, but let us also acknowledge that it exists. What are we hiding from when we intentionally fill our days to the maximum. What don’t we want to see inside of ourselves that might come creeping out if it only had the time?

silence and speech

I am thinking about silence and speech.

“Our choosing to live in the noise of our thoughts and emotions – within the incessant clamor around us – happens almost without our recognition…But Silence was here before anything else, and it envelops everything else. It is the most primary phenomenon of existence, both palpably something and seemingly nothing….Silence bears the wholeness we keep looking for while we do not know exactly what we are looking for. It is around us and within us. It goes to the deepest depths of the soul into the outermost reaches of the cosmos and continually unites the two at the centering place of a heart. Here we discover the power of re-creation. Here everything comes alive again as if for the first time.” -Robert Sardello from Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness. 

and then….

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

I am thinking about silence and speech. About the power of being quiet and going inward. How I find myself increasingly craving quiet, silence, and alone-time because in that space (because I often experience silence as a space) I feel most myself. Most true to my core. And also how I am often not a silent person. I am a person who speaks often, with friends, at work, and I have chosen to speak loudly and publicly, in several instances, against injustice.

I wonder if Sardello and King can both be right. I think they might need to both be right in order for revolutionary work to keep happening. The spiritual and the political. The grounding in our own truth and the need to speak up in the name of truth. This coming “alive again as if for the first time” is so crucial in social change. We need to be able to continue to reinvent ourselves and the way we connect to movements and news stories and actions. Then we need to have enough silence to be able to honor our self reinvention, so we can best decide how to speak out. I desperately need both Sardello and King to be right.

I am thinking about silence and speech.

whites gotta open up: the willingness to unlearn racism

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Yesterday an older white woman came into the bookstore and asked if I was the one who had recommended The New Jim Crow and explained the premise of the book to her a few weeks back. I said yes, that was me, and her whole face lit up and she said, “Thank You! I finished it, it was so enlightening and eye-opening, and has been so helpful now that so much is in the news. I’m able to think from a different perspective!” She said she had been debating race with her son for a while and he always used to be challenging her but now that she has read the book she sees his side.

As she walked away I thought, this is the power of writing and reading and the sharing of ideas. It shouldn’t be such a big deal that she decided to take the suggestion and buy the book. It shouldn’t be such a big deal that she actually read the book, and returned to tell me about it. But sadly, it is a huge deal, because our education system does not address race and racism in it’s curriculum in order to equip rising adults to have mature conversations about it, and the structure of our white supremacist society make it so that if a white adult would like to avoid reading anything written by a person of color or anything challenging white supremacy in general, they can certainly do so. 

The importance of this woman choosing to read the book was even more poignant because just five minutes after she left, an older white man walked into the bookstore, and after a brief conversation about the book he was buying (The Heart of Everything That Is, the story of Sioux warrior Red Cloud written by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin), and after I mentioned that a customer had just raved about The New Jim Crow (naively thinking he was interested in books about oppression and the vibrance and power of oppressed communities) he asked me what “Jim Crow” meant. Yes, that happened. And in disbelief I gave him a mini history lesson. He proceeded to say, “Well, so you’re a young person, so you think the police are horrible and are the bad guys?” and I said I do think in too many instances the police are not protecting all peoples and that it’s not a belief that necessarily comes from me being a young person. He began to push back that the robberies he hears about ARE done by Black men and so the police are not unfounded in the way they conduct business….

My stomach crumpled. I wanted to scream and I wanted backup and I wanted to be alone in a cave and I want to lock him in a closet with a pile of radical books. I had a line of customers behind him. I wrote down two book recommendations and slightly wished I had more time to give him my spiel, though I sincerely doubted whether my spiel would have done anything.

When it comes to pushing other white people to evaluate their own whiteness and challenge white supremacy, there has to be some opening in their consciousness–some willingness to maybe, just maybe, have missed the mark on this one. It is hard to be wrong. It is hard to have a paradigm shift. But I am guessing the woman who bought The New Jim Crow already had an inner willingness to change her vantage point. Without that willingness, it’s unlikely I could have changed that man’s mind, even if I hadn’t had a line of customers behind him. Even if I had had all the time in the world, and felt that debating with him was a good use of it.

This is why the attention we place on our own minds is so crucial. The exchange of ideas only works when it is actually that–an exchange. A reckoning with a different viewpoint than the one you were taught. A willingness to unlearn.