Category Archives: Suffering

Day of Rest

We just got back from spending three nights at a cabin up at Crystal Lakes. After losing Dexter, we needed to get away to the green and the quiet, spend some time just the three of us, hit the reset button.

The cabin is called Lofty Lookout, and it has a gate at the end of a long driveway lush with aspens and wildflowers that hides the house from the main road (when Eric saw that, he said “I approve”), and is four floors high (basement, main floor, sleeping loft, and another sleeping loft). It was way too big for the three of us, but we rented it because of the location and the decks.

The view was amazing, there were hummingbirds at the feeder all day, and we could walk out the front door and land directly on a five mile hiking trail that wound through pine trees, aspen groves, and meadows. At the sight of one spot along the trail, filled with aspens and wildflowers, Eric said “you almost expect a unicorn to come walking out of there.”

We hiked every morning, took naps every afternoon. I watched some HGTV and one day read an entire book, Neil Gaiman’s latest, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It was a wonderful book, but I’m biased because I love everything he writes — graphic novels, adult fiction, children’s books, essays, blog posts. One of my favorite parts of the book was this,

I have dreamed of that song, of the strange words to that simple rhyme-song, and on several occasions I have understood what she was saying, in my dreams. In those dreams I spoke the language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed-and-breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, “Be whole,” and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.

The land, the trails and the trees and the sky here in Colorado are magical. The time spent there was medicine, and yet I wasn’t without suffering, wasn’t beyond generating my own suffering. As a part guard, part herd breed, Sam takes a while to settle in anywhere new, is nervous and worried. I felt bad at first for forcing him along, even though I know that doing new things is good for him, that challenging him a little helps him to become a more confident dog. He panted and whined that first night, checked on every new noise and sound. Then on the second day, just as he was calming down, he got a spider bite on his belly and I worried about that.

The first night, I slept terrible, between Sam’s whining every time we moved and us choosing apparently the most uncomfortable bed in the whole cabin. Then there was the night we were boiling water to cook some corn on the cob and something that had been spilled on the burner drip pan caught on fire. And that night when we moved to a different, more comfortable bed, I had to move the carbon monoxide detector (the little green light would have kept me awake), and unplugging it set it off and I couldn’t figure out right away how to stop it.

Then on our hike the final morning there, our car alarm got triggered while it was parked at the trailhead, and malfunctioned so that it keep going off, stopping and starting for who knows how long, and someone left a nasty note on our car window (saying things like “rude” and “extremely annoying”), as if anyone would do such a thing on purpose. So even as I tried to relax, to heal, I continued to generate my own suffering. I can’t escape myself, no matter where I go, no matter how far I hike.

On our last afternoon, we saw a hummingbird sitting on its nest. When they are making their nest, they gather up anything soft they can find and they bind it all together with spiderwebs. They do this so that the nest will stretch as the babies get bigger. I was comforted seeing this, because earlier in the day, a war had begun around the hummingbird feeder on the cabin’s main deck. We’d been enjoying it so much, how we could sit right next to it but they would come feed anyway, letting us watch. But at some point, things turned sour and they began fighting over it, guarding the feeder by chasing and attacking each other, even though there was so much food available there was no way they could ever eat it all. We are like that too, I thought as I watched them, so convinced that there’s not enough, that the only way to get what we want, what we need is to fight for it.

Every time I feel anxious or sad, irritated or uncomfortable, I try to remember what Pema Chödrön teaches about working with groundlessness,

It’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for that is freedom—freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.

We cause so much unnecessary suffering for ourselves and each other, can be so confused, allow ourselves to get caught up in the anxiety of “not enough.” I am trying to be gentle, to forgive myself for that. Every moment I try and keep my heart open, to soften and surrender to what is, to notice the magic happening around me, to generate compassion and ease suffering. Some moments I am more successful than others, but I keep showing up, keep trying.

Freedom, an Update

freedomthanksgivingcrow

The secret to happiness is freedom. And the secret to freedom is courage. ~Thucydides

Independence Day in the U.S. seems like a good day to check in about how I’m doing with the guiding word I chose for 2013: Freedom. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much has changed in a year. People in my online community are posting about their preparations for World Domination Summit (WDS), which is this weekend. This event is the one year anniversary of Dexter’s first cancer symptoms, a reverse sneeze and bloody nose. I was at WDS and Eric was at “our house” in Waldport with the dogs. He didn’t tell me what had happened because he knew I’d worry, maybe even want to leave the event early.

His first thought was cancer, he could hardly help it after what happened to our Obi, but Dexter wouldn’t be diagnosed for another month, and even then it was “we aren’t 100% sure, but all the symptoms indicate a fatal nasal tumor.” We were told we’d only have 2-3 months with him, but we had almost a whole year, made it within a week of that anniversary.

peacefeet

My experience of freedom right now is strange, mixed, complicated.
Yes, I am free from Dexter’s cancer (as is he), released from the worry and the anxiety and the caretaking; and yet that freedom also means a direct and powerful relationship with grief, loss, and sadness, which doesn’t exactly feel free. In terms of my disordered eating, I have a kind hearted and experienced therapist to help me work through it, let it go, be free from it, but that’s clearly going to be harder than I thought. I have a list of almost 20 reasons I do what I do, which create a resistance to letting go of the behavior, freeing myself from this way of being.

Another form of freedom I long for is from my paid work, so I can devote myself fully to my heart’s work. One friend, a trained coach, helped me see I’m at a 10 now and that my ideal is a 5, (in terms of what I do, the effort involved), and another helped me to see the easiest and maybe only way for me to get from 10 to 5 would be to give up my paid work. And yet, that’s so difficult, and not an immediate option, so that particular freedom has to wait.

Fear is the cage, love is the key.

heartfeet

When I described how I wanted to experience freedom, I used words like simplicity, space, ease, surrender, clarity, and openness. Some of this is certainly happening, even around the places I feel stuck.

  • I’m decluttering my work space, creating a place at home that honors what I am truly doing, simple and clear.
  • I’m clear about the next steps in my “escape plan,” what I should be focusing on in my heart’s work. Sometimes this is about having a specific goal and working towards it, and other times it is about surrendering to the process, allowing what shows up, being open to mystery and magic, even mayhem.
  • I socialize less and less, and the things I commit to are what truly feed me, providing inspiration and comfort and joy, move me forward or help me “stay in my seat.”
  • Even thought I’m stuck in some places, I have so much more clarity about why, can see and understand what I’m really doing, what I’m getting out of it, and I forgive myself.
  • Losing Dexter was so hard, but I surrendered to that experience, stayed open and present, still am.
  • My body continues to ask for more rest, and I’m doing my best to provide it, to keep a more gentle pace, to seek out ease.

It’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for that is freedom—freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human. ~Pema Chödrön

Self-Compassion Saturday: Andrea Scher

If you are like me, kind and gentle reader, there are certain moments or events, certain people and experiences that have changed you, transformed you in the best possible ways. And if you are like me you carry the memory, the love and gratitude for those times and people tucked inside your heart forever, the most precious of things held close.

One of the people I treasure in this way is Andrea Scher. I wrote her an open love letter exactly one year ago, posted Saturday the 16th of June in 2012. That post even included the above picture! I didn’t know either of these things until I started writing this post today. This is the exact kind of magic that Andrea attracts, generates, inspires.

self-portrait by andrea scher

self-portrait by andrea scher

I’ve lost tract of the number of classes I’ve taken with Andrea, but each one of them has been that particular kind of magic. The first Mondo Beyondo session I did, my first class with her, happened at the same time I started this blog, inspired me to finally start. That experience came full circle when Andrea invited me to be her teaching assistant for the most recent session of Mondo Beyondo. She has always been so incredibly generous, and her wise and compassionate coaching is helping me to create some of my own future ecourses, and beyond that to create a life that I am utterly in love with living. I am who I am right now in large part because of her support and encouragement. In the open love letter I wrote to her, I said,

Andrea Scher has been the sun at the center of a universe of amazement and goodness, the shiny middle that all the other bright and precious things orbit around.

Photo by Mara

Photo by Mara

I found Andrea Scher’s original blog, Superhero Journal, at a time when I was so brokenhearted, such a mess, so stuck, so tired. I didn’t know how to keep going, where to even start. I was searching, my view clouded by grief, knew that I had abandoned myself and my dreams, but didn’t know how to find my way back.

The person I am today: writer, artist, warrior, brave, open-hearted, funny, strong, joyful, sane, is possible in part because of Andrea Scher. She invited me to expand my idea of what was possible. She encouraged me, was kind and honest. She was constantly admitting the things that are hard and messy, while still pointing out what’s beautiful and precious. She reminds me of this quote from Muriel Rukeyser, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Split open, and through the cracks, the light would get in (or maybe get out?).

I’m so happy to be sharing Andrea’s answers to my four questions today.

andrea scher, taken by laurie wagner

andrea scher, taken by laurie wagner

1. What does self-compassion mean, what is it? How would you describe or define it?

I’ve heard that compassion means “to suffer with.” What a gift, right? To not have to suffer alone, to allow somebody’s suffering but sit right down next to them and maybe even hold their hand.

Self-compassion is learning to suffer with ourselves. It’s extending the same kind of kindness we would to a dear friend. It’s learning to sit with ourselves and allow our suffering, to hold our own hand.

Practically, this means that we can acknowledge when we are suffering and not push it away, or tell ourselves it’s not that bad, or you don’t deserve to complain… These are some of the things I used to tell myself, echoes of what some important grownups in my life affirmed. For me, self-compassion is allowing myself to feel my feelings (even if they make others uncomfortable) and letting them move through me. (They always do)

Then it’s about using a kind voice to ask good questions: What would help right now? What do you need most? or What feels hardest?

image by jen gray

image by jen gray

2. How did you learn self-compassion? Did you have a teacher, a guide, a path, a resource, a book, a moment of clarity or specific experience?

Mostly, I learned from going through hard things and NOT being particularly compassionate with myself. This kept me stuck so much longer than necessary.

I cultivated a kind inner voice when I became a parent. Once I became a mother I noticed what my own self-talk sounded like – You idiot! You’re always messing things up! This was not a voice I wanted to pass on to my kids! So I practiced speaking really gently to my son. Over time it became a habit and I started addressing myself this way too. What a beautiful side effect of practicing non-harm and gentleness.

3. How do you practice self-compassion, what does that experience look like for you?

Recently, I learned a beautiful exercise from Kristin Neff. When you are having a rough moment, try this: Put your hand on your heart, close your eyes and say, “This is suffering.” Then take a breath and say it again.

It’s such a simple practice, but really profound.

eyes_closed_self_700

self portrait by andrea, eyes closed

4. What do you still need to learn, to know, to understand? What is missing from your practice of self-compassion, what do you still struggle with?

This is going to sound very unscientific, but I must have carved a deep neuro-pathway in my brain that goes like this: Someone gets annoyed or angry with me. I completely FREAK OUT and do whatever I can to make it better (including betraying myself and my truth in the process) and if I don’t get a response from them or they are still angry, I believe that I must be a horrible, broken and unlovable person who doesn’t deserve to be alive.

I know. Totally dramatic, right?

I suppose I am making progress because I have a consciousness around this string of thoughts. It’s still very painful though… Next time, I’m going to put my hand on my heart and simply say: This is suffering.

andrea_cherr_497

You can see why I adore her so much, right? Since she sent me her answers, many times I have closed my eyes and put my hand over my heart. In that moment, imagining Andrea’s kindness, her smile, contemplating my love and gratitude for her is a path towards loving myself, her light leads the way. To find out more about Andrea, to connect with her:

Next on Self-Compassion Saturday: Laurie Wagner.

P.S. If you didn’t see the first post in this series, you might want to read Self-Compassion Saturday: The Beginning.

Full Flower Moon

Jamie asks: “What are you dreaming under this Full Flower Moon? This is the time when the buds have transformed into blooms, reminding us it is time to do the same. What are your full flower dreams? Who are you when you’re in full bloom?”

As seems to be the case with many things in my life, I’m a late bloomer — two days late making this dreamboard. And yet, it’s because I have been manifesting something pretty big (I can’t wait to tell you about it — details on Saturday!), using my energy to bloom and create, so it seems right that this one took a little extra time.

Full Flower Moon asks “How would you like to bloom? Who are you when you are in full bloom?”

fullflowermoon13

Practice: yoga, meditation, writing.
Light filled space.
Breath, words, and music.
Love.

All the memoirs that had ever been,
the entire alphabet,
breath and magic.

Cultivate softness.
Dream.
Breathe.
Radiate yourself.

You are a Bodhisattva,
a wisdom being,
fueled by mountain and ocean,
flower and tree,
bird, feather and flight,
green ground and vast blue sky.

Shantideva said:
May I be a protector to those without protection,
A leader for those who journey,
And a boat, a bridge, a passage
For those desiring the further shore.

Shantideva said:
May the pain of every living creature
Be completely cleared away.
May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world

I said: Life is tender and terrible,
beautiful and brutal —
may I keep my heart open.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be peaceful.
May I live with ease.
May I ease suffering,
in myself and in the world.

Everything Changes

Another Wednesday without a wishcast prompt. And yet, I’m feeling a powerful need to make wishes — big wishes, important wishes, wishes for healing and peace.

I wish good health and healing for Jamie’s mom. I wish for strength, peace, and comfort for Jamie and anyone else loving and supporting her mom right now.

I wish for Dexter not to suffer, (he was at the emergency vet three weeks ago, his nose has been bleeding more that usual — whatever “usual” even means when cancer is involved — and on Saturday, he sprained his leg — a different one, not the one he’s already in physical therapy for). I also continue to wish that he have an easy death, whenever that might come.

I wish good luck, a safe trip and a workable outcome for my friend Ann. Today she’s making another visit to a doctor in Boston who might have a new treatment option for her cancer. No matter what happens, I wish her and her partner ease, comfort, and clarity.

I wish comfort for my friend Susan, my dear friend Kelly‘s mom. This past week had to have been so rough for her, with Mother’s Day and the three year anniversary of Kelly’s passing just days apart — but I also know that the arrival of a new granddaughter is offering so much joy. I wish for comfort for all of us who love Kelly and still feel so sad, miss her so much, who will forever carry that ache.

So many are suffering. It can feel overwhelming sometimes. But just when I start to feel like it’s all too much, someone does or says or makes or shares something so beautiful, that I remember: life is tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal — keep your heart open.

Today, it was a post on Hopeful World. It included beautiful words from Jen Lemen, who has been the healing balm for my own suffering so many times I’ve stopped counting. The video in the post is one she’d shared with me back in September, at a moment when it was just what I needed, and my response to it was just what she needed, but I was sworn to secrecy. I’ve been waiting patiently for her to share it with the world, so I could share it with you, and today is the day.

Everything changes. And when we can remember that during the low times, our hearts can fill with hope. And when we can tell each other this in the good times, our hearts can fill with gratitude. No matter what, we can be gentle, we can be kind. And we can remember, that even in this, we are never, ever alone. ~Jen Lemen

Letting Go

Susan Piver at Shambhala Mountain Center

Hold your experience with tremendous gentleness. Stay with yourself–always, always, always. Be kind, feel kindly, be loving… As you become friendly toward yourself, you see that actually you can trust your own mind and heart. From this trust and friendship arise unconditional self-confidence. ~Susan Piver

About a month ago, I went to a retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) led by Susan Piver. This is the second retreat I’ve been lucky enough to do with Susan at SMC. It was an Open Heart Retreat, “a weekend of meditation practices, journaling, small group dialogue and an exploration of ways we can bring our raw and tender hearts home to the world of family, politics, work, and love.” For me, it was perfectly timed. That morning, I had met for the first time with a new doctor, and she told me “you are obese.” I left for the retreat confused, irritated, and sad.

The retreat provided a safe, supportive space in which to process. And yet, it was not easy. Meditation practice can be difficult because when you sit, the thing that needs your attention, that you’ve maybe been avoiding, is the thing that shows up. And as Susan said at the beginning of the retreat in reference to another activity we’d practice that weekend, “journaling is a very potent way to begin a dialogue with your own heart.” So essentially, there was no place to hide.

On the first full day, we did a practice I’ve done with Susan before. In the most simple terms, you sit across from a version of yourself, imagining who she is and how she sees you, and then you switch perspectives. You start by being your smallest, most scared self looking at your strongest, most brilliant and actualized self, finishing by taking her perspective and seeing your small self from that side. Later, we spent time journaling about, telling the the story of our small, scared self.

The next day, we spent time remembering both perspectives, and wrote a letter from our wise, strong, kind self to the person who is small and scared. It had to begin with “Dear Jill, this is what I have to say to you,” and end with “I love you.” I wrote,

Dear Jill,

This is what I have to say to you–It’s okay. Cheer up. You’re perfect. Yes, there is a tender spot, like a splinter in your foot or a paper cut in your finger. But, it is that small–that irritating and present, but still small and impermanent. It is there so you know, understand the shape and flavor of this particular suffering. It is there to speak to you of darkness, but also of compassion and wisdom. It is a path.

Look for the exit, the off ramp, the sign. It’s there. You have a GPS that is set to lead you into your own open heart, into your life, into wakefulness, into space. It is an open door. It is a blanket you can wrap around yourself. It is your mother.

Ask for help, allow people to help you. You know Eric is there to help and love you. He said this morning in that way he does, “We’ll figure it out,” and you know you believe him, that it’s the truth.

There is nothing to be afraid of or worried about, no rush, no reason to push. You can simply be with this, ride it, be curious and gentle, relax. In this are the seeds for compassion, for love, a fuller life–more time with the dogs, more time with Eric, activities that make you feel nourished, that feed what you are truly hungry for–love, connection, activity, movement, breath. This will all come together and you will take it out into the world with you.

There’s no failure, only trying or success. There’s no end point or goal, only breath and life. This is genuine, truth, love, and you are open to its wisdom and compassion.

Remember what Lisa Field-Elliot said, “it’s not about the accumulating, it is about recognizing and eliminating what does not speak the truth.” Let go of thinking any external validation, truth, wisdom or acceptance has any meaning. You can save yourself. Your body is wise and if you listen to it, to your heart, it will tell you the truth, always the truth, and you never need to apologize for it. You never need to explain or justify it. It is, as you are.

You are your own mother, your own doctor, your own guru. You will ease your own struggle and suffering, and go on with a deep knowledge, an understanding of truth that will benefit others. You will ease suffering, in yourself and in the world, through the good effort of your practice and your open heart.

I love you.

After we wrote our letter, Susan sent us aimlessly wandering. This is a particular mindfulness practice, “exploration without destination,” movement without intention or judgement, a walking meditation. As I walked, I was drawn towards my favorite trees at SMC–two pine trees, one straight and one bent, but so close together they almost look like a single tree, growing mostly by themselves in the corner of a meadow. I stood between them, looking out at the land, and the wind blew, a cool gust that filled my lungs, pushing against and past and through my body like a physical thing. In that moment, a voice inside me whispered, “you can let go.” I made a deal with the wind, with the pines, with that sacred land and vast open sky that I would.

Looking in my wallet, as I’d packed to come to SMC, I’d found a rock, picked up, collected and kept from our trip to the beach this past summer, carried with me ever since. It was a joke from Eric. I’d been finding so many heart shaped rocks on the beach, that one day he came home from a walk with the dogs and said, with a crooked grin on his face, “I found you a heart rock.” What he put in my hand was deep red and meaty, shaped like an organ, rippled like muscle, a tiny petrified heart.

After the weekend at SMC, I was ready to let it go, this closed, hard heart. I couldn’t drop it just anywhere, throw it away. It needed to go somewhere I could trust to take it, needed to give it away and have it accepted with kindness, to have it held it for me, to place it somewhere safe, to allow for a letting go. On that final morning, I walked back to “my” trees. I hugged the one that stands straight and tall, (I confess, I first looked to be sure no one was watching), this spot where I’d made a deal with the wind, where I could return my closed, hard heart to the earth, let it rest in that place.

It would release me, I would release it. I could move on, go home. I could leave the self there who hurts, who is afraid. She could stay there safe, comforted, and I would leave, cracked open, soft and tender and raw.

There was a spot in the bent tree where a branch had been cut off. It looked like an eye. I took the heart rock from my pocket, smooth and warm, and shoved it as far as I could into the center of the eye. Then I stood between the trees, in the same spot where the wind had touched me the day before, and looking out over the land, I let go.

I opened my heart.

I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
~Mary Oliver

A Special Wishcasting Wednesday

sky

Most Wednesdays, I do a wishcast using a prompt provided by Jamie Ridler. This week, she’s pausing while her Mom deals with a health issue, to be present for that, to help and support her. Rather than skipping the wish, I decided to use it for something special, important.

I wish for healing and comfort. For Jamie’s mom. For Jamie and her siblings as they surround her. For my friend Ann who has cancer and is trying to make some difficult decisions about finances and treatment options. For her partner. For anyone who is dealing with a health crisis and for everyone who loves them, I wish for their suffering to ease, for them to be filled with a sense of well-being.

As I was leaving the gym this morning, after practicing yoga with Ann, after hugging her and telling her I love her, both of us shaking with tears, after reading Jamie’s post about putting everything on pause, I looked up at the sky. I took a picture so you could see what I saw, but what you don’t know from the image is that the birds were singing all around, mad with love for Spring, and something about that comforted me–that and the big blue over my head, the vast love and space that exist no matter how many hard things happen.

May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.